I got tired of waiting for the US release and ordered a Region 2 DVD of Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (2013) by way of Amazon UK. The 97 minute documentary is essential viewing for stop-motion and Harryhausen fans. It traces the history of Ray’s filmmaking from the earliest home-movie animation of a cave bear, George Pal puppetoons, his collaboration and friendship with Willis O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young (1949), and a lengthy partnership with producer Charles H. Schneer. Ray has brief comments on most, if not all of his theaterical films. Director Gilles Penso and producer Tony Dalton have also assembled interviews from several notable Harryhausen fans, including Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Guillermo Del Toro, Nick Park, Steven Spielberg and others.
The documentary also contains rare footage from the Harryhausen archives, such as this home movie of Ray and his father Fred, who machined most of the armatures for Ray’s puppets.
The film is insightful and explores Ray’s dedication to the craft. I particularly like comments that special effects artists, clearly inspired by Ray, such as from animator Phil Tippett who tells young filmmakers crafting a career in CGI to study Ray’s work and that “less is often better”. The film also shows many of the tricks Ray used in crafting his films.
Here we see a glimpse of an aerial wire rig used to hold the spacecraft from Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956).
Ray was a multi-faceted filmmaker and “Titan” richly paints a portrait of a man dedicated to his art. Early on in his career Willis O’B recommended that Ray study anatomy to refine his sculptures and create more realistic creatures. Harryhausen notes that he was clearly inspired by artist Charles R. Knight, associated with Chicago’s Field Museum and the American Museum of Natural History. Here we have Ray sketching a triceratops.
Disc 2 is crammed full of interviews, Q&A’s with Ray, tributes and unboxing of Ray’s creatures. Drool away…
You don’t need to be a Ray fan to enjoy this documentary (see the deleted sequence from Douglas Trumbull who isn’t a fan of stop-motion). This is essential viewing for film lovers of all ages. “Titan” is a warm tribute to an extraordinary filmmaker who just resently passed away at 92. His legacy is carried on in many films by inspired directors. They don’t make ‘em like they used to!
I’m not a remake fan. However, here are five films I wouldn’t mind seeing remade in the right hands.
1. Forbidden Planet (1956). For year’s I’ve heard about a remake, but the story still sits. The original is a masterful translation of sound and design, but the post-war Eisenhower crew of the C-57D is terribly dated, the acting stagy, and there is so much to explore with the Krell. Perhaps even a prequel that explores the alien civilization and the fate of the Bellerophon party?
2. The Man from Planet X (1951). Ulmer’s low budget film about an alien visitor stuck in the moors of Scotland is atmospheric with a few frightening moments. I’d love to see an indie production company and revisionist director bring the story to a Latin village or secluded rural setting. The story is key -focusing on the visitor getting back home. A big budget film would we a waste, but done correctly the film would be interesting like the original.
3. Charade (1963). I consider this Stanley Donen mystery-thriller to be a classic, with mega stars Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, plus Matthau, Coburn and Kennedy rounding out a sound cast. Yet the story has plenty of twists and characters that could be effectively reworked for the modern audience.
4. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). This would be difficult to improve upon, yet the Disney classic omits an entire chapter “under the ice” from the Jules Verne novel. I’m still not convinced that James Mason nailed down Nemo. Shame on me, but I would love to see this done as a big budget production in 3D with CGI enhancements and modern digital photography. But who would play Nemo?
5. Daredevil (2003). I’m not a comic book guy, but I recognize the Ben Affleck film wasn’t good. Pull out the yellow costume and reboot already! And we don’t need 3 villains and a special effects extravaganza. Stunts stunt stunts.