May 11, 2013

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013)

Ray Harryhausen, the special-effects pioneer best known for stop-motion movie monsters, died this week at the ripe old age of 92.

Normally, on Saturdays, I would be blogging about old Superman radio shows. But Harryhausen is certainly within the spirit of Serial Saturdays. What weekend afternoon wouldn't be made better by a science-fiction double feature of Harryhausen's brilliant B-movies?

The first feature film with Harryhausen's effects that I saw was the redoubtable 1981 flick Clash of the Titans, his last film. However, my favourite of his is the alien-invasion movie Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, along with Dr. Cyclops, which I first saw in a university lecture hall in my first year in a course on science-fiction literature, of all places. Finally, my favourite scene of Harryhausen's is hands-down the skeleton battle from Jason and the Argonauts.

Ray Harryhausen's jerky stop-motion animation looks downright Stone Age next to today's digital animation. But it has what so much CGI really lacks: heart and charm. I'm not putting down digital effects in fact, after I finish writing this, I'm going to a friend's place to watch Captain America and The Avengers on his 3D TV. Unlike the digital action-fests we see today, though, which throw the resources of multiple effects companies and hundreds of employees at the visuals, Harryhausen's work was a true labour of love. Artists like him are few and far between now.