The Art of Monsters: R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen

I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about the great Ray Harryhausen who passed away Tuesday at the age of 92.

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Harryhausen touching up the Kraken for Clash of the Titans

Ray Harryhausen’s creatures were all over T.V. in the 1970’s. As a kid, I saw most of the movies that starred these amazing creations and when I say starred that is exactly what I mean. There may have been actors and they may have had their names splashed on the screen with big titles but Ray Harryhausen’s screen credit carried more weight. And while most people would be hard pressed to remember the names of the actors in, for example, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger they would definitely never forget the giant troglodyte, the giant Walrus or the sabre-toothed tiger. As a kid I would patiently wait for the next sighting of a dragon, minotaur or statue (that had come to life). Those scenes of Ray HarryhausenHarryhausen’s work were always so satisfying because they (mostly battles of some kind) would last for several minutes and the camera didn’t shy away from what we the viewer were dying to see. Unlike other films that might have costumes or make up that the filmmakers knew not to dwell too long on for fear of disappointment; Harryhausen’s amazing creatures took center stage and they did not disappoint. Seeing Jason and the Argonauts or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was a monumental event. A circle was made in the t.v. guide. Plans were made. I had the good fortune of having been able to see his last (he went out on a high note!) film, Clash of the Titans(1978) in the theater. I was 8 years old and I still remember how genuinely creeped out I was through the entire Medusa scene; how excited I was when the enormous Kraken made it’s entrance in the final act.

So much has been written about him. He is held in such high regard and it’s so satisfying that is the case. How lovely that this pioneer of cinema has had his work screened, written about and cherished all these years. More importantly, the work holds up. I introduced my two boys to many of his films when they were young and they absolutely loved them. No amount of CGI can diminish the beauty of Harryhausen’s work. There is something magical and universally attractive in the art of stop-motion. Perhaps it’s because we are seeing this real, physical object being manipulated in the camera and brought to life. Whatever it is, it still works and it still fills the viewer with wonder and delight.  Sony’s HD movie channel is currently showing a number of films with Harryhausen’s creations. Check them out now!

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