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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Five Essential Ray Harryhausen Films

In the beginning, there was “Clash of the Titans.”  Or perhaps I should say, at the end, there was “Clash of the Titans.”  The movie seems destined to go down in history as Ray Harryhausen’s most remembered film, and arguably represents his best, and therefore “the best” example of classic stop-motion animation.  Given the success of the 2010 remake, and the recent release of “Wrath of the Titans,” its popularity seems assured.  But what of all the other great movies he made?  

“Clash of the Titans” was the only Ray Harryhausen movie I saw in the cinema.  Although I might have subsequently seen it once or twice on TV, I never bought a VHS recording.  But one day, as I perused the DVD store, I happened upon it, remembered how much I had enjoyed it, and brought it home to enjoy.  Even well into the era of modern special effects extravaganzas such as the Star Wars prequels and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Ray Harryhausen’s artistry served as a refreshing reminder that one doesn’t need teams of digital artists, warehouses of computers processing millions of lines of code, and unimaginable amounts of money to make a decent Sci-fi movie.  (Nor does one need a team of animators or other special effects people, at least not if you've got someone with Harryhausen's creativity and focus working for you).  The extras on "Clash" also served an important purpose: they highlighted other great movies that Ray Harryhausen had made.  Suddenly, I had the catalogue of another great artist to explore!

In the intervening years, I’ve seen lots of this pioneering master’s work, and am always looking for more.  Yet, with all the new movies that get released each year, and all the movies that are reissued on DVD every week, it would be easy for the next generation of Sci-fi fans to ignore his earlier work.  This seems a shame, as his work made such a huge impact on the film industry.  Therefore, I’ve assembled a list of the essential non-“Clash” movies that any lover of stop-motion animation should see.  I call it:

Five Ray Harryhausen Films That Must Not Be Missed!
1. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
2. It Came from Beneath the Sea
3. Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers
4. Mysterious Island
5. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

The first two movies play on the 1950s concern regarding the unintended effects of nuclear radiation due to atomic bomb tests and explosions.  Today’s filmmakers remember the third as one of the best Flying Saucer movies ever made.  Each of the three, in a metaphorical way, plays to mankind’s eternal fears of what dangers might suddenly overtake us, without warning, whether we are on land, at sea, or from the skies.  All of them also address Cold War era fears through metaphor.  

The latter two, while more Fantasy than Science Fiction, play to the child in all of us.  “Mysterious Island” was based on a Jules Verne novel involving an island where gigantic creatures exist, and included his character Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.  “The Golden Age of Sinbad,” the second of three Sinbad movies, brings gigantic creatures from myths and classic fantasy stories to life.  Both make us ask what wonders might still await us, as we continue to explore our world.

Well, there you have it: five classic Ray Harryhausen movies that I feel must be seen.  That is, in addition to his triumphant swan song, “Clash of the Titans.”  The latter, as I said in the beginning (and I’m sure that Tina Turner would agree), is simply the best.  But then again, when it comes to stop-motion animation, so is he.

What are your favorite Ray Harryhausen films?  What movies of his do you feel should have shouldered their way past the others on my list?  While I always welcome readers’ comments, I’m particularly interested in hearing from any passionate Ray Harryhausen fans out there.

Internet Links for Harryhausen fans

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