While paying tribute to special effects ace Ray Harryhausen, on his acceptance of the Gordon E. Sawyer Technical Achievement Award at the 1992 Oscar Ceremony, actor Tom Hanks summed up the sentiments of hundreds of movie fans and industry insiders worldwide when he opined ‘Some people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane. I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made.’
Hank’s comments couldn’t have been more timely, for while Harryhausen’s films had been ignored for years by the Academy, his proprietary brand of stop motion techniques, Dynamation (in which miniature figures are moved a frame at a time to create the illusion of movement), have proved an inarguable influence on generations of filmmakers from Paul Verhoeven to Steven Spielberg.
It all started in 1933, when the teenage Harryhausen’s imagination was fired by the amazing special effects in the original King Kong. Experimenting with his own amateur stop-motion films led to a meeting with Kong’s creator Willis O’Brien. Becoming close friends, the pair worked together on the Academy Award-winning fantasy film Mighty Joe Young in 1949.
A movie version of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury’s short story The Foghorn launched Harryhausen’s solo career with the iconic The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953. Made on a miniscule budget, Harryhausen’s meticulous visual effects ensured the movie was a box-office hit for Warner Brothers.
Teaming up with producer Charles H. Schneer, Harryhausen went on to enthral fifties cinemagoers with an impressive range of fantasy films, featuring giant sea creatures, flying saucers and invaders from space.
After the release of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in 1958(Harryhausen’s first feature film in colour), the special effects maestro continued to hone his craft throughout the 1960s with such classic movies as Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years BC.
Even the era of science fiction movies like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, failed to eclipse Harryhausen’s popularity in the fantasy film stakes. His magical special effects still had the power to win over audiences in two further Sinbad adventures and his blockbuster swansong, Clash of the Titans.
Thanks to his amazing imagination and his skill as a special effects technician, Ray Harryhausen’s work is legendary and his films are a timeless tribute to his mastery of the cinematic art.
Harrryhausen:The Movie Posters is published by Titan