Ray Harryhausen: SFX Titan

Monday, 11 March 2013 00:00
Posted in Cult Movies on DVD
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Ray Harryhausen immortalised on Blu-ray and DVDSeven merciless, untiring skeletons that cannot be wounded. A hissing, and very deadly Medusa. Pegasus, serene and sleek. The towering and creaking bronze statue of Talos. These are just a few of the many classic beings that stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen has enchanted audiences with for sixty years. This new documentary celebrates the work of a genius and ropes in many cinematic heroes to raise a glass to Ray.

Amongst the fellow special effects artists, directors and actors who put in a good word for Harryhausen are Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and Guillermo del Toro. The film charts Ray’s career from the 1940s to 1981, featuring anecdotes and clips from perennial favourites such as “Jason and the Argonauts”, “Mysterious Island”, “Clash of the Titans” and “One Million Years B.C.”

The message of the documentary is clear: Ray Harryhausen’s influence in the sphere of movie special effects is quite possibly unrivalled and much mimicked even in this predominantly CGI era. His films were technical and artistic marvels at the time of release, and they remain dear to many people’s hearts to this day.

Harryhausen introduces and briefly discusses each film, and is accompanied by trailer clips, shots of his stunning pre-production artwork, coverage of the surviving models in their current state, and behind the scenes photos and clips. The star-studded cast’s input is spliced in around this, and some swift editing keeps things bouncing along nicely. Influences on Ray himself are also mentioned, including George Méliès and Willis O’Brien, the latter of “King Kong” fame and with whom Harryhausen worked on a number of movies.

As well as being a spectacularly gifted animator and sculptor, Harryhausen evidently had real vision and imagination. He was able to bring his creations to life, giving them personality and character one pain-staking frame at a time.

The technology he employed was relatively primitive by today’s wizzy computer graphics and compositing standards, but in his day Harryhausen devised some clever new techniques for keeping costs low and reducing the amount of effort required to superimpose stop-motion animation on top of live-action footage. He coined the terms ‘Dynamation’ and ‘Dynorama’, partly to avoid being misunderstood as a children’s 2D animator.

Although he hung up his hat after 1981’s “Clash of the Titans”, his legacy lives on thanks to the work of the Harryhausen Foundation, a charitable trust dedicated to educating new recruits in animation and preserving Ray’s legacy for generations to come. The likes of “The Terminator”, “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”, “Avatar” and “Jurassic Park” all carry the torch and cheekily feature homages to the great man’s work, and this documentary serves him well.

Special features on both formats include:

  • Audio Commentary with Gilles Penso, Alexandre Poncet, Tony Dalton and Tim Nicholson
  • Featurette ‘A Treasure Trove’ (14 mins)
  • Q&A at the Cinémathèque française (18 mins)
  • Q&A at the London Gate Cinema
  • Interviews with Edgar Wright, Peter Lord, Rick Baker and Simon Pegg
  • Interview Outtakes
  • 8 Deleted Scenes
  • Special Effects Titan Trailer
  • On the Set of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (3 mins)
  • A Message to Ray (2 mins)
  • Harryhausen Trailer Collection


The ‘Treasure Trove’ featurette is delightfully nerve-wracking as the team behind the film very carefully unpack a selection of Harryhausen’s best-known figurines. Despite some of them having undergone restoration work, the pieces are delicate and decaying, and have to be handled with extreme care. Waiting with bated breath as to which classic piece will emerge next is more tantalising than you might imagine!

“Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan " (2011) is out now on double-disc DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Arrow Films. The main feature has a running time of 97 minutes approx., carries a ‘PG’ certificate and retails for £17.99 on DVD and £19.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com





Last modified on Friday, 15 March 2013 14:26

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