Ladies and gentlemen, another cinematic titan has passed on. Ray Harryhausen is a name that conjures pure imagination to those who know it. When I think of Harryhausen, my mind is filled with images of high adventure and heroic journeys, be they into the great beyond of space or forbidden realms filled with fantastical creatures and beings. Ray Bradbury started a forest fire of inspiration that spread like wildfire through the literary world and Ray Harryhausen did the same on film. The fact that the two were the best of friends only sweetens the deal.
I’m not exactly sure how old I was when I was first exposed to Harryhausen’s work as a child, but I couldn’t have been any older than 5 or 6 years. Like most movie-obsessed children of the ‘80s and ‘90s, my eyes were glued to the television on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Playtime, be it inside or out, was always placed on hold as I scanned the available channels for a diversion that would transport me off on some wild adventure. Horror, action, science fiction, fantasy…all were equally cherished and devoured. On one particular weekend, I came across the original Clash of the Titans and my world was forever changed. Jason and the Argonauts was experienced not long after and I was hooked for life. Sword-wielding heroes, mischievous gods, mythological terrors, reanimated skeletons, etc. What’s not to love?
The following years were spent pouring over our TV Guide each week to root out every airing of these two films (as well as others). Whenever a showing took place that I had the ability to see, nothing else mattered. My ass was planted firmly in front of the television and there it remained until the feature was over. Eventually my father recorded them, but the tapes were soon worn out. Legitimate VHS copies followed and they too were worn out. My experience was lovingly broadened later on when the excellent Sinbad trilogy and his wondrous works in the science fiction genre made it to store shelves. By my mid-elementary school years, Ray Harryhausen was a god in my eyes. My love of mythology (particularly Greek) and fantasy in general stems completely from Ray’s legendary cinematic works. I am not the only one either.
Beyond the countless film fans, virtually every single filmmaker and effects artist that has gone on to bring works of science fiction and fantasy to life on the big screen is ridiculously indebted to Ray. Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, George Lucas, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi, Dennis Muren, Henry Selick, Bryan Singer, Andrew Stanton, The Chiodo Brothers, Joe Dante, Terry Gilliam, John Landis, Rick Baker, etc. The list goes on and on. While other influences were also instrumental in pushing them towards their famed professionals, Harryhausen’s films are chief among them and hundreds of films would not exist today without them.
What Ray understood that many still need to learn today is that no matter how breathtaking your special effects are, if they do not have a personality and serve the story, they are devoid of purpose. While I have no doubt that many younger cinephiles will find the effects within these classics to be hokey or even unimpressive, you cannot tell me that each and every creature and being on screen doesn’t have its own unique personality. This is something that unfortunately cannot be said of the majority of today’s lifeless CGI creations.
Ray Harryhausen was more than just a master of special effects. He was a master storyteller. While he never directed any of the famous films that he made in his career, they each belong more to him than to the directors who helmed them. That’s not a knock on those filmmakers’ talent and influence over their projects. It is simply a testament to Ray’s imagination and singular vision that shine through on every single movie he worked on. The best example I can think of is Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist. Whether you prescribe to the rumors surrounding who really directed that film or not, there’s no arguing that it is more a Spielberg picture than a Hooper one. The Spielbergian nature of it practically slaps you in the face during every second of the film as it is playing. The same can be said of Ray Harryhausen’s work. The reputation of many a legendary artist diminishes with time. Ray’s still stands strong today, despite the fact that he left the game over 30 years ago, and it will easily hold its head high for another 30 more.
Farewell, Mr. Harryhausen. You have ignited the imaginations of millions with your passion and creativity. Now it’s time for you to have your own legendary adventures gleefully battling skeletons, dinosaurs, aliens, and monsters as you journey into the great beyond. We miss you already.
“Some say Citizen Kane or Casablanca. I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made.” – Tom Hanks
Experience Harryhausen on Blu-ray…
- Jason and the Argonauts
- Clash of the Titans
- Harryhausen Collection (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, 20 Million Miles To Earth, It Came From Beneath The Sea, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad)
Experience Harryhausen on DVD…
- The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen: Science Fiction (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, It Came From Beneath The Sea, 20 Million Miles To Earth, Mysterious Island, First Men In The Moon)
- The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen: Fantasy (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, Jason and the Argonauts, The Three Worlds of Gulliver)
- Clash of the Titans
- The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
- Mighty Joe Young
- The Valley of Gwangi
- One Million Years B.C.
- Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection