Archive for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

Culture Clash

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 6, 2019 by dcairns

Here’s Donald Benson on CLASH OF THE TITANS — just the kind of thing I like to see in a mini-blogathon!

I got to know Harryhausen films on television, not seeing one on the big screen until THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, after which I saw several more at UCSC and at some revival houses. I also took to browsing sci-fi and film magazines at the campus library. This was just before STAR WARS ushered in a special effects revolution.

My second-hand amateur guesswork: By the time of CLASH OF THE TITANS, Ray Harryhausen films had become a little like Disney animation features. They were marvels of craftsmanship and artistry, still the gold standard for new generations of animators and effects wizards inspired by dueling skeletons. But somehow they were less relevant as movies. They were generally well-written and directed, and looked better than their modest budgets, But they were of a style that felt increasingly old hat no matter what new wonders Super Dynarama wrought, just as Disney’s 60s animations settled into a rut despite unmatched character animation. 

Part of this was dictated by necessity. Harryhausen and Schneer would get Columbia to put up some money and go make the movie. Everything on the live action shoot had to be precisely pre-planned because of the budget and the effect requirements; no room for auteur directors (I believe they were brought on when much had already been set in stone).

Harryhausen certainly had artistic ambitions. He wanted to do War of the Worlds and a Baron Munchausen feature; test footage for both projects can be seen in a DVD documentary. Would these have broken the mold, or turned out as solid but predictable additions to the Harryhausen canon? As it was, there evidently came a point where the only projects they could get financed were two more Sinbad adventures. They weren’t sequels and Harryhausen was still pushing forward — SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER has a prince turned into a baboon, and the animated baboon delivers a character performance — but the subject matter must have felt like a clear retreat.

By 1981 films like JAWS and STAR WARS revolutionized effects AND created the blockbuster mentality. Harryhausen’s hand-wrought magic may have paled slightly next to technological breakthroughs (the way older fantasies paled next to Harryhausen), but they were oddly buoyed by same eager suspension of disbelief that allowed the Muppets to star in movies. More problematic was the blockbuster mentality. Harryhausen and Schneer were comparatively minor players; their fantasies fell into a weird dead zone between gigantic studio epics and low-rent matinee fare. Ray Harryhausen decided to go big … and then go home.

COTT was billed as his farewell performance, which meant something because he was finally being recognized as the guy who made all those films kids grew up on. It revisits the Greek myths of his most highly regarded film, “Jason and the Argonauts”, and brings back the same scriptwriter, Beverley Cross (his wife Maggie Smith plays a ticked-off goddess). There are ambitious effect sequences and an interesting experiment: the beast-man Calibos is an actor in close shots, and an animated creature in longer shots; an effect managed with editing as I recall. More money was spent, there were big names in the cast, and Harryhausen had a little more help in his animation studio. 

My main memory is that the effects were nifty, and the usual Harryhausen vibe was there under the glitzier trimmings. What I wonder is, how much of their usual control did he and Schneer give up to make their exit with a would-be blockbuster? 

As late shows go, it can be counted as a happy ending. Harryhausen did better and more memorable films, but COTT was a showy final bow and presumably a nice bundle for retirement. And after a lifetime of painstaking stop-motion work he spent his remaining years as a beloved elder statesman to the now somewhat-glamorous special effects industry, taking bows and at some point doing a heroic sculpture of Dr. David Livingstone, an ancestor of his wife. Better than going out on the frankly minor Sinbads, and probably better than trying to compete with his own proteges and/or CGI.

Donald Benson

The Top Ten Sexy Ray Harryhausen Monsters

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2010 by dcairns

The author contemplates his task.

This was a hard list to make! But a necessary one. So much competition! The anatomical perfection of the skeleton army from THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD… the muscular sheen of Minoton from SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER… not to mention the dazzling intellect and warm personal manner of the Grand Lunar in FIRST MEN IN THE MOON. Finally, the only characters who could be definitely excluded from the running were the giant squirrel in THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER and Bubo the aluminium owl.

10) It, from IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA.

Tentacles… tentacles are sexy, right?

9) Cyclops from THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD

Maybe the one guy I’d go queer for. Spectacular upper body definition. As for the lower body… well, it’s a look, I suppose. Just imagine he’s wearing cowboy chaps.

8) Serpent Woman from THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD

Slinky. I love a woman with vertebrae instead of femurs. Picture the possibilities! Even if her face does put one in mind of Corporal Klinger from TV’s M*A*S*H. That’s why veils were invented.

7) Talos from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS

The Greeks have a word for it,  and the word is “ah-woo-wa-woo-wa-wowa!”

6) Homonicus from THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD

There’s a clue in the name.

5) Figurehead from THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD

A woman with perpetually hard nipples. Because they’re made of wood. Splinters aside, that still seems more organic than silicone.

4) Kali from THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD

Six arms to hold you! Body of Jacqueline Bisset! Legs of Janeane Garofalo! Arms of Jacqueline Bisset AND Janeane Garofalo!

3) Troglodyte from SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER

Kinda cute, if you like Iggy Pop.

2) Medusa from CLASH OF THE TITANS

Maybe CLASH OF THE TITANS was Ray’s male menopause movie? We get an unconvincing body double nude scene for Judy Bowker, Theseus’s mom breast-feeding him, and then this. All this nudity was a new thing for Harryhausen movies, and seems sort of unsuited to the kid audience… Still, Medusa may be lethal and reptilian, but damn she’s pert.

1) Mighty Joe Young from MIGHTY JOE YOUNG

Ah, ya big ape! Who among is can resist the might and musk of the giant gorilla? And since his “gorillahood” is pretty tiny, proportionate to the rest of his physique, you can be confident he won’t be too “boku”. At the end of the day, it’s his winning personality that counts.

Honorary mention: Kate Calendar’s skeleton from FIRST MEN IN THE MOON. Full-frontal x-ray nudity! Who wouldn’t want to jump on those bones?

You’ll note that I avoid speculating on which of the stop-motion figurines would make the best sex-toy (the Kraken, obviously — just add batteries and he’s a reptilian rampant rabbit), and I refuse to suggest titles for porno versions (JASON AND THE ORGYNAUTS, 20 MILLION MALES TO EARTH, IT CAME BENEATH THE SEA, that’s the kind of thing you just won’t find here). Still, I feel I’ve plumbed some kind of new low here. Tomorrow I attempt to claw back some kind of respect and innocence as I write up the incredible evening we had in London at the celebration of Mr. H’s 90th birthday.