A Tribute to Ray Harryhausen: Creatures of Clay | Lighttrain

Hello, great to see you! Newcomers and longtime passengers alike, welcome to the Train; I’m your conductor this evening. If you went to any cinema lover and questioned why they have such an adoration for film, many would probably pinpoint specific directors, visionaries, and scenes that left that person enchantingly spellbound. The greats such as Scorsese, Spielberg, Allen, Tarantino, Kurosawa, and Kubrick are commonly upon these lists, but I feel that another creator deserves his name in this category as well: the great Ray Harryhausen.

Who was this fellow, and what kind of legacy did he leave behind? Ray was a stop-motion animator, meaning that he designed clay figures and animated their movements. In this case, they were whimsical beasts unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Living skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, a cyclops and two-headed vulture (insert a shameless reference to my novel here) in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, a colossal crustacean in Mysterious Island, and rampaging dinosaurs in The Valley of Gwangi. Oh, and Harryhausen never called his projects “monsters”, but instead the more respectful “creatures”. Hence why this post’s subtitle is “Creatures of Clay”.

Now that I have informed you on Harryhausen’s background in practical effects, let’s get this how on the road and take a closer look at one of his most acclaimed works, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The swashbuckling adventure was released in 1958; isn’t that a blast from the past! Even a duo of sequels, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger — to my dismay, not a nod to the Survivor song — came from the springboard though neither fared as successfully.

Though Harryhausen’s stunning creatures would have been enticing enough, 7th Voyage was implemented with yet another gimmick to magnetize audiences to their local theater. The technique was called Dynamation, the so-called “new miracle of the screen”. Call it what you will, either way it still encapsulated Harryhausen’s trademark style. A decent promotional short subject, shown above, declared that using new technological advances and color they opened “vast new vistas in motion picture entertainment”. Dynamation was used all the way until 1981 with Clash of the Titans, then afterwards Ray retired from the profession. In a original review by Time magazine for Clash of the Titans, they quipped that “The real titan is Ray Harryhausen”.

On May 7, 2013, it was announced publicly that Ray has passed away at the age of 92. Many statements from filmmakers who were inspired by his work were made; Edgar Wright (the Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy, Baby Driver) said that “He was the man who made me believe in monsters”, Peter Lord (Aardman Animations) wrote that Harryhausen was “a one-man industry and a one-man genre”, and even George Lucas admitted that “Without Harryhausen, there would have likely been no Star Wars“. Wow. Allow that to sink in for a second.

We’ll return to review 7th Voyage after these messages…

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The 7th Voyage of Sinbad Review

The daring seafarer Sinbad is soon to be newlywed to Princess Parisa and bind together two kingdoms. However, the princess is shrunken to miniature stature by a dastardly sorcerer in search for a lost genie lamp. This encourages Sinbad to return to the island of Colassa to retrieve a shell, which is needed to return the princess to her regular size. The sorcerer only comes along so he can take the lamp back for himself, battling against the intrepid sailor when he finds it in his possession. Can Sinbad defeat the sorcerer and his monsters, while in the process saving his bride?

Perhaps where this movie’s personality most shines through is in its stop-motion magic. Computer generated graphics, or CGI, is practically omnipresent in Hollywood films today, but it always feels a bit lifeless. Simply put, not a single time has CGI in a live-action blockbuster ever felt like it had genuine heart and soul poured into the work. I applaud you if you do love working on CGI in films, if any folks like that are reading this post in the first place. Despite how rudimentary and uncouth it can be by modern standards, Harryhausen’s work literally was made by hand.

Of course, not every film is without its flaws. For 7th Voyage, at times the story can become bogged down as it drags its feet, particularly with overlong scenes without any creatures. The childlike fantasy of the whole thing, comparable to that of a bedtime story of sorts, connotes that the acting and overall storyline is very tedious. An antagonistic magician, the one-dimensional princess, a hazardous journey. I’m sure we’ve all seen this before in other media, perhaps slightly better. Thankfully, the creatures on display elevate this Sinbad film into more recognizable esteem.

Although The 7th Voyage of Sinbad can tread rough waters in some moments, it might be Ray’s most important movie. This was the very first feature he worked on that was filmed in color, and it influenced a bunch of young kids at the time who would grow into phenomenal filmmakers. With sword and sandal swordfights and a bombastic score by Bernard Herrmann, this iconic motion picture won’t impress today’s moviegoers, but you cannot deny the footprint left by the magnificent Ray Harryhausen. I recommend viewing it for yourself, if only to see the magnificent effects of the time!

RATING: 6.5/10


R.I.P Ray Harryhausen

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