|Film Fantasy Scrapbook,|
still on my shelf after 39 years
I was beyond excited to have my father in school on the day of the presentation, and I did not hesitate to leave my seat and wander to the front of the auditorium (the audience had increased somewhat from the time my father was asked to speak to the time of the actual presentation) to interrupt him for the sake of getting laughs and impressing my friends. ("Who are we, the Smothers Brothers?" I remember asking him in the middle of his explanation of stop motion photography. He replied that we were, but that I was to be Tommy, whose role it was to sit quietly while he, Dick, spoke. I'm not sure the Smothers Brothers followed that rule, but I know I didn't. My father was not amused.)
Years later, in seventh grade, I gave my own presentation during a "floor talk" in English class. I opened with a mention of Fay Wray and King Kong, tried demonstrating the stop motion technique using a model dinosaur I had almost completed, and concluded with a look at the same copy of Film Fantasy Scrapbook from third grade.
In my childhood I didn't see too many of Harryhausen's movies. I fell between the generation that could see them in theaters and those that could rent them easily on VHS or purchase them on DVD, so I had to rely on the whims of programmers at UHF channels. Regardless, I remained captivated by Film Fantasy Scrapbook, by the monsters it depicted, and especially by the technique with which they were animated. I kept a lookout for stop motion effects in other movies — The Empire Strikes Back is a great memory of that — and was happy when Harryhausen returned to the screen with Clash of the Titans.
Eventually, as special effects evolved, I began to feel as if stop motion had reached its peak and levelled off. In discussions with friends, I would say that it had been perfected early on, meaning in Harryhausen's prime, and that it was as good as it would ever be, but that it was easily being eclipsed by modern techniques. I was skeptical of those who claimed otherwise, though I still remained fond of Harryhausen's work, which I began to collect avidly on DVD.
Then, recently, I watched the remake of Clash of the Titans (2010), and I quickly realized how much more effective Harryhausen's work on the original is compared to the computer effects of the remake. The digital monsters of the new film are nicely rendered, to be sure, but the action scenes into which they are inserted lack a grounding element — there is simply too much digital stuff filling the screen, tumbling beyond orientation, leaving the viewer lost in a flurry of pixelated scales, fur, claws, etc. Watching the original once more, I noticed how Harryhausen's creatures, while noticeably "artificial," nonetheless become part of the world inhabited by the human actors. The threat or benefit which they represent can be felt, because their relationship to the human characters feels more physical, more real.
Below are frames from all of Harryhausen's feature films, I think, except for The Animal World. Also included are frames from two of his several short subjects, both based upon fairy tales. They are presented here in memory of the man, who died today at age 92.
|Little Red Riding Hood (1949)|
|Mighty Joe Young (1949)|
|Hansel and Gretel (1951)|
|The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)|
|It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)|
|Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)|
|20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)|
|The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)|
|The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960)|
|Mysterious Island (1961)|
|Jason and the Argonauts (1963)|
|First Men in the Moon (1964)|
|One Million Years B.C. (1966)|
|The Valley of Gwangi (1969)|
|The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)|
|Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)|
|Clash of the Titans (1981)|