There's a lot of heart in this documentary homage to Ray Harryhausen. Shame about the rough technical edges...
It’s hard to argue with director John Landis’ bold assertion that Ray Harryhausen is "the only technician who is an auteur". While few would be able to summon up the name of the director behind, say, the original Clash of the Titans or One Million Years B.C., Harryhausen’s stop-motion fingerprints are – quite literally – all over both films.
French filmmaker Gilles Penso’s no-frills documentary combines film clips, test footage and interviews with the great man, plus a raft of top-table directors and SFX gurus, to turn the lights on the influential career of one of the only back room boys whose name and work will be familiar to those with only a superficial knowledge of cinema. Wowed by Willis O'Brien's effects work for 1933’s King Kong, Harryhausen worked his way from teen hobbyist to animator on TV's supersaturated Mother Goose puppet shows.
He then managed to score a gig as O’Brien’s assistant on 1949's pet gorilla parable, Mighty Joe Young. After that there was no stopping him. His memorable effects work added much-needed visual heft to the likes of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (which directly inspired Godzilla), loopy dino/cowboy mash-up, The Valley of Gwangi, and his magnum opus, Jason and the Argonauts.
Penso’s film does little wrong, but technically it’s something of a scrappy affair. From the frankly lame title right down to the wavering sound levels and the opportunistic nature of the interviews – Peter Jackson has clearly been hijacked at a press junket for The Lovely Bones, whereas John Lasseter dishes out his wisdom-bombs from in front of a huge poster for Pixar dud Cars 2 – it’s clear that this is a seat-of-the-pants labour-of-love rather than an especially slick, classy or controlled operation.
A perfect opportunity to celebrate this great innovator’s career with a creative, energetic documentary.
Precious little invention and a little long at 90 minutes, but it’s clearly arranged, richly detailed and informative.
You come away feeling Harryhausen perhaps deserves a more dynamic tribute, but it’s a solid round-up of an extraordinary career.