It’s been a couple of days since the sad news about the passing of Ray Harryhausen. I didn’t want to write something straight away because it would have simply been a knee-jerk emotional response, and Ray deserves more than that, so I decided to think about it for a while, and so here I am.
Ray Harryhausen was the ultimate magician and one who was unafraid to reveal his tricks. He literally brought to life countless works of imagination. These inanimate objects, in Ray’s hands became living, breathing characters. But what was/is so special about all of Ray’s creations, is that they all have an emotional depth. Harryhausen himself went on record as saying he never created monsters, just misunderstood creatures.
Like Guillermo Del Toro he didn’t see monsters as nightmarish beings bent on causing havoc. Instead he had an understanding of them; which is why they were all the more realistic. He understood how they slept, how they moved and how they would react to any given situation. This was a relationship based on an obsession that began when Harryhausen first saw the 1933 King Kong. Like many impressionable 10 year olds he found the emotion of the gorilla completely affecting. Upon finding out that this had been realised by one man (Frank D. Williams) he took to his garage and began work on a passion that would go on to define the rest of his life.
What is for certain is that he has left behind an incredible legacy. Films like Clash of the Titans, Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Mighty Joe Young and The Valley of Gwangi will forever be embellished in my memory. Even 10 Million Years BC, which as a film I don’t particularly like is given bursts of brilliance thanks to Harryhausen’s masterful hands.
I think it should be mandatory for all parents to show their children any and all of Harryhausen’s films. Not just because they will be overawed with the majestic on screen effects, but because afterwards you can explain to them that it is something they can do themselves! Get them a lump of clay and a camera and help them make monster movies of their own. Then watch as their love for cinema, and practical effects in general blossoms before realising that Ray was responsible for all of it.
He inspired all the effects world greats, Bottin, Winston, Nicotero, Berger, Savini, Tippet you name it, Harryhausen influenced them. Though we live in a world of more CGI with less and less practical work there are still a huge majority of filmmakers who will cite Harryhausen as one of their heroes. You only have to look at Pixar’s Monsters Inc, which named a sushi restaurant after Ray, to see that his impact is still being felt and will never be forgotten.
Sadly I never met and now will never get to meet the man himself. I will be forever envious of anyone that got the chance to shake those magic hands; hands that made me believe in an army of skeletons, a snake haired Medusa, a Cyclops, countless Dinosaurs and of course Talos, the bronze giant in Jason &the Argonauts who is as real today as in 1963.
I’d like to leave you with a video tribute from one of Ray’s closest friends; the great Ray Bradbury. This was filmed at Harryhausen’s 90th birthday celebration but somehow now feels even more appropriate.
Thanks for everything Ray; a true Titan!