Archive for the Mythology Category

FAREWELL TO RAY HARRYHAUSEN

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2013, 60s Movies, Giant Monsters, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Mythology, Obituaries and Appreciations, Special Effects with tags , , , , , on May 14, 2013 by knifefighter

(The following tribute to Ray Harryhausen is appearing both on my blog and here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.—Michael Arruda)

A Tribute to RAY HARRYHAUSEN
By Michael Arruda

Special effects master Ray Harryhausen with some of his creations.

Special effects master Ray Harryhausen with some of his creations.

Ray Harryhausen, the greatest stop-motion animator in the history of motion pictures, passed away on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.  He was 92.

I had the pleasure of meeting Harryhausen at a convention in the late 1990s, and the thing I remember most about the experience—besides the fact that he was a classy guy and that he brought many of his miniature creature models with him—was Harryhausen’s love for telling stories.  It wasn’t just about the special effects with Harryhausen.  It was about the story.  It was important for him that his creatures lived in a world that seemed real yet magical at the same time.  On the movies that Harryhausen worked, much time was spent hammering out background stories, imaginative settings, and exciting conflicts.

Harryhausen’s genius wasn’t only that he was a master of stop-motion animation effects, but that the creatures he created using these effects lived and breathed in stories that were as memorable as the creatures themselves.  Of course, it helped that he was a master animator.  His movie creations are like no others.  He gave them sculpted bodies, facial expressions and incredible movement, bringing them to life long before CGI technology.

To watch a movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen is to enter another world.

From MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), the first major movie he worked on, under the direction of his teacher and mentor, King Kong creator Willis O’Brien, to CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), Ray Harryhausen’s movie magic has no equal.  O’Brien may have created the most memorable stop-motion effects ever in KING KONG (1933), but by sheer volume alone, Harryhausen is king.  He dominated the special effects scene from the 1950s through the 1970s, and during these decades, no one else came close to achieving the consistency and quality of stop-motion animation effects.  Simply put, he was the best at it.

Harryhausen working on the model for MIGHT JOE YOUNG (1949)

Harryhausen working on the model for MIGHT JOE YOUNG (1949)

And the argument can be made that in a couple of his films his animation rivals O’Brien’s work in KING KONG, in films like THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) (arguably his best), and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1962).  The sword fight between Jason and his men and the army of skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS  is one of the most exciting and ambitious stop-motion effects sequences ever put on film.

Here’s a partial look at Harryhausen’s movies:

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949)—Other than Kong, Joe is the most remarkable giant ape in the movies. The fiery climax, in which Joe rescues children from burning building, is must-see cinema!

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) —rivals GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956) as one of the scariest prehistoric-beasts-on-the-loose movies ever.  Memorable conclusion involving Coney Island roller coaster.  That’s Lee Van Cleef as the marksman at the end taking aim at the monster. 

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) —Ray Harryhausen destroys Washington D.C.!   See his alien spaceships attack the nation’s capital!

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) —Attack of the Ymir!  Yep, that extraordinary monster from Venus is one of my favorite Ray Harryhausen creations. The Ymir was unnamed in the movie, and only picked up the name “Ymir” later from fans.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) —My pick for the best Ray Harryhausen movie of all time.  It contains his finest special effects, one of his most memorable creations, the Cyclops, it’s briskly directed by Nathan Juran, has a phenomenal villainous performance by Torin Thatcher as Sokurah, the magician, and a rousing music score by Bernard Herrmann.

The Cyclops from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

The Cyclops from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) —That animated crab is the real thing!  Harryhausen used a real crab in the giant crab sequence, animating it like one of his models.

-JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) —My second favorite Ray Harryhausen movie.  The sword fight with the skeletons is spectacular!

FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964) —I’ve always loved this story by HG Wells, and Harryhausen’s effects here don’t disappoint.

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) —Harryhausen joins the Hammer Films family and animates dinosaurs that chase scantily clad Raquel Welch in this Hammer prehistoric adventure.

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) —in the subgenre of horror westerns, this film ranks among the best. 

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) —Harryhausen’s follow-up to THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is nearly as good and contains some of Harryhausen’s best special effects, including a great sword fight between Sinbad and the goddess Kali.

Sinbad vs Kali. One of the best scenes in 1974's THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

Sinbad vs Kali. One of the best scenes in 1974’s THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) —Released the same year as STAR WARS (1977) it was criticized for having outdated special effects.  Suddenly, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation was passé. 

CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981) —Harryhausen’s last feature, one of my least favorites, yet still features some fine moments, including a very creepy Medusa sequence. 

In my family, we all know who Ray Harryhausen is, but it pains me that Ray Harryhausen is not a household name.  He should be.

For me, there are few moviemakers who have been as influential as Ray Harryhausen.  The movies he’s worked on have been some of the most imaginative innovative creative films I have ever seen.  They are the real deal.  Movies that captivate fascinate and entertain.

To watch a Ray Harryhausen movie is to arouse your imagination.

Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, maker of movie monsters and fantasy worlds, of movies that will live in imaginations for years to come, thank you for sharing your genius with the world. 

You will be missed.

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

 *****

Ray HarryhausenRAY HARRYHAUSEN: SOME AFTERTHOUGHTS
By L.L. Soares

Harryhausen was one of the best. CGI may have made his style of effects seem outdated and quaint, but it wouldn’t exist without his pioneering stop-motion process. Back when it took incredible amounts of time and effort to create even a few minutes of film, Harryhausen had incredible reserves of patience and talent.

The cool thing about Ray Harryhausen was not that he just did effects, but that most of the movies he worked on REVOLVED AROUND his effects. How often did that happen, where the special effects guy was the dominant figure in movies? And not just flimsy plots to keep the action going, but decent storylines, that made his creations shine.

Michael has touched upon some of the highlights. I’d like to give my personal take on these as well.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) —I remember seeing this one as a kid and being blown away by it. Harryhausen’s dinosaur on the loose was remarkable and effective, especially to a child’s eyes. And this one featured a rare collaboration between the two Rays – Harryhausen and Bradbury – as the movie was based on Bradbury’s story, “The Foghorn.”

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) —This was one of my favorites, involving a gigantic octopus that rose from the ocean depths to cause havoc on the surface world of humans. The way the octopus moved was uncanny, and convincing. A really underrated entry in the 1950s “giant animals” genre.

The giant octopus from IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

The giant octopus from IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) —Sure, it might look a little dated now, but it also is immediately recognizable as the work of Harryhausen. I still think that ten minutes of this movie is more visually interesting than all of the similarly themed  INDEPENDENCE DAY(1996)

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) – My favorite Harryhausen film. I loved the story that this movie told, as well as the monster at its heart. The Ymir was a vaguely humanoid, prehistoric-looking creature from the planet Venus. In this one, Harryhausen made us care about the monster, and believe in him. The scene where the confused Ymir fights an escape elephant remains a classic.

The "Ymir," one of Harryhausen's best creatures, from 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957)

The “Ymir,” one of Harryhausen’s best creatures, from 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957)

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) —I remember seeing stills from this one in issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine, and hoped I’d finally get to see it for real. Back when I was a kid, a lot of these movies showed up on television, but you never knew where or when. It wasn’t like video and Netflix where you just call it up and watch it. It was a crapshoot. I remember watching this movie on a Saturday afternoon on a tiny black and white television, with fuzzy reception, and being astounded by it. The amazing Cyclops became one of my favorite fantasy movie creatures, as well as the two-headed giant bird, the Roc.

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) —Like Michael, this is my second favorite Ray Harryhausen movie, too. It didn’t have the heart of a creature like the Ymir, but it featured some of Ray’s most iconic effects. The sword fight with the skeletons might just be Harryhausen’s most memorable scene ever. I bet this one influenced a whole generation who would grow up to give us the computer effects that replaced it. But this movie had to come first.

The unforgettable battle with the skeletons from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

The unforgettable battle with the skeletons from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) —Sure it makes no sense historically; dinosaurs and cavemen never existed at the same time—but this one is a classic, and was a pretty big hit at the time. The cool-looking dinosaurs almost diverted my attention away from the curves of star Raquel Welch. Almost.

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) – Long before COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011), there was this classic “Cowboys and Dinosaurs” film. Cowboys lassoing a Tyrannosaurus Rex never looked so good.

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) —I think I liked the story of this one even more than THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Not only did it feature such amazing creatures as the flying homunculus and the living ship’s figurehead, as well as the amazing Centaur and the Griffin (their fight is legendary), but it also starred such genre legends as the beautiful Caroline Munro and, arguably the best Dr. Who ever, Tom Baker, as the villain. The sword fight between multi-armed Kali and Sinbad is my favorite scene though, and is almost as iconic as the skeleton sword fight in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.

SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) —Starring John Wayne’s son Patrick as Sinbad and another former Dr. Who, Patrick Troughton. It also features such Harryhausen creatures as the Troglodyte (a giant, fur-covered caveman with a horn on his head), a sabre-toothed tiger and a giant walrus. The Troglodyte model Harryhausen used for this one was used again (with slight changes) as Calibos in Harryhausen’s last feature, CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981).

Harryhausen was one of a kind. And as Michael said, he will definitely be missed by fans of science fiction and fantasy cinema.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Cinema Knife Fights, Heroic Warriors, Monsters, Mythological Creatures, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: The fiery cavernous dungeon of Tartarus.  A group of gods sit around a huge dinner table arguing.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES make their way around an enormous buffet.  Both men are eagerly filling their plates.)

LS:  Oh boy!  Food fit for the gods!

MA:  It ought to be.  They’re charging us an arm and a leg for this spread! (MA nods towards corner of the room, where a pile of severed arms and legs lie under a sign that reads “All U Can Eat –One Low Price.”)

LS:  Mmm!  Volcanic chicken!  My favorite.  Extra lava sauce for me please! And look – there’s ambrosia for dessert!

MA: Ahh, the food of the gods.

(The gods’ argument suddenly grows louder.)

HADES:  I’m sick of you bossing me around!  You’re not my father!  So stop acting like it!

ZEUS:  But you’re so damned irresponsible!  What do you expect me to do?  I’m looking after your best interests.

HADES:  There you go.  Talking down to me again!  (turns to POSEIDON)  Aren’t you going to weigh in on this?  He bosses you around, too!  Who died and made our brother boss?  (POSEIDON just shrugs)  That’s your problem.  You never take a stand!  You let Zeus walk all over you.  Aren’t you going to say anything?

POSEIDON:  Please pass the fish sticks.

HADES:  I’m sick of this family!

KRONOS:  Shut up, all three of you!  I’m your father, and I say—.

ZEUS:  Put a sock in it, old man.  You lost your credibility years ago when you tried to kill us.

KRONOS:  You’re still holding that against me?

MA (shaking his head):  And human families think they have problems!  Let’s go sit somewhere else.

LS:  Sure.  I prefer dysfunction when I’m the one causing it.

(They move to another table)

MA:  How about we get started on today’s movie?

LS:  Good idea.  You start.  I’ve got to taste this volcanic chicken first.

MA:  I hope you have some antacids handy.

Today we’re reviewing WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012), the sequel to CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010), which was, itself, a remake of the 1981 Ray Harryhausen movie.  As sequels go, WRATH OF THE TITANS isn’t bad, but then again, CLASH OF THE TITANS wasn’t a very good movie, and so it would have been pretty sad had this movie been worse.  I don’t think it is.  I think it’s a little bit better than CLASH.

LS: It is?

MA: Sure. Anyway, several years have passed since the events of CLASH, and our hero Perseus (Sam Worthington) is trying to make a normal life for himself, living as a fisherman while he raises his 10 year-old son, Helius.  He’s a single parent as his wife has died.  What’s a demigod to do?

As much as Perseus would like to live the life of anonymity, he can’t, not when his daddy is Zeus (Liam Neeson).  Zeus drops by for a visit and tells Perseus that things are not looking too good.  People just aren’t praying to the gods anymore, and as a result, the gods’ powers are weakening.  There are dark forces at work, and they are growing stronger.  Zeus wants Perseus’ help, but Perseus isn’t interested.  He just wants to raise his son.

You should have listened to your father, Perseus!  Zeus is captured and held captive by Hades (Ralph Fiennes), god of the underworld, and Ares (Edgar Ramirez), the god of war, who plan to drain Zeus of his power and give it to Big Daddy Kronos.  Kronos is imprisoned in stone because he once tried to kill his three sons, Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon.  Ares himself is Zeus’ son, and he’s angry at his father for favoring Perseus.  Nice family!

LS: It could be worse. I heard the Roman god, Saturn, ate his children!

MA: As evil begins to take over the world, and deadly creatures begin to overrun it, the humans are forced to take a stand, and Perseus once again becomes their leader, teaming with the beautiful Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and Poseidon’s quirky son Agenor (Toby Kebbell), leading them on a quest to rescue Zeus and once again restore order to the world.

LS: I liked Queen Andromeda. It’s always cool to see a queen who isn’t afraid to lead her army into battle, especially one this hot. As for Agenor, I could have done without him. I thought he was kind of an annoying idiot. I know he’s supposed to be the comic relief here, but I found his character more irritating than humorous.

