Ray Harryhausen (June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013)

Ray Harryhausen

It’s so important not to grow up. I’ve come to appreciate how the lucky people stay young at heart.

Peter Jackson in his Foreword to The Art of Ray Harryhausen

Steven Spielberg, John Landis, James Cameron and the aforementioned Peter Jackson are just some of the Hollywood A-Listers to feature in Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, the 2012 documentary by Gilles Penso, and express the debt they owe to Ray Harryhausen for their own love of movies. It is a wonderful documentary that showcases the love, craft and painstaking commitment Harryhausen put into his creations whilst also serving as a filmography of his extensive career.

I watched this superb documentary a couple of months ago when it appeared on iTunes and it reminded me of just how much I loved Ray’s films when I was a kid. Clash of the Titans, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger were all watched numerous times on the TV or VHS tape but it was Jason and the Argonauts that I loved the best. The enjoyment of these films led to attempts to film my own stop-motion mini-movies, initially with rubber dinosaurs and plastic soldiers, and then attempts to make my own creatures out of modelling clay. Sadly I lacked both the creative skill and the patience for it and a love of cartooning and writing began to take over. I’ve often returned to the movies on DVD or come across them on late-night TV and I’m always struck by how well they have held up against the test of time.

The skeleton sword fight in Jason and the Argonauts is often picked out as a great piece of Ray’s work, and it is a wonderfully realised scene, but for me the best example of his skill in the movie is the awakening of Talos. The hulking bronze statue of the Titan is disturbed when Hercules takes a golden pin from the treasure of the Gods that is housed within the pedestal the giant statue resides upon. The jerkiness inherent in Harryhausen’s stop-motion technique is perfectly suited to the lumbering movements of the metal behemoth and combined with a sublime soundtrack of squeaks and twisting metal serves to give the monster a real sense of size and weight. You can’t help but feel a modern CGI rendering would just be too smooth and perfect to give any real sense that the creature and the actors are sharing the same space.

I’ll finish by saying Rest in Peace Ray Harryhausen and Thank you for the movies, leaving the final words of this tribute to the great man himself:

I’m very happy that so many young fans have told me that my films have changed their lives. That’s a great compliment. It means I did more than just make entertaining films. I actually touched people’s lives – and, I hope, changed them for the better.

Ray Harryhausen


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