Posts from the ‘Ray Harryhausen’ Category

The Valley Of Gwangi

Cover of "The Valley of Gwangi"

Cover of The Valley of Gwangi

You would think that any movie that combines cowboys with dinosaurs would be the best film ever made, but that is not the case with Valley Of Gwangi. This is not to say that it is a bad movie, it just doesn’t live up to the potential of the premise of the film. It takes 45 minutes until Gwangi, an Allosaurus (not a T-rex), appears.

Despite all this the film is still pretty good. It is impossible to dislike anything that features the stop-motion magic of Ray Harryhausen, although he is not at the top of his game here. The stop-motion animation is not quite state of the art but considering this was made in 1969 it is acceptable. Some of the animation is a bit jerky and not as smooth as it should be, for example with the flight of the Pteradactyl or in the scenes where Gwangi battles the elephant. Despite this the film is still enjoyable.

Advertisements

First Men In The Moon

Cover of "H.G. Wells' First Men in the Mo...

Cover of H.G. Wells' First Men in the Moon

First Men In The Moon is a 1864 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel featuring the great stop motion animation of Ray Harryhausen. It is an exciting film, even though at times Lionel Jeffries overacts.

This is typical 1950s/60s sci-fi stuff, with the ending sort of pinched from War Of The Worlds. Harryhausen’s monsters are perhaps not as threatening as in the Sinbad movies or Jason and the Argonauts, with the only real threat being the brief scene with a giant caterpillar-like moon cow. The other creatures created by Harryhausen are the insect like moon people called the Selenites.

The film is interesting and entertaining and a faithful adaptation of H.G. Wells’ work, but it is a change of pace from Ray Harryhausen’s usual film making magic.

The Time Machine

Cover of "The Time Machine"

Cover of The Time Machine

The Time Machine is a sci-fi film made in 1960 by George Pal and stars Robert Taylor. It roughly follows the plot of H.G. Wells‘ novel from the late 19th century in which an inventor creates a time machine and goes into the future to discover that mankind has torn itself apart through war. It does of course deviate away from the novel as it features scenes of World War I, World War II and the possibility of nuclear annihilation, things that Wells could not have possibly predicted.

When Taylor’s character H. George Wells goes into the future (1966 to be exact) and discovers that the world has been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust, he then decides to go thousands of years into the future to see i anything could have survived this destruction. He discovers that the human race has split into two species, the surface dwelling Eloi who are beautiful and seemingly carefree and ignorant, and the underground Morlocks, who are ugly and beastly and cruel. The Eloi have everything that they need provided to them by the Morlocks, who breed them like cattle only to cannibalize on them once they reach an age of maturity.

George ends up saving the Eloi and destroying the Morlocks and in doing so falls in love with the beautiful Eloi girl Weena. He then goes back to his own time where he relates his tale but is not believed by his friends. Because of this he returns to the future at the conclusion of the film.

The film is a typical 1960s type sci-fi film, of which their were hundreds. It is a very good fantasy film but the special effects are not all that special by 21st century standards. The use of stop motion animation and time-lapse photography is very quant when compared to today’s CGI but it was state of the art for its time. All in all the film is quite enjoyable as there has been a lot of thought put into the plot and the feelings of Taylor’s character. While the acting is a bit over the top, which was standard for 1950s and 60s sci-fi I still liked the movie.

By the way you may recognise Alan Young who plays Wells’ friend Filby. You may even recognise the Scottish accent he uses throughout the film. At around the same time that the Time Machine was released he was appearing in the first season of TV’s Mr. Ed as Wilbur Post. Since the 1980s he has lent his voice and Scottish accent to Uncle Scrooge McDuck for Disney.

20 Million Miles To Earth

Cover of "20 Million Miles To Earth (50th...

Cover via Amazon

20 Million Miles To Earth is another 1950s Sci-fi film. It features one of Ray Harryhausen’s most memorable monsters, the Ymir, although he is only referred to as the creature throughout the film. I believe that the armature (skeleton) of the Ymir was later used for another Harryhausen monster, the Cyclops from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad.

The plot begins when a secret US rocket ship crash lands in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Sicily. They were on a return flight after a secret mission to Venus, yes, the planet Venus, when the space craft is hit by a meteorite that causes it to crash-land. The crash landing looks quite dodgy and extremely primitive from a special effects point of view. There are only two survivors of the flight as we soon find that most of the crew have succumbed to a strange disease caused by poisons in the Venusian atmosphere. Soon after the crash, one of the survivors also dies of the fatal disease.

After the ship crash a canister that the astronauts collected from Venus ends up washed onto the shore, where it is found by the young and annoying Pepe. Inside the canister Pepe discovers some ectoplasm containing something or other. Naturally he sells it to Zoologist Dr. Leonardo. The thing inside the ectoplasm soon hatches and it is the lizard-like Ymir. At first he is quite small but ugly, but he grows rapidly and before long is wrecking havoc throughout the Sicilian countryside. He is eventually captured and taken to Rome where he escapes, attacks an elephant, runs amok and then finally climbs the Coliseum in what was homage to the original monster movie, King Kong. He is finally brought down by modern weapons of war.