MA: Yeah, Agenor should have been funnier, or at least more likeable, I’ll agree with you there.

WRATH OF THE TITANS reminded me a little bit of the old Arnold Schwarzenegger CONAN movies.  They weren’t great, but they were fun, and I enjoyed the ride.

(CONAN enters the buffet, carrying an arm and a leg.)

CONAN:  Where do I put these?

MA:  There’s a pile right over there. Just throw them on top.

CONAN (throws arm and leg onto pile):  I love buffets!  (notices gods arguing.)  Any of you gods care to arm wrestle?

HADES:  Shut up, chiseled chest!  Go fill your face before I remove it!

(CONAN’s eyes burn red in anger, and he runs towards table and joins the heated argument.)

MA:  Anyway, WRATH OF THE TITANS is not a great movie, but I can’t say that I didn’t have fun watching it.

LS: I’m glad one of us did.

MA: The main reason I liked this one better than the first one was the pacing.  I remember CLASH OF THE TITANS dragging and taking quite a while to get going.  No problem with that here.  Director Jonathan Liebesman keeps things moving along, with one action sequence after another.  Some of these sequences are impressive, others aren’t.

LS: I didn’t think many of the sequences were very exciting. And I disagree about the pacing. I didn’t think this one was any better than the first one. I mean, things happen, and creatures attack, and Perseus helps fight them off, but none of it did much for me.  And the Minotaur’s snot-covered face was kinda gross.

MA: Yeah, but at least the monsters show up early in this one.  They took a while to make an appearance in CLASH.

My favorite sequence involved the Cyclops.  I thought the Cyclops looked cool, and the scene itself was rather exciting.  Dare I say it, but the Cyclops in this movie looked better than the classic Ray Harryhausen Cyclops from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958).

LS: It’s how cyclopses – or is it cyclopi? – are always popular. I’m surprised we don’t see them in more movies. The three cyclopean giants we see here were okay. When the first one appears, it’s kind of cool. But as the scene went on, I was less impressed with them. And while Harryhausen’s stop-motion Cyclops from SINBAD may not look more realistic, I still prefer that one. Even better was the man-eating Cyclops from the Kirk Douglas movie, ULYSSES (1954). I remember that one leaving a big impression on me as a kid.

MA: If that movie was based on Homer’s epic  poem, shouldn’t it have been called ODYSSEUS, rather than ULYSSES?

LS: I always wondered that myself. ULYSSES was the Roman name for ODYSSEUS, after all, not the Homeric name.

(A CYCLOPS rips open the roof and peers inside.)

CYCLOPS:  Buffet!  (Reaches down and helps himself to the pile of arms and legs.  He exits.)

MA:  He didn’t even say thank you.

LS:  He’s a Cyclops, what do you expect? You know they don’t have any manners.

(Cyclops sticks his head back into hole in the roof and sticks his middle finger out at MA & LS, before leaving once again.)

MA:  I wonder if that’s “thank you” in Cyclops language.

LS (sticks both his middle fingers up at the opening in the roof):  That means you’re welcome!

MA:  Actually, I thought all the creatures and monsters looked good in this one, which is another reason I liked it better than CLASH.  The monsters in that one were pretty lame.  Not so here. They actually look pretty scary.

LS: The Gorgon in the first movie looked okay.

MA: I also liked Kronos, Zeus’ father, when we finally see him.  He looks like a volcanic fire monster once he’s unleashed at the end of the movie.  But he doesn’t do a whole lot, which is one of the weaknesses of this movie.  While the creatures all look very good, with the exception of the Cyclops, none of them get to do all that much.

LS: Yeah, this new TITANS movie pretty much follows the same progression as the first movie, leading up to the biggest monster at the end. In CLASH it was the Kraken, in this one it’s the giant lava monster, Kronos. Both looked cool, but neither does very much. I didn’t find WRATH OF THE TITANS to be an improvement on CLASH at all. In fact, they were both pretty mediocre.

MA: In spite of the cool-looking monsters, WRATH OF THE TITANS is hampered by a weak story and characters that aren’t very interesting.  I couldn’t care less about the squabbles of the gods, and Perseus just isn’t that exciting a hero.  What flaws does he have?  Not very many.  And his motivation is to protect his son, which is admirable, but hardly original.  He’s pretty much a superficial character.

