Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (Arrow Video, NR)

Don’t come looking for criticism in this film.


Before there was CGI, there was stop-motion animation. Back in the day, if you wanted to create an army of skeletons, a brontosaurus, or flying saucers that did not consist of pie plates suspended from strings, stop-motion was the way to go. The guy to call if you wanted imaginative, classy stop motion animation was Ray Harryhausen, whose career in filmmaking lasted almost 40 years and included special visual effects work on films like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, and Clash of the Titans.

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan is a celebration of Harryhausen’s work, featuring interviews with some of the best-known filmmakers working today, including Peter Jackson, Nick Park, Terry Gilliam, John Landis, Guillermo Del Toro, James Cameron, and Steven Spielberg, as well as interviews with Harryhausen himself and backstager shots of how some of the effects were created. Don’t come looking for criticism in this film—everyone has high praise for Harryhausen’s work and several cite him as a key influence that made them want to make films. One of the more intriguing aspects of this film is the way it juxtaposes sequences of animation created by Harryhausen with CGI sequences from more modern films like Jurassic Park, which show that although the technology is different, the illusion of movement created on the screen is often quite similar.

This is a film for Harryhausen fans and students of popular culture and includes many shots of the models Harryhausen used to create his effects, as well as lots of geeky insider information. Here’s one example: Harryhausen’s most famous sequence, the skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts, was created after the original idea for that section of the film—to have a fight between live heroes and formerly live heroes (i.e. rotting corpses)—was ruled out as overly gruesome. I guess you could call that an example of censorship acting as a spur to greater creativity, because those animated skeletons are still impressive (and maybe a little scary) today, despite everything that is now possible with CGI.

Harryhausen worked in an age where stop-motion animation was a practical special effect, used to create things that could not be otherwise filmed. Even in the age of CGI, however, stop-motion is still a useful artistic form, as evidenced by recent full-length stop-motion features like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline, and Anomalisa (the latter including some of the most innovative animation work I have ever seen). | Sarah Boslaugh

Ray Harryhausen has been available in several formats, including streaming, for some time, but the Blu-ray from Arrow Video release date comes packed with extras that will appeal to any Harryhausen nerd (note—the extras are also on the DVD release, so you don’t need to own both). These include an audio commentary by director Gilles Penso, producer Alexandre Poncet, and others; interviews with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Peter Lord, and Rick Baker; deleted scenes; behind-the scenes footage from Sinbad; Q&As from the Paris Cinamateque and the London Gate Cinema; the film’s original trailer, and a reel of Ray Harryhausen trailers.

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