Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013

The death has been announced of Ray Harryhausen, the special effects wizard whose stop-motion photography featured in science-fiction films from the 1940s through the early 1980s, the days before CGI could make effects that might look more realistic, but don't do anything to make a movie better if the movie doesn't have a good story. Harryhausen was inspired by the special effects in the 1933 version of King Kong, which set him on that life of stop-motion photography. During World War II, he used the technique to make training films for the US military. TCM ran a tribute to Harryhausen several years ago in which one of the short films he made for the military was shown, along with several other of his shorts, although unfortunately it doesn't seem to be on Youtube.

Harryhausen's Hollywood work started with 1949's Mighty Joe Young, and continued through to the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans, but it's those 1950s and 1960s scifi movies that are probably the most famous. Most sources will, I think, suggest that the single most famous bit of work he did was in Jason and the Argonauts, in the scene where Jason engages in a swordfight with a bunch of skeletons. I think it's fitting that this particular image should lead the obituary here. But Harryhausen did a lot of other work: the flying saucers in Earth Versus the Flying Saucers, or the six-tentacled "octopus" (there were only six tentacles because it made the work easier and cost less) in It Came From Beneath the Sea. I believe I've only done a full-length post on one other of Harryhausen's movies, that being 20 Million Miles to Earth.

I don't see anything up on TCM's website about Harryhause, so I don't know if they're going to be planning any programming tribute for him. I also haven't been watching TCM to see if they've done a "TCM Remembers" tribute for him.

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