Sam Worthington doesn’t do much either to make Perseus a memorable hero.  Worthington is fine in the role, but I kept asking myself, is this the same guy who wowed me in AVATAR (2009) and TERMINATOR: SALVATION (2009)?  He made lasting impressions in those movies. Not so in the two TITANS films.

LS: I completely agree about that, and I think it’s a major flaw with these movies. Perseus is just not a compelling character. I like Worthington as an actor, but not in the TITANS movies. He almost seems to be sleepwalking through these movies. Perseus has like two emotions, and I just don’t believe him as some kind of mighty hero of mankind.

MA: I actually enjoyed Liam Neeson as Zeus this time around, and as much as I didn’t really care for the gods’ storyline, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of Neeson on screen as Zeus.  He lent a commanding presence here that was definitely noticeable every time he was in a scene.

Ralph Fiennes as the villain Hades, not so much.  I thought Hades was a rather lame villain, which is another weakness of this movie:  blah villains.  Hades and Ares don’t cut it, and Kronos doesn’t show up until the end, and he doesn’t really get to cause that much trouble.  It’s another case of the big bad villain being handled way too easily.

LS: I actually found the interaction between Zeus and Hades to be the most interesting storyline here. Neesom and Fiennes are the best actors in the movie, and I just liked seeing them in scenes together. Although I did think that Zeus changed Hades’ mind a little too easily at one point. And by the end they almost seemed more like lovers than brothers.

MA (laughing):  Yeah, I would agree with that.

I liked Rosamund Pike a lot as Andromeda, and she was one of my favorite characters in the movie.  Good-looking, yet strong, Pike made Andromeda a formidable heroine.

Toby Kebbell was fun as Agenor, the son of Poseidon and Perseus’ sidekick, but unfortunately the role seemed underwritten.  He should have had sharper dialogue or something.

LS: Agenor is just a lame character. I hated him.

Oh, and I also liked Edgar Ramirez as Ares. I thought he did a good job.

MA: Dan Mazeau and David Johnson wrote the average ho-hum screenplay, which is a little bit of a surprise, since Johnson wrote the screenplay for ORPHAN (2009) and RED RIDING HOOD (2011), two movies I liked a lot.  This one just plays like a sequel.  The story was just there and the characters rather blah.

Director Jonathan Liebesman also directed BATTLE LOS ANGELES (2011), and the two movies share a similar style and pace.  Like BATTLE, the action scenes in WRATH are slick, well done, and entertaining, but aside from that, there’s not a lot to them.  There’s very little story or character development.

WRATH OF THE TITANS was also in 3D, and the 3D wasn’t bad.  It looked a heck of a lot better than the 3D in CLASH OF THE TITANS, which isn’t saying much because I remember the 3D in that one being awful.

LS: It’s funny. CLASH was hindered by the fact that the 3D effects were added after the movie was completed, creating a kind of flat, muddy look to the effects. WRATH was made with 3D in mind from the start, and while this movie isn’t as muddy, it’s also not much of an improvement. And a big part of that is the story. It’s just not very good. The same thing was true about the first one. And I don’t think 3D helps make these movies any better.

MA: There’s also a good music score by Javier Navarrete.

WRATH OF THE TITANS is faster and flashier than CLASH, and as such it’s an easy film to watch, and it has some fun exciting moments featuring some cool-looking monsters, so if that’s all you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed.  If you’re looking for more, a movie with a good story and memorable characters, keep looking.

LS: I think the first one was bad. I think this one is almost just as bad. I’d say avoid them both. Is there a way to make a movie about Greek mythology that’s better? Sure there is! Check out JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), with effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen (who we mentioned before), to see it done right. I also liked Tarsem Singh’s movie from last year, IMMORTALS, a lot more than either of the TITANS movies.

MA: I for one didn’t mind the shallow fun of WRATH OF THE TITANS.  It would have been nice had the film been more ambitious, but it’s not.  It is what it is, a sequel.

I give it two and a half knives.

LS: I give it one and a half knives. I just didn’t care about it. Wait for it to come on cable.

(Argument at the other table grows even more heated)

LS: In fact, I would rather watch the argument over there than another TITANS movie.

MA: Well, it’s certainly more colorful.

(ZEUS and HADES are having a fist fight on top of the dining table, as the other gods cheer them on).

POSEIDON (looking at camera):  Can’t we just all get along?

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives WRATH OF THE TITANS ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives WRATH OF THE TITANS~one and a half knives.