In Review: Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan on Blu-ray

by Kezia Tooby on 16/04/2013


For anyone into stop-motion animation or special effects design, the name Ray Harryhausen will be an extremely familiar one. Even those with passing interest in film will more than likely have come across the name, whether in relation to his early work with pioneering Willis O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young (1949) or the terrifying skeleton fight scene in Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Harryhausen’s work appears to have universal appeal, even today, and this documentary does little to dissuade that.

A multitude of famous names in the industry crop up in Gilles Ponzo’s doc: Tim Burton, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, John Landis and Nick Park, to name a few. Industry folk dissect and praise the work of Harryhausen and highlight the link to modern day films such as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

The master himself treats viewers to detailed accounts of his methods and is a charming character that clearly has an ingrained passion for his life’s work. The film gives an unparalleled insight with examples of his drawings and storyboards illustrating anecdotes.

Perhaps the most intriguing element is the stop-motion vs. CGI debate that runs throughout, Harryhausen believing that, “If you make fantasy too real I think it loses the quality of a nightmare or a dream”. Filmmakers offer their opinions, but it always comes back to the fact that without Harryhausen’s pioneering craftsmanship there would be no CGI.

This doc is a love letter to Harryhausen, now retired, but the sublime and abundant clips justify this unabashed opinion and it is easy to become absorbed into the fantastical world presented to us. We are helpfully offered names for the variety of lesser known talking heads throughout, with useful reminders of what films they have been responsible for, with Ponzo structuring his film chronologically, working through all of Harryhausen’s big hits.

It seems almost anybody working in special effects movies owes something to Harryhausen and whether you are familiar or not with his work, this excellent feature will educate and inform, as well as entertain.

Kezia has given Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan five Torches of Truth

5 torches

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