The need to announce the deaths of film legends never stops being depressing. This week, we’ve lost special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92. Do kids today even know who he is, or why he’s important?
As the story goes, a young Harryhausen was inspired to join the movie business after watching ‘King Kong‘. He was left so much in awe of that film’s ape and dinosaur effects that he devoted himself to the art of stop-motion animation. After years of study, he worked under ‘Kong’ animator Willis O’Brien on the 1949 ‘Mighty Joe Young’, then later went on to solo acclaim and success with his own creature effects in ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ (1953). Soon, Harryhausen proved to be such an innovator in the field that his name became its own brand for a very special form of movie magic. Some of Harryhausen’s signature effects include the spaceships in ‘Earth vs. the Flying Saucers’, the walking skeletons in ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ and the multi-armed goddess in ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’ – all of which inspired further generations of visual effects artists.
By the late 1970s, stop-motion animation had begun to fall out of favor with audiences, who found it a little quaint compared to newer razzle-dazzle effects techniques used in movies like ‘Star Wars’ (which, to be fair, also included a fair amount of stop-motion). Harryhausen chose to retire after his 1981 hit ‘Clash of the Titans’, though he later returned briefly to direct a short film called ‘The Story of the Tortoise & the Hare’ in 2002.
At present, the following Ray Harrhausen works are available on Blu-ray:
- ‘It Came from Beneath the Sea‘ (1955)
- ‘Earth vs. the Flying Saucers‘ (1956)
- ‘20 Million Miles to Earth‘ (1957)
- ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad‘ (1958)
- ‘Mysterious Island‘ (1961)
- ‘Jason and the Argonauts‘ (1963)
- ‘Clash of the Titans‘ (1981)
While Harryhausen did not work on either the 1935 ‘She’ or 1936 ‘Things to Come’ (he would have been 16 at the time of the latter), he consulted on restoration efforts for both movies, which Legend Films then misleadingly packaged together as the “Ray Harryhausen Double Feature.”