Thursday, September 11, 2008
Ray Harryhausen was an early pioneer in fantasy filmmaking and special effects. His films used stop-motion model animation, which was a method first used in 1925’s silent The Lost World, and later in the original King Kong (1933), which was a source of great inspiration to Harryhausen. (We recommend both of these films, by the way. King Kong is a classic, about which nothing needs to be said! K enjoyed it at a pretty early age, around seven, I believe. As for The Lost World, start with the 1925 original, and then you can move up to various remakes in 1960, 1992, even 2000; I can’t vouch for any of those, however!)
Two of Harryhausen’s greatest films are The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), and Jason and the Argonauts (1963). (His career began in the ‘40s as a special effects technician on Mighty Joe Young, which I’ve not seen, and he’s still working today.)
Harryhausen had made roughly a dozen films when he worked as associate director and director of visual effects on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (not to be confused with the ancient Arabic stories of Sinbad the Sailor), so he had plenty of experience behind him, and was really refining his methods. Sinbad has a convoluted plotline to be sure, but just know that the story involves Sinbad and his lovely fiancé, an island rife with danger and mystery, and a magic lamp. Featuring a now-famous Cyclops, a snake-woman, a skeleton swordsman, a dragon, a two-headed bird, and all manner of peril and rescue, it’s easy to recommend this to kids. What could be better on a rainy Saturday afternoon?
Several years later, Harryhausen’s personal favorite, Jason and the Argonauts, was released. This plot involves a murderous and greedy Pelias, who kills the king to usurp the throne. The dead king’s son, Jason, grows up and plots to avenge his father’s death. Gods and goddesses, a brave crew of Argonauts, and a giant merman aid him in his quest, and there is no shortage of danger and mythological backstabbing. The fighting skeleton scene in Sinbad was so popular that Harryhausen resurrected him for Jason, and put him in league with several more bony swordsmen for a scene that became the film’s most memorable. I still get a laugh and a thrill out of those skeletons.
We watched these films when K was about eight years old or so. He recalls now thinking some of the scenes “were sort of scary at the time,” but adds, “they didn’t really bother me at all. Just a little scary.” So take note for your sensitive, younger ones at home.
Others to check out (and they’re on our own Netflix list):
- 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
- Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
- It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) (about a giant octopus attacking San Francisco!)
- The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) (Rated G)
- Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) (Rated G)
- Clash of the Titans (1981) (Rated PG)
Dad might especially admire the, um, dinosaurs in One Million Years B.C., released in 1967 and starring Raquel Welch.
Harryhausen currently works with Bluewater Productions, publishers of comic books based on his movies (such as "Ray Harryhausen Presents: It Came From Beneath the Sea ... Again!", and "Ray Harryhausen Presents: Jason and the Argonauts", etc.) If your kids like these films and you’re trying to get them to read more with graphic novels and comics (which can be a very effective tactic!) visit Bluewater Productions.
Fun Harryhausen homage facts, courtesy of Wikipedia:
* In the music video for the song "Bones" by The Killers, there are numerous references to the skeleton fight scene in Jason and the Argonauts.
* The Pixar film Monsters Inc. (2001) features a restaurant called Harryhausen's.
* Both the Tim Burton stop-motion film Corpse Bride and the Nick Park stop-motion film Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit featured a piano made by a piano maker called Harryhausen.
* Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, paid homage to Ray Harryhausen in The Fellowship of the Ring when a giant cave troll attacks the Fellowship, claiming that its movements mimic ones made by the monsters in Harryhausen's films.