This is a fun little movie and quite enjoyable. Most of the stop-motion animation is first-rate although it is not as polished as some of Harryhausen’s later work. Some scenes such as the rocket ship crash look very awkward, while the scene of the battle royal between Ymir and Jumbo the elephant also seems a bit primitive and fake. Perhaps it is because there a too many switches of shots between the live-action and animated elephant and it is very easy to identify which is which. Still, if you can overlook this you will find 20 Million Miles To Earth a very enjoyable film to watch.

The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad

I originally bought the DVD of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad back in September 2008 but had not gotten around to watching it until today. I primarily bought the DVD because I had heard so much about the special effects of the legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen and I wanted to see just how good they were for myself. I am also a great fan of stop-motion animation and I wanted to see just how Harryhausen’s work compared to that of his mentors Willis O’Brien and George Pal, as well as modern stop motion animation by the likes of directors Tim Burton and Wes Anderson. I was not disappointed as the stop-motion in Sinbad is great.

The film’s plot involves the legendary Sinbad, who is on his way to Baghdad with his fiance Princess Parisa. On the way there they discover the mythical island of Colussa where they see the incredible sight of the magician Sokurah fleeing from a giant one-eyed cyclops. When the cyclops turns on Sinbad and his men Sokurah rubs his magic lamp and orders the genie to create a barrier between Sinbad and the giant monster. However whilst fleeing the cyclops Sokurah loses the lamp which is subsequently picked up by our one-eyed friend. The magician tries to get brave Sinbad to return to the island, but the legendary sailor doesn’t want to put the lives of his crew at risk for such a folly.

Whilst in Baghdad Sokurah once again tries to convince Sinbad to return to Colossa. Even the Caliph of Baghdad, who is Parisa’s father, feels that if Sinbad agreed to Sokurah’s wishes it would spell disaster, even after the magician amazes the court by conjuring up a snake-woman. The only way that Sakurah can convince Sinbad and the Caliph to the trip is by shrinking the lovely Parisa to the size of a doll with an evil spell. He tells Sinbad that the only way to reverse the spell is with the shell of the egg of the two-headed Roc, which naturally enough only resides on Colossa. Sinbad has no choice and agrees to this, travelling with a crew made up of his bravest men as well as some of  the most desperate convicts from Baghdad’s prison. The convicts mutiny but are repelled when they are driven insane by screaming demons before finally reaching Colossa.

Once Sinbad and his crew finally reach Colossa they once again encounter the cyclops, who takes them prisoner. Whilst ol’ one eye is cooking one of Sinbad’s men on a spit, the beast is distracted by Sokurah, who had earlier split off from Sinbad and had snuck into the cyclops’ cave to look for the missing genie’s lamp. When the cyclops goes to investigate the tiny Parisa slips between the bars and unlatches the cage that has imprisoned Sinbad and his men. The cyclops is blinded after Sinbad pokes him in the eye with a spear, before it is tricked into walking off a cliff.

Sinbad takes possession of the lamp but does not know how to use it. Princess Parisa enters the lamp and finds a very unhappy boy genie who tells her the secret words to summon him, but only on the condition that she try to free him from his bondage.

The party finally reach the roc’s nest and Sinbad takes the part of the egg-shell he needs to break the magician’s spell. His starving men decide to quell their hunger by killing and eating the roc chick that emerges from an egg, which inevitably infuriates the bird’s mother who attack the men and takes Sinbad to her nest. In the confusion Sokurah kills Sinbad’s faithful men and abducts the Princess, taking her to his underground fortress. Sinbad follows, slipping past the dragon chained to quard the entrance. Sokurah finally transforms Parisa back to her normal size, in return for the magical lamp. However once he has possession of the lamp he reneges on his deal and brings a sword wielding skeleton to life to fight Sinbad. Sinbad defeats the skeleton in a very exciting sword fight before he and Parisa flee the underground lair. As they cross over a river of molten lava, Parisa recalls part of the prophesy the genie told her about. She persuades Sinbad to throw the lamp into the lava, freeing the genie from his slavery.

As Sinbad attempts to leave the cave he sees another cyclops blocking the exit. He releases the dragon to kill the cyclops but Sokurah then orders the fire-breather to attack the hero. Sinbad and his crew use the giant crossbow that they had built to slay the dragon, which kills the evil magician when it falls on Sokurah. Sinbad, Parisa and what is left of Sinbad’s crew depart but they soon find that the genie has been freed from his bondage to the magic lamp, as he is now Sinbad’s new cabin boy.

I must say that this was a film that I enjoyed watching a great deal. The stop motion animation may be quaint when compared to today’s CGI creations, but I appreciate the huge effort that Harryhausen put into not only building his fantastic creations, but for meticulous attention to detail he must have needed when animating each sequence. Apparently it took Ray a total of 11 months to finish all of his animation work on this movie. Whilst some of it does look a bit dodgy now, especially the scenes of Parisa where her size seems to change a bit, this was state of the art special effects in the late 1950s. I especially like the giant cyclops as well as the sword fight between Sinbad and the skeleton, which became a sort of Harryhausen trademark. Some of the acting is a bit wooden, in that cheesy 1950s way, but overall I think that The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad is a great movie suitable for everyone who loves adventure and imagination.