Ray Harryhausen is an anomaly in film history – he’s a special effects auteur. How many actors can you name off the top of your head? At least a hundred, right? How many directors? A few dozen? Now try and name someone who works in movies who isn’t an actor or a director. Not so easy, right? (Well it is for me, but I’m a huge nerd for this stuff.)
If you’re a movie fan, Ray Harryhausen is a hero to people who are heroes to you. Directors as different as Sam Raimi, Tim Burton, Peter Jackson, and John Landis see him as an inspiration and a mentor. (Here’s a terrific piece Landis recently wrote on the subject.) The reason why all these great artists love him so much is that Harryhausen was creating amazing effects back when CGI was just a jumble in someone’s alphabet soup.
Listing all of Ray Harryhausen’s creations would take a long time and also would just make me smile. I have a book full of pictures and stories about the production of his many movie creatures (this one), which I will no doubt be looking at again over the weekend.
Harryhausen made statues come to life and go to war. He made gods of myth look real (and generally, angry.) He conjured up beasts that once lived, like dinosaurs, and beasts that never will, one hopes. He brought a tactile grace to movie monsters that all the new technology in the world still struggles to recapture.
Best of all, Ray Harryhausen did the Skeleton Fight in Jason & The Argonauts. This is quite simply one of my favorite things I have ever seen, and it hasn’t lost its luster after a few hundred VHS replays, DVD spins, and YouTube clicks. In my humble opinion, this is one of the most miraculous feats of effects work ever to be seen in a movie. It’s weird and creepy and funny and it doesn’t benefit one bit from me throwing words at it to describe it, so better you just watch and enjoy…