Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan Blu-ray review
Release Date: June 28
In 1997 Time Magazine’s Richard Schickel made an excellent hour-long documentary titled THE HARRYHAUSEN CHRONICLES. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, it went beat-by-beat through the filmography of special effects genius Ray Harryhausen and featured interviews with the master himself along with contemporaries like Ray Bradbury as well as devotees like George Lucas, Dennis Muren and Henry Selick. Now Arrow Video USA is releasing a new Region A Blu-ray of a documentary that covers the exact same ground titled RAY HARRYHAUSEN: SPECIAL EFFECTS TITAN, which begs the question “Why do it again?”
There are several ways in which this new doc is essential, including its feature length, but the most important is it provides valuable context as to why stop-motion animator Harryhausen is THE preeminent figure in contemporary fantasy filmmaking. It does this by interviewing the many monster kids-turned-filmmakers who grew up to shape the genre in the late 20th century and beyond: Peter Jackson (LORD OF THE RINGS), James Cameron (AVATAR), Steven Spielberg (JURASSIC PARK), Tim Burton (MARS ATTACKS), Guillermo del Toro (PACIFIC RIM), Joe Dante (GREMLINS), John Landis (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON), Nick Park (WALLACE AND GROMIT), John Lasseter (TOY STORY), Vincenzo Natali (SPLICE) and Terry Gilliam (THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN). Technicians like Muren, Steve Johnson and Phil Tippet -who actually did much of the effects gruntwork for some of these filmmakers- also get to voice appreciation for Harryhausen.
While some of these interviews were clearly captured at movie junkets or other functions to uneven technical results (the audio for the interviews is all over the place), it remains the most valuable tool in the box for French documentarian Gilles Penso (CREATURE DESIGNERS THE FRANKENSTEIN COMPLEX) as he draws direct comparisons between, say, the skeleton warriors in 1963’s JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and Stan Winston’s imposing endoskeletons in Cameron’s TERMINATOR films.
While SPECIAL EFFECTS TITAN was made only a few years before Harryhausen’s death in 2013, the interview with him that forms the backbone for his story is just as enthusiastic as the one in Schickel’s doc. It starts with his early post-KING KONG dino-centric stop-motion experiments and covers his time apprenticing with George Pal and Willis O’Brien (the two most important stop-motion figures of Ray’s time), his fairy tale short films and then right through each feature film he worked on solo, starting with 1953’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS right up to 1981’s CLASH OF THE TITANS.
The balance struck is impressive, as it offers lots of great behind-the-scenes footage, original models and outtakes for die-hard fans as well as the many filmmaker interviews to give younger viewers an idea of why the man’s work was so important and influential. Needless to say, this edition is a must-have for all Harryhausen fanatics as well as anyone interested in monsters or special effects cinema.
Besides the film itself Arrow has provided a literal treasure trove of special features to allow fans to delve even deeper into Harryhausen’s work and legacy.
It starts with a feature that has Penso and the other filmmakers in a warehouse unboxing original Harryhausen film models such as the pegasus from CLASH OF THE TITANS or the alien ships from EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS like a group of nerdy archaeologists.
There are individual interviews (not featured in the film proper) with director Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD), writer/actor Simon Pegg (STAR TREK BEYOND), Peter Lord (WALLACE & GROMIT) and make-up maestro Rick Baker (MEN IN BLACK), as well as 12 Interview outtakes with the likes of Joe Dante, John Lasseter, Nick Park and others as well as eight deleted scenes from the documentary, including amazing insight on how they achieved sequences like the Kali fight in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.
A personal video message to Ray from friends and loved ones like Ray Bradbury, Ken Ralston, Randall William Cook, Guillermo del Toro, James Cameron and Vanessa Harryhausen once again underlines the deep respect engendered in his peers. There’s also rare super-8 footage taken behind-the-scenes during the making of 1958’s THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD.
There are not one but TWO Q&As done for the documentary, one with Ray Harryhausen himself from November 2012 at the London Gate Cinema (featuring Caroline Munro, Nick Park and John Landis), and another at the Paris Cinematheque from December 2012 solely featuring the filmmakers.
An audio commentary with the filmmakers includes director Gilles Penso, producer/musician Alexandre Poncet, associate producer Timothy Nicholson and co-producer Tony Dalton as they talk about creating the project and clearing the footage on a relatively minuscule budget. Lastly there is a trailer for the documentary as well as a selection of nine wonderful original trailers for some of Harryhausen’s most cherished movies.