May 17, 2004
The Animated Life of Ray Harryhausen
Posted by Ed
Tired of reading about Troy? (I wouldn't blame you, especially if you tried to read all of my rambling reflections on the movie...) Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle features a review of the autobiography (subtitled "an animated life") of Ray Harryhausen, who did the special effects for 1981's Clash of the Titans:
After years of neglect, Harryhausen and his work are belatedly getting the attention they deserve. The artist recently received a star on Hollywood Boulevard, he appeared in a cameo in "Spy Kids II," and Pixar animators named a trendy restaurant after him in "Monsters, Inc." His new memoir lives up to the subtitle "An Animated Life," as it focuses almost exclusively on his career, from his early short films to the features that showcased his special effects wizardry.
He offers a warm tribute to his mentor Willis O'Brien, the stop-motion pioneer who animated "King Kong," and praises his long-time producer Charles Schneer. He writes enthusiastically about the actors who had to cope with the monsters he created, including Raquel Welch, Harry Hamlin, Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier. Harryhausen's only harsh words are reserved for unnamed directors who failed to understand the need for his input when shooting sequences that would involve animation, and for misguided publicity campaigns that hurt films at the box office.
I can still remember the days when I thought that Clash of the Titans
was a cinematic masterpiece. (I was five when it came out, and I loved my Perseus action figure!) Clash of the Titans
isn't exactly a good movie, but in its own way, it's far more memorable than Troy
Posted by Ed at May 17, 2004 03:38 PM
Well, I'm older, and I remember when Clash of the Titans was released and the critics all mentioned that Ray Harryhausen did the effects. And they all said he was an old-time Hollywood guy; his stuff was old style, not this new computer-generated stuff the Star Wars movies were showing. So I figured he was very old and had come out of retirement for Clash of the Titans.
Was Harryhausen ever mainstream? Even back then the TV reviewers were showing the skelton sword-fighters from that Sinbad movie and everyone was growing misty-eyed with nostalgia. At the time it never occurred to me that we'd be nostalgic for Clash of the Titans some day. I wonder how old Harryhausen is now.
According to the IMDB, Harryhausen will turn 84 next month; until I saw the article, I assumed that he was already dead.
I agree: I'm not sure that his work was ever terribly mainstream. (Clash of the Titans has always been more of a cult favorite than a mainstream hit, for instance.) The article mentions that Harryhausen's mentor had done the stop-motion animation for King Kong, so he was definitely linked to old-time Hollywood, but I think he had his own little niche in American movie-making. Other readers of this blog probably know far more about Harryhausen than I do, though.
Harryhausen is widely (and rightly) considered a living god in the cinema circles I keep. I don't know how one defines "mainstream", but such stop-motion classics as "Beast from 20,000 Fathoms", "The Valley of Gwangi", and the Sinbad movies were certainly popular and well-known in their day. The skeleton warrior battle (actually from "Jason and the Argonauts", which also featured an insanely cool Hydra) stands as one of the greatest examples of stop-motion animation ever. Harryhausen (and his mentor Willis O'Brien, who did a number of dinosaur shorts in addition to the famed "Kong") have always been revered by cult film fans, but get paid occasional "real" Hollywood lip service as well. Note the fancy restaurant in "Monsters, Inc." was named "Harryhausen's."
Oh, and CGI sucks.
Ed, I saw a doc on Harryhausen and thought his stuff, both old and "Clash of the Titans," looked AWFUL! Better not to do animation at all than such crap!
On one level, I have to agree with you: the special effects in "Clash of the Titans" certainly aren't up the standards of today's movies, and I strongly suspect that its jerky look didn't completely match even the movies of 1981.
I think there's a broader issue here, however. "King Kong" has a very archaic look today, but there's also a certain authentic feel to its animation--given what its creators had to work with at the time, it's quite an accomplishment, and there's an appealing side to it even now. Likewise, I think I prefer the puppet Yoda of "The Empire Strikes Back" to the CGI Yoda of the first "Star Wars prequel." (I probably prefer the old Yoda to the Yoda of the second prequel, too, though it's nice to see him having more to do in "Attack of the Clones.") The original Yoda somehow feels more real and shows more personality, even if it doesn't seem as realistic.
I don't think "Clash of the Titans" is a very good movie, but it has a nice campy feel overall. (Plus, it was Laurence Olivier's greatest movie! Well, maybe not...) I think the stop-motion animation gives the movie an aura of authenticity and links it to the Hollywood of decades before, so I'm not as willing as you are to write it off as awful. One can debate why effects that look fake can seem more authentic (and perhaps I'm in a minority on this question), but I think it has to do with the craftsmanship involved.
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