The World Is Less Fantastic Today. RAY HARRYHAUSEN 1920-2013
Harryhausen was a man obsessed with pushing the limits of what was achievable in on screen special effects. After seeing the mind-blowing work of Willis O'Brien in King Kong, his life's path was set and the worlds of countless young men and women would be forever changed. Harryhausen's later collaborations with O'Brien and men like Ray Bradbury and Forrest J Ackerman would form the basis for modern science fiction from the 1940's on. While it may have been O'Brien whose work inspired him, it was Harryhausen's own work that would become the inspiration for so many who followed, especially those filmmakers who were children when he was in his prime from the late '40s to the late '60s. Men like Peter Jackson, Nick Park (Wallace & Grommit), Steven Spielberg, John Landis, and countless others have pledged their undying love and thanks to Harryhausen for years, and to him they owe an enormous debt.
While Ray has been enjoying a well-deserved retirement for the last couple of decades, his influence continues to seep into the public consciousness a little at a time. For my part, I've taken to sharing my love of Ray's Dynamation films with my own son, who is a little bit older than I was when I was first introduced. I'm proud to say that he now knows Harryhausen's work by sight at eight years old, and frequently asks to revisit films like Jason and the Argonauts (just this week he just asked me if he could watch the skeleton fight again), the Sinbad films, and The Mysterious Island. Now that my son is experiencing a little of what I experienced when I needed Ray's movies so badly as a child, I hope that he can find some of the solace that I once needed in these flights of fantasy.
When I dug around the internet looking for images of Ray Harryhausen to accompany this remembrance, there were literally thousands of options. The sad part is that most of them showed Ray as a weakened, frail older man, certainly enjoying his own legacy, but far from that man that made me smile. That is why I choose to remember him as I do, as a vibrant working artist, with his hands busy. This is the Ray Harryhausen I'll always remember.
I am thankful that Harryhausen lived a long full life, long enough, at least, to enjoy the praise that he sometimes got at his peak but always deserved. There are numerous documentaries about Ray Harryhausen and his work out there, you'd only have to look for a few minutes before uncovering at least three or four. Most recently there was Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, not available in the US, but on DVD in the UK as we speak. There is also The Ray Harryhausen Chronicles, an older feature with lots of testimonials and stories from collaborators. in case you're wondering why the film world is in mourning today, either of those would be great places to start.
However, the best way to remember Ray is to watch his movies. Are you in the mood for some classic '50s science fiction? Pick up 20 Million Miles to Earth and gasp in fear at the Ymir, one of Ray's favorite creations. How about 19th century literary fantasy? Grab Ray's adapatation of Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island and witness the scariest chicken fight you'll ever see! Would you like some adventure on the high seas? A double feature of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad will get you going for sure! Then, of course there is the mythological films for which he's so widely loved. Jason & the Argonauts, featuring what is Ray's most enduring work, the amazing skeleton fight; Clash of the Titans, Ray's final film and some of his most ambitious work in an age that was beginning to look at his style as old-fashioned. There are too many more to mention them all. But trust me, take a look at any one of these and become a child again, it still works, even fifty years later.
Thank you, Ray Harryhausen, for everything. Thank you for providing me with a place to go as a child when I needed to escape into your fantasies. Thank you for inspiring the filmmakers who've inspired me to believe that art can be a living breathing thing. Thank you for taking your passion and translating it into something that I and millions of others can marvel at for centuries to come. Thank you for always being an optimistic presence in a cynical world. Thank you, I will miss you.
Ray Harryhausen died today at the age of 93 in London.