Thursday, May 9, 2013

Nostalgia Nugget: Mythic Movies of Ray Harryhausen

I tried to remember a time when I didn’t know about the movies of Ray Harryhausen. It was pretty tough. From a very young age, I enjoyed the stop motion creatures in his thrilling fantasy adventures. I honestly don’t know if I saw Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger on videocassette first or if it was a trip to the theater to see Clash of the Titans. All I know is that whatever the first film was, I was hooked forever after that.

It was a slow discovery of these films in my childhood. I remember seeing those two films very early on. Then followed by The 7thVoyage of Sinbad and The GoldenVoyage of Sinbad a few years later. It wasn’t until junior high that I actually saw Jason and the Argonauts. I know I saw Mysterious Island somewhere in there too. Probably around the time I discovered Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Most recently was the discovery of Harryhausen’s earlier work on films like Earth vs. Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles to Earth. A few years ago TCM was showing some of his films and I caught those two movies. I was amazed how good the effects looked considering that I only knew of his work from the later fantasy flicks.

And you’re saying, that’s nice and all, but I’ve seen those flicks too.

I bet you have. The thing is, I have to credit Harryhausen’s work for getting me interested in writing. Yeah, you read that right.

He isn’t solely responsible. I have a lot of influences on my writing, and if you want to go back to the real impact, it was probably Star Wars that started my love for genre fiction. But Clash of the Titans in particular made such an impression on me, that I had to know more.

I’m not sure what lead me to find out that the story in Clash of the Titans was based on Greek mythology, but once I knew that – it was all over. I remember picking up books on the ancient heroes, monsters and gods from the library as often as I could. The adventures within blew my tiny mind away. And I continued my journey.

I started reading other mythology; Norse, African, Japanese and Native American stand out most vividly to me from that time. I found the stories endlessly creative and fascinating. As amazing as Clash of the Titans was, I ended up disappointed they didn’t follow the myth a bit closer.

The interest in mythology lead to an interest in storytelling. That lead right into an interest in writing fiction.

During my last revisit of some of these old movies, I began to wonder, what connected so strongly to me when I was a kid.  I really have to hand it to Harryhausen’s work. The creatures he created in those fantasy films really seemed to move, live and breathe on their own. Their strange movements added an additional feeling of the uncanny to them. That might be why I find Golden Voyage of Sinbad to be the most effective of the films. The creatures in that movie seem to exist in a dream world, where Sinbad and his crew must face these other worldly creatures. Many of them are creations by the sorcerer prince Koura (played with perfect menace by Tom Baker). Because they were created by magic, their unnatural movements aren’t distracting, but feel bizarrely realistic. As a child, watching these films, I felt as if I was immersed in a complete world (very similar to how I felt when watching Star Wars). That quality has always stood out in well made genre films.

And so I salute Ray Harryhausen, a pioneer in stop motion animation. I know his work will live on and I’m sure will inspire countless other children to make movies, animate characters or attempt to write a heroic adventure of their own.


  1. Done right (and Ray always did it right), stop action is cooler effect than all but the most top-flight 1% cgi. Every single one of "his" movies (and they were his, if he did the effects) are fun to watch -- even the silly ones like One Million Years BC. I remember as a kid being fascinated (on a theater big screen) by the famous skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts. I'm sure Ray expanded the imaginations of many kids. A few, like you, filled their pens with it.

    1. I haven't seen "One Million Years B.C." in... well years. I remember there being dinosaurs in it, but that's about it. I also haven't seen "Valley of Gwangi" which just sounds like a blast. Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs!

      I once had a discussion with someone about the use of stop motion vs CG. For me, neither one looks realistic. They both look "fake" in different ways. it all depends on how they are used. As you say Harryhausen really put care and time into his work. It helped create those complete worlds. Sometimes it was more effective than others (the furry creatures always look less real for some reason).

      Both forms of animation are at their best immersed in their own environments. Its why a stop motion film like "Coraline" or a CG film like "The Incredibles" are so immersive on their own. But it takes some real talent to mix the media and make something special. Ray had the talent!