Sunday, 13 December 2015

Ray Harryhausen - Special Effects Titan (2011)

A trip back to a time when fantasy worlds were painstakingly created one frame at a time, Ray Harryhausen – Special Effects Titan is an affectionate look at the career of the pioneer of stop motion animation, with words of praise from some high profile fans.

The story starts with his childhood, where Harryhausen became besotted with the original King Kong, and friendly with the creature’s creator Willis O’Brien, who became his mentor. We then get a journey through his sci-fi themed work such as Earth vs the Flying Saucers and First Men on the Moon, to the more mythology and fantasy based work like Jason and the Argonauts.

All this is interspersed with talking head clips from the man himself, who comes across as charming, articulate and warm, and celebrity supporters such as Terry Gilliam, John Landis, Stephen Spielberg, James Cameron and Joe Dante, all of whom talk of the influence Harryhausen and his films had on their lives and careers (Interestingly they all have their own favourite of his work, all for different reasons). Rather than just being fanboy ramblings however, they all seem to agree on the key to what makes his work special, which is that beyond the technical skill and spectacle, Harryhausen breathes life and even emotion into his characters.

We also get some insight into his working process, such as how his father used his engineering skills to help with much of the early building work, and how Harryhausen would not just build models, but get involved in story and design work on a film, even when not credited.

Furthermore, there is a plug for the Ray Harryhausen Foundation, set up both to continue teaching his techniques and to preserve his vast archive of models, drawings and notes, work that continues today, following his death in 2013.

The relentlessly positive mood gets a bit cloying after a while, and I started to long for some tales of conflict, something to break up the tone, but overall this is an enjoyable look at one of the greats of cinema.