The Netflix Queue: Ray Harryhausen

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 ArgonautsJason 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 SinbadThe 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 TitansClash 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?

Immortal and Divine

I think everybody has a genre of movie that they will always watch, no matter how terrible said movie actually turns out to be. For some people, it’s horror films. For some, it’s thrillers. For still others, it’s romantic comedies.

For me, it’s movies dealing with ancient Greece, Rome, and the mythology of both.

300, Alexander, Gladiator, Troy, Clash of the Titans, you name it, I’ve probably seen it and enjoyed it far more than most normal people. (Except, perhaps, for Alexander, since that was more biopic and less action.)

And Immortals is right up that alley as well.

What can I say? I judged it from the trailer: more style, less substance, and any mythological accuracy would be more by accident than design. However, there would be action, swords, sandals, gods, monsters, and a plethora of buff men walking around without shirts on.

Luke Evans - Immortals - Zeus never looked so good.

Exhibit A

When you’ve spent the month searching your brain for words and throwing them onto paper, to the tune of several thousand a day, you get to the point that all you really want is a shiny movie with some swords and eye candy. And in that respect, Immortals delivers.

In Immortals, we have King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who’s leading an army in a rampage across Greece in search of the Epirus Bow. We have Phaedra (Freida Pinto), the oracle who can tell Hyperion where the bow is located. And we have Theseus (Henry Cavill), a peasant who loses his mother when his small village is ransacked by Hyperion’s army.

Little does Theseus know he’s been chosen by the gods to stop Hyperion, and so the fate of his people rests on his shoulders. Action ensues.

All right, objectively, it’s not a terribly good movie. The plot is kind of incidental. Where they ultimately find the bow (because of course they’re going to find it; you see that in the trailers) is an “oh, come ON” moment.

Stephen Dorff - Immortals

Exhibit B

There was little chemistry between Theseus and Phaedra, so the scene where they got together more perfunctory than, you know, the proper consummation of a relationship.

If you are at all familiar with Greek history/mythology, there will be much facepalming. (Like I said, any accuracy is more incidental than intended. Heck, I was just happy they got the gods’ names right.)

Visually, it’s well-done, for the most part, though at times it got too dark, which made it difficult to tell what was going on. And in the same way, the cuts during the action scenes sometimes went too fast, making it hard to follow the fights.

That being said, obviously, I enjoyed the heck out of it. Generally, I thought the cast did a good job with what they were working with. Mickey Rourke was awesome (as always). And John Hurt was an unexpected surprise. There are many actors that I love to just hear talk, and Hurt is one of them.

Also, I wanted to get a taste of Henry Cavill before he showed up as Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel. In the pictures I’ve seen of that film, he looks like he can pull off Superman, but I wanted to see if he could carry a film like this.

Henry Cavill - Immortals - Theseus vs. cannon fodder

Ladies and gentlemen, your next Superman. Also, exhibit C

Jury is still out for me. The man looks good, but I was just kind of “meh” on him as Theseus.

I walked in to this movie with my expectations set at a very specific level, and Immortals met them and gave me exactly what I wanted. Not exceeded, mind you. But met, and that was good enough for me.