Review: Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan / Cert: TBC / Director: Gilles Penso / Screenplay: Gilles Penso / Starring: Ray Harryhausen, Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Terry Gilliam, Steven Spielberg, John Landis / Release Date: November 9th
In an age of hi-tech digital technology where the most outlandish special effects are created by anonymous button-pushers and a bunch of supercomputers, it’s sad to reflect that it’s likely that no-one in the cinema industry is ever likely to leave the sort of legacy and make films with the sort of passion and dedication demonstrated by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. Although he retired from film-making in the early 1980s in the wake of the original Clash of the Titans his influence in the field of special effects lives on in the work of some of the world’s greatest modern film-makers, many of whom contribute enthusiastically to this detailed and fascinating documentary which chronicles the life and times of one of the great cinematic visionaries of the 20th century.
Ray Harryhausen, in case you don’t know (and shame on you if you really don’t) was the creator of the iconic form of stop-motion animation which he called ‘Dynamation’ - dynamic animation. Inspired by Willis O’Brien’s work in the iconic King Kong (1933) Harryhausen set about creating his own animated shorts full of prehistoric monsters and primeval landscapes. Before long he was making short features for George Pal’s Puppetoons and after the Second World War he found himself in Hollywood and by 1948 he was assistant to O’Brien who was animating Mighty Joe Young, a sort of junior King Kong. Harryhausen ended up creating most of the animation himself and in the 1950s he was riding the crest of the science-fiction wave and providing still-stunning visuals for titles like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, 20 Million Miles to Earth and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.
Everyone of a certain age has a favourite Harryhausen movie and a favourite Harryhausen sequence, from the giant living statue Talos and the fighting skeletons of Jason and the Argonauts, the dinosaur-lassoing cowboys of the underrated Valley of Gwangi or the attack of the hideous Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. These classic moments - and many more - are celebrated in this affectionate tribute to the tireless creator of some of the most magical and thrilling scenes in cinema history along with rare archive and behind-the-scenes footage and a look at many of Harryhausen’s wonderfully-preserved model creatures. The luminaries featured here have nothing but praise for his inspirational body of work - even where the scripts and the acting were iffy, Harryhausen’s beautiful animation was never less than astonishing. Now in his ‘90s (Peter Jackson leads the birthday celebrations in footage which closes the film) Harryhausen still speaks with authority and fondness for a wonderful body of work which will remain timeless for fans of good movies for generations to come. Special Effects Titan will enjoy a limited cinema release in November and lovers of classic cinema really won’t want to miss out.
Picture courtesy of Mark Mawston/Harryhausen Foundation