Until this year, I had never seen a movie with visuals by Ray Harryhausen.
Approximately half of you gasped in abject horror, that an admitted film fan has not seen a single movie with which Mr. Harryhausen was involved.
The other half of you went, “Who?”
Ray Harryhausen is a film producer and “special effects creator,” according to Wikipedia. Between 1942 and 1981, he made 23 movies, including Mighty Joe Young, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, One Million Years B.C., and Clash of the Titans. He’s most famous for his use of stop-motion animation, creating movie monsters and special effects that were mind-bogglingly cool for their time.
Harryhausen’s work (particularly in Jason and the Argonauts) inspired a lot of our most famous and accomplished filmmakers (including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Sam Raimi, and James Cameron) so it’s absolutely unforgiveable that I haven’t seen any of his movies until this year.
Well, I made up for my lapse in April, with not just one, but THREE Harryhausen movies in the queue from Netflix.
Jason and the Argonauts
Considered by Harryhausen (and others) to be his best movie, Jason and the Argonauts has one of the most famous special-effects scenes of all time: the skeleton fight at the very end.
The plot is the classic hero story: evil king takes over a land, attempts to kill the real king’s heirs, and fails. Twenty years later, the real king’s son (the titular Jason) assembles a team of the best men from all over Greece to travel in search of the Golden Fleece, which will allow him to regain his rightful place as king.
I am a ridiculous fan of any and all things involving ancient Greece, so it’s probably not a huge surprise that I enjoyed this movie. What did surprise me what how much I enjoyed it. Jason and the Argonauts was easily my favorite of the three movies I watched.
The visuals were fantastic. One of the best parts was the fight against Talos, the giant bronze Titan. The way they integrated Talos with the ship (the Argo) and the crew itself was really impressive. Plus, it was a total trip to see Patrick Troughton (the Second Doctor!) show up briefly as a blind prophet. I barely recognized him.
And, of course, the skeleton fight itself lived up to the hype. It’s a sequence of only a few minutes that apparently took months to film, and it’s amazing.
I also loved the way they handled the gods in this film. Although you see all of them chilling out on Mount Olympus, the two most active gods are Zeus and Hera. They’re essentially playing a game of chess, and it’s interesting to see how each chooses to make their moves.
The film ended a little abruptly, though. I thought they were actually going to have Jason showdown with King Pelias, but alas, they do not. Then again, maybe somebody read how the Jason and Medea story actually ended and decided to wrap it up while it was still happy.
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
In this one, Sinbad and his crew are after three pieces of a golden puzzle, which will give them a map leading to the Fountain of Destiny. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones after this: Koura, an evil magician bent on domination, wants the Fountain of Destiny as well and will stop at nothing to get it.
While Sinbad was also a lot of fun, particularly at the end, I didn’t like it as much as I did Jason. It was still funny and adventurous, and Tom Baker (Fourth Doctor!) was particularly excellent as Koura. I liked that Koura lost some of his youth each time he used powerful magic. It was good to see magic having a cost.
(Also, Wikipedia tells me it was Baker’s performance in this movie that helped land him the role of the Doctor. Who knew?)
The slave girl subplot fell a little flat. The eye thing was cool (she had an eye tattooed on her hand), but it didn’t really go anywhere except to get her sacrificed to the one-eyed centaur. (Then again, I was starting to fall asleep at this point, so maybe I missed something.)
What I really liked was the final fight in the cavern between Koura and Sinbad. But then, I’ve always been a sucker for the swashbuckling part of movies like this.
Clash of the Titans
I saw the remake when it came out in 2010 (and liked it), so I was excited to see the original. As much as I liked Clash, it was obvious that the stop-motion animation was dating this movie far faster than the previous two, especially since it was made in 1981. It was also Harryhausen’s last film.
Perseus is the half-human son of Zeus, and he falls in love with the princess, Andromeda. When Andromeda’s mother brings the wrath of the gods down on her city, it’s up to Perseus to find a way to save them all before Andromeda is sacrificed to the Kraken.
I liked Perseus well enough, but Zeus was a massive hypocrite. He deformed one of the other goddess’s human sons for a (relatively) minor infraction, but turned around and demanded that all the gods and goddesses help out his own son. Frankly, I didn’t blame Athena for having Hephaestus make a mechanical owl instead of sending her own.
And speaking of, Bubo the owl was GREAT. Just absolutely adorable. I didn’t expect to like him even half as much as I did. Then again, I apparently have a thing for small mechanical creatures in sci-fi and fantasy shows. (See: K-9 from Doctor Who. I love that little tin dog.)
Plus, though it was cool to see certain monster effects — like Medusa and the Kraken — the animation just wasn’t as seamless as it had been in Jason.
After finally watching some Ray Harryhausen films, all I can really say is…damn, I’ve got to get Jason and the Argonauts on DVD. That movie was GREAT. (Also, I look forward to indoctrinating young nieces, nephews, and cousins into the awesomeness of the fantasy genre with these movies.)
Have you guys seen any Harryhausen movies? Which is your favorite?