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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ray Bradbury on Ray Harryhausen

Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen bonded over their mutual love of dinosaurs, and remained lifelong friends.  When Harryhausen took charge of special effects for “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” he told the producers about “The Fog Horn,” a Bradbury story that contained similar plot elements to those in their movie.  So the producers paid Bradbury for the rights to film his story, and both men could say that, in a way, they had worked together.  In his Foreward to Dinosaur Tales, Ray Harryhausen writes, “Hopefully the Fates have in store another subject, yet unborn, that will bring us together professionally once again.”

Most of us have an idealized view of Ray Harryhausen.  With our near instant-access to information and movies, we can easily recognize the superiority of Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation, and judge how well it holds up against contemporary techniques.  But before the Internet and the Home Video market, it wasn’t always so easy to learn about those who worked behind the camera.  Harryhausen often locked himself away in his one-man studio for weeks at a time, and still had to oversee scripts and the director’s working methods to ensure that his animated creations would seamlessly intercut with live action.  Despite such high level involvement in the production process, it was still the film’s director who got the name recognition.  Ray Harryhausen was just one of many listed in the credits. 

While some recognized his brilliance, in his era Sci-fi films were usually geared toward children.  Thus, he was rarely assigned to an A-list film.  Instead, he worked on B-movies, with smaller budgets and (usually) a no-name cast.  His films would be paired with the bigger-budget, star-vehicle A-movies for release in first-run cinemas, or distributed directly to second-run theaters.  Several of his movies, such as “The Three Worlds of Gulliver,” “Mysterious Island,” “Jason and the Argonauts,” and “First Men in the Moon” were box office disappointments.  Despite the commercial success of 1981’s “Clash of the Titans,” the studios decided the overwhelming success of newer special effects techniques, such as those used by the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, represented the future, and refused to back any more of his films.

The artist Moebius brings to life cantankerous
film producer Joe Clarence,
and the dinosaur model he criticizes and covets,
in "Tyrannosaurus Rex."

With “Tyrannosaurus Rex,” the final story in Dinosaur Tales, Ray Bradbury introduces us to Terwilliger, a man who animates dinosaurs for feature films.  Terwilliger never gets enough money to pay for his equipment, let alone to enjoy a life anywhere near as glamorous as that of the producers who hire him.  After his latest boss forces him to work at a loss, he nags Terwilliger to let him have his model dinosaur when the production finishes.  He also forces the man to repeatedly change the dinosaur’s features, dragging him further behind schedule each time, and thereby consigning his former work to the trash.  Despite all the abuse, Terwilliger carries on, because he loves his dinosaurs, and he loves his work.  Ray Bradbury claims he wrote the story because of how one producer treated his friend, so perhaps it sheds more light on a man whose fame continues to spread, and whose work we appreciate more and more, because he didn’t care about things like money or fame.  He loved his creatures, and stories they allowed him to tell.  For him, that was enough.

After "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," Ray Harryhausen animated dinosaurs in two more films: “One Million Years B.C.” and “The Valley of Gwanji.”  Still, I can’t help but wonder what might have been, had "the Fates" smiled on Harryhausen and Bradbury, and allowed them to really make a movie together.

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
Five Essential Ray Harryhausen Films

Related Internet Links

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