Little and Big Kid Shows Of Yesterday and Today --- Part One
A lot of adults who'd grown up on Ray Harryhausen films stood on line last weekend beside kids going to see Iron Man 3. Some had been there fifty-three years earlier when The Three Worlds Of Gulliver opened for Christmas, difference being 1960 crowds limited to youth and less enthusiastic parent accompaniment. An FX-laden Gulliver, carefully marketed by
|Gulliver's Team From L to R: Director Jack Sher, Charles H. Schneer, and Ray Harryhausen|
Ray Harryhausen kept multitudes from putting away childish things. He made it OK to go on admiring Sinbad and giant octopi. There was room for awe in adulthood for quality his work represented. You could be grown up and still want to make playroom monsters move just like magician Ray. If childhood had left us only The Magic Sword and Jack The Giant Killer, both imitators of the RH brand, it would have been easier to pack up youth and not look back. Remember when Tom Hanks gave Harryhausen a special Academy Award and said, Never mind Citizen Kane ... Jason and The Argonauts is the Greatest Movie Ever Made? Nobody laughed or thought him infantile, Jason by then representing a mythology as persuasive as that it dramatized. RH was a behind-camera Zeus for 1963 watchers and ones to come.
Harryhausen got respect for modeling by hand, then moving results a same precise way, even as progress (but was it?) eclipsed him during a Star Wars era. He retired (in 1984) after Dynamation, Super or otherwise, went past sell-by date, but had satisfaction knowing his were the last special effects driven by a singular personality. Blue-screens would be vacant and soulless from there. Friend Ray Bradbury recalled 1948's The Fountainhead being a favorite of Harryhausen; his identifying with the story's Howard Roark made sense. Retirement was a gift to Ray's legion, a thirty-year ongoing outreach to thousands plus a successor crop of effect wizards. He was by all account the kindliest and most accessible of major fantasy names, having earned first credits at precisely a right moment for dinosaurs on theatrical loose and children who'd thrill to seeing them. As with still-among-us Christopher Lee, Ray's army would never stand down, the two ranking top among venerable names genre fans dreamed to interface with. Never aloof as Sir Chris sometimes seemed, Harryhausen even took lunch on frequent basis with followers when in
The disrupt that was Star Wars, plus imitators, rendered stop-motion quaint by then-comparison, just as SW would itself get the heave from CGI (query to experts: Do early CGI pix look as primitive beside what's being done today? I'd check myself but for painful sit through 90's stuff). What Star Wars and sci-fi's comeback did achieve was hospitality at theatres for Harryhausen stock going back to The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad, it plus Jason and The Argonauts getting big screen play as result of that and success of newer Sinbads (Golden Voyage and Eye Of The Tiger, 1973 and '77, respectively). The Harryhausens weren't alone in benefiting from the boom,
The Harryhausens rode highest in a 50's market where appetite for king-size monsters had been quenched by revival of King Kong and little else. To said deprivation came RH with table-top giants that were a first to equal Willis O' Brien creations. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms was stunning proof that prehistory (or creatures escaped therefrom) could be staged for a price and sold at profit. It Came From Beneath The Sea and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, each good for $1.1 million in domestic rentals, showed Beast's bounty to be no fluke.
Check out also Greenbriar's There Is Only One Ray Harryhausen from July 2010, and Part Two of Gulliver HERE.