Posts Tagged ‘Ray Harryhausen’

Movie Reviews 396 – Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

June 14, 2019

For decades Ray Harryhausen was a household name when it came to stop motion animation sequences in feature films. Having been inspired by Willis O’Brien’s King Kong in 1933, the teenaged Harryhausen began creating his own household menagerie of creatures that he then crudely filmed in 8mm. Before his career ended he had given us science fiction classics that include It Came from Beneath the Sea (based on a Ray Bradbury story) and  H. G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon. But Harryhausen will forever be remembered for the creatures he created for his fantasy films including three Sinbad the Sailor films and the original Clash of the Titans. Jason and the Argonauts may not have been his best overall film, but it is certainly as creature crammed as the rest and notably contained his most challenging and visually stunning achievement, the incredible skeleton pack battle.

The story, based on Greek mythology, has the heroic Jason (Todd Armstrong) round up a crew of brave, athletic and skilled men (Hercules among them) in a quest to find the Golden Fleece as they sail the seas in their trireme, the Argo . It’s actually an overly complicated setup that includes prophecies, roman army sieges, slaying of royal offspring, but most importantly all under the influence and meddling of Greek gods playing chess in Olympus (as they always tend to do in such films). In fact Jason’s fate lies in the hands of the god Hera (Todd Armstrong) who guides Jason throughout the journey and is ever present for consultation as the rear figurehead on the Argo that occasionally comes to life.

Their journey has them doing battles with Talos a gargantuan bronze statue, two winged, shrieking Harpies endlessly aggravating a blind man, and a seven headed serpentine Lernaean Hydra. One of the lesser special effects in the film (not involving Harryhausen I should add) does have us endure a ridiculously mundane looking Triton (nothing but a man shot against a miniaturized background) holding back the so called Clashing Rocks to make way for the Argo.

But the spectacle of the film will always be the finale featuring the famous skeleton battle. Seven bony bipeds emerge right from the ground and clash with Jason and two cohorts among Grecian ruins next to an ocean cliff. Brandishing swords and shields Harryhausen painstakingly choreographed every swing and counter save bringing what in reality were no more than 12 inch miniatures to life. The shooting is all the more impressive because the battle included three humans, requiring miniatures of them for some of the shots and more impressively coordinating the battle to blend with the moving, live action actors for most of it. Harryhausen’s finest few minutes that took months to shoot.

This film is particularly memorable for me as I was not only able to see it on a large cinema screen in 2005, but at a special viewing in which Harryhausen himself attended and where I met him personally, however briefly.

With modern computer generated special effects today any imaginable creature or scene can be realistically rendered so, sadly, younger contemporary audiences relegate Harryhausen films as archaic and perhaps ‘cute’ novelties. But to myself, and a lot of other more appreciative fans, this will always be nothing short of cinema magic.

Movie Reviews 292 – The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

March 25, 2017

While it is hard to pick which one of master stop motion movie creator Ray Harryhausen’s epics is the best – there are so many – The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was certainly a milestone and is representational of the great variety of fantastic creatures he animated. Like other Harryhausen movies, the plot is not what sticks in your memories as much as which particular creations were featured. In the case of the 7th Voyage, it was the cyclops (more than one actually), the shackled giant fire breathing dragon, the enormous two headed eagle chick (and one of it’s irritated parents), and probably the most memorable of all Harryhausen creations, a sabre and shield wielding, fighting skeleton.

Without any setup, Captain Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) and his devoted sailors find themselves battling a raging sea storm when they suddenly comes across a mysterious island. Sinbad is transporting princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant) to Baghdad not only to marry her, but to sooth relations between her homeland and his own. But as the crew is low on food and water their unscheduled landing is a fortuitous opportunity to replenish resources and do a little exploring.

With supplies restocked and preparing to leave, Sinbad spots a magician fleeing a giant cyclops on the beach shore. While they manage to save the magician, a lamp that he carried was lost and retrieved by the cyclops. The magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) tries to convince Sinbad to turn back to the island to get back his precious lamp but is rebuffed. Sokurah awaits his opportunity back in Baghdad and the eve before the nuptials he shrinks the princess to palm size.

With the princess’ father in a uproar and vowing vengeance to the Caliph of Baghdad, Sinbad reluctantly recruits the magician and a bunch of prisoners to join his crew for a trip back to the island to get one of the ingredients needed for the potion that can turn his princess back to normal and avert a war.

Back on the island fulfilling their quest for the ingredient – the shell from a oversized egg – Sinbad and his sailors have to deal with more cyclopse, two headed monstrosities, the gargantuan dragon, as well as the lure of a treasure trove, all while the nefarious Sokurah’s double-crosses Sinbad and the men. With the help of Barani, the genie in the lamp and a giant crossbow, Sinbad saves the princess, averts the war and live to sail another day.

The first of Harryhausen’s movies to be filmed in colour and featuring the “Dynamation” name for his miniature marvels, the film is also greatly enhanced by a memorable Bernard Herrmann (Psycho) Arabian themed score. This would be the first of three Sinbad movies Harryhausen would go on to make, although other films such as Jason and the Argonauts and his last film Clash of the Titans would also be based on mythological lore, his most imaginative subject matter. Not to disparage his earlier black and white films such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, 20 Million Miles to Earth  or Mighty Joe Young  – created under the tutelage of his mentor Willis O’BrienThe 7th Voyage of Sinbad – remains one of the favorites.

I was fortunate enough to have met him when he appeared for a special screening of Jason and the Argonauts at the Fantasia film festival in 2005. A thrill to shake the hand that crafted and gave life to all those miracles in miniature.