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Earl Hamner, Jr.
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Ray Harryhausen
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HARRYHAUSEN, RAY
(1920– ). American special effects artist.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Special effects: Tulips Shall Grow (short) (George PAL 1942);  Mighty Joe Young (with Willis O'BRIEN) (Ernest B. SCHOEDSACK 1949); Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (with Willis Cook) (Eugene LOURIE 1953); It Came from beneath the Sea (with Jack Erickson) (Robert Gordon 1954); Earth versus the Flying Saucers (with Russ Kelley) (Fred F. SEARS 1956); The Animal World (documentary) (Irwin ALLEN 1956); Twenty Million Miles to Earth (and appeared in, uncredited) (Nathan JURAN 1957); The Three Worlds of Gulliver (Jack Sher 1960); Mysterious Island (Cy Endfield 1961); One Million Years B.C. (Don Chaffey 1966).

Special effects, produced, and directed:  How to Bridge a Gorge (1942); The Storybook Review (1946); The Story of "Little Red Riding Hood" (1949); The Story of "Rapunzel" (1951); The Story of "Hansel and Gretel" (1952); The Story of King Midas (1953); The Story of "The Tortoise and the Hare" (with Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh, uncredited) (2002).

Special effects and produced: The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad  (and story, uncredited) (Juran 1958; Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey 1963); First Men in the Moon (Juran 1964); The Valley of Gwangi (James O'Connolly 1969); The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (and story) (Gordon Hessler 1973); Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger  (and story) (Sam Wanamaker 1977); Clash of the Titans (Desmond Davis 1981).

Produced: Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection (2003); Ray Harryhausen Presents: The Pit and the Pendulum (short) (Marc Lougee 2007).

Appeared in: Spies Like Us (John LANDIS 1985); Mighty Joe Young (Ron Underwood 1998); Elf (voice) (Jon Favreau 2003); numerous documentaries.

Film based on his work: Clash of the Titans (Louis Leterrier 2010).

 
Watching a classic Ray Harryhausen film, modern viewers might simply report that his amazing creatures look insufficiently realistic, since they always move with a slight but visible jerkiness, betraying that they are creations of stop-motion animation. But this is to understate their power: for it is precisely because of their odd motion, I might argue, that they seem uniquely strange and unearthly. Thus, even today, the dinosaur-like Ymir of 20 Million Miles to Earth seems much more unsettling than the convincingly real, but unevocative, dinosaurs running through Steven SPIELBERG's Jurassic Park and scores of similar films. True, in an age of computer-generated animation, no one will ever again want to bother with the incredibly time-consuming process of stop-motion animation that Harryhausen perfected, but technicians might interestingly experiment with ways to make their computerized constructs move with the same irregularities as Harryhausen's most memorable monsters, enhancing their aura of alienness. Such a process would also allow one to achieve the ultimate in stop-motion animation, which Harryhausen never had the time or resources to accomplish: an entire film in which both the outré animals and the human actors move jerkily, as if living in an alternate universe where time does not flow continuously, but rather burps along, twenty-four times a second.

Harryhausen initially specialized in short films based on fairy tales, though he did assist Willis O'BRIEN in creating the unremarkable Mighty Joe Young; but he truly came into his own by crafting the dinosaur of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and the giant octopus (famously with only six tentacles, to save money) of It Came from beneath the Sea. These animals, and some dinosaurs for Irwin ALLEN's documentary The Animal World, were merely impressive, but the death scene of his Ymir showed that Harryhausen's creatures could inspire sympathy as well as awe. However, his most striking achievement of the 1950s was surely Earth versus the Flying Saucers. While this is hardly a noteworthy film, the Harryhausen-supervised scenes wherein the saucers attack Washington, D.C. should be required viewing for all science fiction film critics; rarely has a city been ravaged on film with such delightful ferocity. Indeed, the sheer exuberance of the sequence rather undermines the contrived air of crisis that the movie otherwise strives to convey. In his later science fiction films, he had fun with various oversized animals in Mysterious Island (watch for the battle with the giant chicken), the dinosaurs of One Million Years B.C. and The Valley of Gwangi, and his insect-like Selenites for First Men in the Moon, which seem very close to H. G. WELLS's own descriptions.

But by this time, Harryhausen had decided that he would rather focus on fantasy films, and along with his regular colleague, producer Charles H. SCHNEER, he began a series of colorful fantasies with The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, later followed by The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Jason and the Argonauts, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. All of these films are fast-moving and entertaining, with impressive animation sequences, particularly the battles with animate skeletons, yet one must echo the common criticism that they are mainly a series of setpieces, crudely connected by episodic and uninvolving stories and helmed by undistinguished leading men. Only Harryhausen, for example, ever saw any virtues in the acting talents of Patrick Wayne. By far the best of these films is Jason and the Argonauts, which benefits from an unusually strong story (based on the Greek myth) and the clever framing device of chess-playing gods who determine the hero's fate.

In a film obviously designed to be the climax of his career and his crowning achievement, Harryhausen followed the pattern of Jason and the Argonauts in creating Clash of the Titans, although the chosen myth this time was the story of Perseus. For once, Harryhausen was blessed with a large budget, and after long accepting the status of a second-string filmmaker, Harryhausen must have found it gratifying indeed to have the great Laurence OLIVIER himself playing Zeus and presiding over his fantasy world, though director Desmond Davis let him get away with an indifferent and playful performance; able veterans like Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom and Burgess MEREDITH strengthened the film; and a young Harry Hamlin proved the best hero Harryhausen had ever had. But by this time, alas, Harryhausen had emptied his bag of tricks; everything in the film had already been seen in his previous films, and the giant sea monster of the final scenes seemed especially derivative and woefully anticlimactic, reinforcing the sense that his decision to retire had been wise.

Perhaps the control that Harryhausen had achieved over his own career was infelicitous, since he might have been better stimulated in his later years by the science fiction projects that others would surely have brought to him, had he not been busy with his fantasy films. Surely, I I am not the only observer who prefers his science fiction to his fantasy; yet Harryhausen's actual achievements are sufficient to justify the many honors that he has received in the three decades of his retirement. He has also served as a benevolent father figure to a new generation of special effects artists and an agreeable participant in many documentaries celebrating the science fiction and fantasy films of himself and his contemporaries. It is strange that the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans —inferior to the original, despite its vastly more sophisticated special effects—did not include any mention of Ray Harryhausen's name, but he requires no such recognition to ensure that his work will always be remembered.

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