Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan
-Review by Nic Brown (photos Courtesy of Mark Mawston and the producers of "Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan)-
moviegoers think of special effects, the first thing that often
jumps to mind is the amazing array of computer generated images
populating some of modern cinema’s biggest blockbusters. From the
lifelike dinosaurs of Steven Spielberg’s “
Probably not. Now talk to some of today’s biggest names in film, names like John Landis, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and Tim Burton, and ask who inspired them with movie magic when they were growing up. They all say the same name: Ray Harryhausen. In his new documentary: “Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan” director Gilles Penso takes a look at the man who has been called the father of modern special effects.
The documentary skillfully combines interviews, rare
outtakes, home movies, test reels, and a collection of conceptual
art and original models to tell the story of the man who brought to
the screen creatures the likes of which had never been seen before.
Medusa, Talos, the Kraken, Cyclops and a host of other mythical
beasts came to life in Harryhausen’s skilled hands. From the
unimaginably huge squid that destroyed
documentary starts with a look at Harryhausen’s early years, the
inspiration he got from “King Kong”, and the work visual effects
artist Willis O’Brien did to bring Kong to life. It also covers his
friendship with science fiction legend Ray Bradbury, and his first
creations, stop motion home movies showing dinosaurs, far better
than those seen in most
Penso then takes the viewers on a wonderful trip through Harryhausen’s film career, looking at each of his works for both the big and small screens. Along the way, filmclips and interviews with filmmakers show how Harryhausen’s work inspired them and how he helped shape modern cinema. Starting with Harryhausen’s ‘home movies’ and moving through his early work with his long-time hero Willis O’Brien on “Mighty Joe Young”, the documentary covers all of his films, including some rare concept footage from projects he wanted to do such as “War of the Worlds”.
Harryhausen himself often speaks in the documentary, and although the effects legend is in his early nineties, it is clear that his mind is as sharp as ever. In fact his wit comes out particularly well when talking about some of the disappointments he’s had to deal with, and the way many of today’s Hollywood elite filmmakers think they know how Harryhausen really feels about CGI.
One of the things that makes this documentary so complete
is that it was made with the support of the Ray and Diana
Harryhausen Foundation (http://www.rayharryhausen.com).
The Foundation provided access to its collection of original art,
models, and miniatures. The Foundation also allowed them access to
Ray’s workshop and unseen test footage found during the clearing out
of Ray’s garage in his old
“Ray Harryhausen: Special
Effects Titan” pays touching tribute to the man’s contribution to
cinema. Although he made fewer than twenty films, each of his works
is known as much, if not more, for the creatures he brought to life
than for the stars who shared the screen with his creations. The
film follows his career through the decades up until his last film:
“Clash of the Titans” and shows the viewers the bittersweet side of
If you have ever spent a Saturday matinee watching Sinbad battle skeletal warriors, cowboys lassoing dinosaurs or flying saucers leveling Washington DC then you’ll love “Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan.” From unseen footage of Harryhausen’s ideas for “War of the Worlds” to his seldom seen forays into children’s fairy tales, the documentary’s eye for detail is flawless. The film’s pacing is so good that the documentary’s 90+ minutes seem to float by. So if you want to see the heart and soul of film effects and to learn why each of Harryhausen’s creations is referred to as a creature , not a monster, check out “Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan”. When it’s done, your only regret won’t be that the film is over, but that Harryhausen isn’t still making movies today, movies where the effects don’t just steal the show, but steal your heart as well.