When I was five-years-old, I remember sitting in my p.j.s on my dad’s lap watching an old movie “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” on a television as big as our den with a screen half the size of my computer. It was just before bed and I was beginning to doze until this giant Cyclops ambled onto the screen in total “attack mode.” I was both intrigued and frightened as the choppy stop-motion titan lumbered after scrambling miniature folk.
To a young girl in the 1970s, effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen (who passed away Tuesday at age 92) was top-notch amazing stuff. Dragons, skeleton warriors, giant stone Shivas, crazy snake-ladies strangling themselves with their tails — effects that had me staging elaborate play battles during the day and waking me with the occasional night terror in the early morning hours. In other words, they left a lasting impression not just on me, but on filmmakers and filmgoers for decades to come.
Not too much later, however, came the era of special effect “one ups.” Lucas, Spielberg, Jackson, Del Toro, the gang at Pixar (who gave Harryhausen a well-deserved shout out in Monsters, Inc.) and beyond were raising the bar for CGI and other visual effects that left a whole generation of those who found stop-motion effect the cutting edge in a bewildered fog. Thanks be to Tim Burton and Henry Selick for keeping this genre alive.
But there was something in Harryhausen’s work that is lacking in much of the smooth, crisp images of today’s less-cheesy fantasy films — the heart of a child. When I see Harryhausen’s “outdated-by-industry-standards” effects, I see a man with a happy grin on his face, gleefully manipulating these mystical creatures to bring them to life. I see someone who loved his work, and the results it produced. I see contentment, and I see self-satisfaction. And I see the work of a man who would have left us too soon had he lived to be 150.
To which I say, Goodbye and Godspeed, Mr. Harryhausen, may your battling skeletons’ bones forever rattle on.
— Lisa Kay Tate