RIP Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013)
This one truly stung. The news that Ray Harryhausen, the stop-motion maestro who breathed life into dozens of beloved screen creatures and sparked millions of imaginations, had died this morning at age 92 was a psychic blow to the many fans like myself who had grown up with his movies.
Harryhausen and his menagerie—the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the Cyclops, skeletons, dragon, harpies, Kraken and other enemies of Sinbad, Jason and his Argonauts and CLASH OF THE TITANS’ Perseus, the giant crab, bird and bees inhabiting the MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, the Ymir that traveled 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH and so many others—sparked the creative spirit of countless future filmmakers and writers. The talents who have paid tribute to him today (see Variety for just a sampling) reads like a Who’s Who of artisans who have shaped modern genre filmmaking, who may not have done so without Harryhausen there to point the way. Advances in digital FX technology may look slicker than Harryhausen’s painstaking frame-by-frame animation, but there’s a spark of life and personality to his monsters and mythological beings that’s sorely lacking in many of today’s CG beasts.
His creatures ran the gamut, from the oversized gorilla known as Mr. Joseph Young of Africa, a.k.a. MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, in the film on which Harryhausen assisted his own hero, KING KONG’s Willis O’Brien, to prehistoric critters like BEAST’s Rhedosaurus, VALLEY OF GWANGI’s Allosaurus and the assorted fauna of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. to the spinning spacecraft of EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS—and never failed to thrill. Somehow, he never won a competitive Oscar for his masterful visual FX, though the Academy remedied that grievous mistake in 1992 by bestowing him with the Gordon E. Sawyer Award.
I was one of the countless kids who ate up his movies both in theaters and on TV; I was 10 when SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER was released, and that same summer, I discovered Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine when I spotted its cover story on TIGER beckoning from a newsstand shelf. Forrest J Ackerman’s mag fed my burgeoning love of the cinema of the fantastique, which led to me subscribing sight unseen to an impending magazine, Godzilla gazing from its first cover, called FANTASTICA—soon, of course, to be rechristened FANGORIA. So it’s safe to say that without Ray Harryhausen, I might not be where I am today…and that there are lots of others—those who make movies, write about them or simply watch and appreciate them—who can say the same.