I’ll hold off on posting a new review today to pay tribute to one of the men who helped me cut my cinematic teeth. And that man is none other than special effects GIANT, Ray Harryhausen—passing on about 7 weeks shy of his 93rd birthday. As a youngster growing up in 1970’s Jersey City, New Jersey, I must have watched hundreds of horror and sci-fi/fantasy films on our tiny, black & white television set. It was through those genres that I first developed the far more eclectic tastes that I sport today. Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi—those guys were gods to me. Not to mention my appreciation of assorted monsters, flying saucers, triffids, blobs and aliens. And even at a tender age, I was well aware of two very special behind-the-scenes guys who created so many of those fantastic effects. One was Universal’s Jack Pierce—the make-up artist extraordinaire responsible for the iconic look of the Wolf Man, the Mummy and the Frankenstein monster. The other was the late Mr. Harryhausen.
It’s been said that Harryhausen got the “bug” for his various model and stop-motion effects after frequenting 1933’s classic “King Kong”, featuring visual effects from the renowned Willis O’Brien. Sure enough, Harryhausen would later be a young, assistant animator on 1949’s “Mighty Joe Young”—which would win O’Brien the Academy Award for Special Effects. But, starting in the early 1950’s, Harryhausen’s career exploded with his work on movies like 1953’s “The Beast from 20’000 Fathoms”, 1955’s “It Came from Beneath the Sea”, 1956’s “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers”, 1961’s “Mysterious Island” and 1963’s “Jason and the Argonauts”. And, of course, those marvelous Sinbad the Sailor adventures, beginning with “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” in 1958. “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” and “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger” would follow in 1974 and 1977, respectively. It was that trilogy that had youngsters thrilled at the sight of sword-fighting skeletons and statues come to life, via the stop-motion technique of Dynamation. And who amongst my age group doesn’t recall repeatedly watching 1981’s “Clash of the Titans” on cable television. It was the last of Harryhausen’s major releases, as a new style of special effects soon took over, eventually leading us to the computer-generated type that proliferates today.
How influential was Ray Harryhausen? It’s been said that George Lucas once commented that without the inspiration from his work—there would be no “Star Wars”. Is there any higher compliment? Also, be sure to pay attention the next time you pop in the DVD of 2001’s Oscar-winning Pixar film, “Monsters, Inc.” for your kids(the highly anticipated sequel arrives next month). Note the name of the restaurant that two characters attend. It’s called “HARRYHAUSEN’S”. And that piano that’s played in Tim Burton’s 2005 stop-motion animated film “Corpse Bride”? It’s not a Steinway labeling you see. It says, you guessed it, “Harryhausen”. A great motion picture innovator left us yesterday, but thankfully his legacy will be felt for decades to come. Adieu, Ray Harryhausen! Thank you, and you will never be forgotten!