Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Videophiled Classic: ‘Sinbad’ times 2 a la Ray Harryhausen

GoldenVoyageThere is little doubt that Ray Harryhausen is the defining creative force behind the stop-motion fantasies and adventures he made with producer Charles Schneer. While he’s never taken credit as director, he developed the stories and scripts and co-produced the films along with designing and executing all of the special effects. And it’s pretty clear when Harryhausen was on the set, at least on his seventies productions The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), as his tight budgets and creative control had him trading down with both leading men and directors.

The 1973 The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, sort of a sequel to his glorious The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), was a return to Harryhausen’s love of myth and grand fantasy with the colorless John Philip Law shedding his shirt and flashing his eyes as Captain Sinbad, the blue-eyed Arab adventurer racing evil sorcerer Koura (Tom Baker) to a magical treasure. Sinbad and his crew battle a centaur, a gryphon, a statue charmed to life by Koura, and most impressively the six-armed goddess Kali, a gold statue that Koura animates to do his bidding. Director Gordon Hessler (a horror veteran of garish Hammer Films knockoffs) seems barely present through most of the film, letting performances slip every which way and staging dramatic scenes so sloppily that you can’t always tell what’s even going on. Until one of Harryhausen’s creations appears, that is, at which time the screen takes on a painterly composition and the performances become more disciplined and focuses.

Tom Baker, who went on to become the most beloved Doctor of the original Doctor Who series, is in Christopher Lee mode as the scheming Koura, a humorless villain who loses a little of his life with every incantation but shows a sliver of affection for every one of his homunculi creations. But for all of Harryhausen’s magic, the film’s greatest special effect is former Doctor Phibes muse and future Bond girl Caroline Munro in harem girl bikinis. And give Harryhausen credit for commissioning a rousing old-school score from the great Miklos Rozsa, which helps give the film a scope that the budget never quite delivers alone. Like all Twilight Time releases, the score is available as an isolated soundtrack, and the disc includes featurettes on three earlier Harryhausen productions (previously available on other DVD and Blu-ray releases).

SinbadEyeTiger Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) trades out Law for Patrick Wayne, even more wooden as a would-be swashbuckling hero who comes to port to ask the for the hand of Princess Farah (Jane Seymour) and ends up on a quest to save her brother from a curse: his stepmother (Margaret Whiting) has transformed him into a baboon (another Harryhausen creation, of course). The film is a bit sluggish and director Sam Wanamaker, a better actor than director, manages to let Seymour, who was quite assured in Live and Let Die, come off awkward and amateurish. Luckily Patrick Troughton, another Doctor Who of note, plays the ancient world scholar and scientist Melanthius, who navigates the signs on a journey through arctic waters and to a land that time forgot, and he gives the film a solid character at the center (the strength of his presence alone as the curious, wizened old scholar steals the spotlight from Wayne. Taryn Power (daughter of Tyrone Power) come along for the ride as his daughter, another beauty on hand more for window dressing than dramatic purpose.

Harryhausen pits them against a bronze Minotaur, a giant bee, an mammoth Walrus that breaks out of the ice and an ancient sabre-tooth tiger, but he puts his heart into the baboon, a tortured beast hanging tight to the human inside as it slips away under the spell, and a grunting troglodyte, a giant mythic caveman with a horn on his head and an affection for the baboon. Roy Budd provides the score, which is available as an isolated soundtrack.

Both discs looks terrific but the increased detail and color, unfortunately, reveals some sloppy matte work at times. They are colorful films, however, and the disc brings out the best of the fantastic sets and art design and exotic costumes. And, as with all Twilight Time releases, they are available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM and limited to 3000 copies.

Continue reading for more releases, including The Ultimate Blue Angel and Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body, at Cinephiled

Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Essays

Gods and monsters: The creations of Ray Harryhausen

As the story goes, Ray Harryhausen was inspired to explore the possibilities of stop-motion animation after seeing King Kong with his best friend. That said friend was Ray Bradbury makes the story irresistible. That Harryhausen went on to apprentice under Willis O’Brien, the very man who sculpted and animated the king of the jungle and the first great artist of stop-motion magic, makes it legend.

Across the web, tributes and remembrances have been legion, and no surprise. Harryhausen’s creations dazzled so many future film critics and historians in their formative years and turned many a movie-hungry child into a genre hound. He wasn’t a film director, not in the conventional sense, but he was undeniably the auteur of his films since The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, when he turned producer and started developing his own productions around the glorious creations he crafted to life in the adventures.

Just a few months ago, I had the pleasure of revisiting some of Harryhausen’s greatest moments for an article. And once again, just as when I was a kid, I was transported when his creatures came alive on the screen. I was never “fooled” into thinking his Cyclops or prehistoric dinosaur or dueling skeletons were real in any way. His movie magic wasn’t great because it was realistic. It was great because it was beautiful, alive, and filled with character and personality. He filled his films with wonder.

Ray Harryhausen died last week at the age of 92. He had essentially retired from filmmaking after Clash of the Titans (the 1981 version, not the terrible CGI remake) but he spent his final decades seeing a new generation discover his films on video and DVD. He put out books, talked about his work disc releases, and appeared at festivals and conventions, where he was unfailingly generous with his time when talking to fans, old and new. I was one of the older ones, but more moving than getting a few minutes of his time was watching him encourage a young fan, a kid around 10 or 12, to follow his muse and create.

Here are my ten picks for celebrating the legacy the ray Harryhausen, one of the great dreamers of the movies. Most of these, by the way, are only available on disc, so please, give a little love to your friendly neighborhood video store.

Mighty Joe Young

1 – “Mighty Joe Young” (1949, DVD, Warner) – Fifteen years after “King Kong,” Willis O’Brien won finally won his much deserved Oscar for creating yet another ape, this one the humongous playmate of Terry Moore. Joe is a marvelous creation and the climax, where he risks his own safety to rescue children trapped in an orphanage fire is as touching as it is thrilling. Harryhausen, an ambitious young animator who had worked on George Pal Puppetoons and military shorts, worked with his hero for the first and only time and pays tribute to O’Brien on the DVD commentary track.

2 – “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (1953, DVD, Warner) – One of the essentials of the giant monster on the rampage of the nuclear 1950s, this isn’t an atomic mutation but a slumbering prehistoric giant (a Rhedosauras, to be specific) awakened from its icy suspended animation by nuclear tests. The first creature feature work by legendary stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen is a dinosaur spectacle dropped in the urban jungle and it highlights this clunky but endearing piece of B-movie pulp “inspired” by Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Foghorn.” Harryhausen give this rampaging beast just a touch of melancholy: a lost creature just looking for home.

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