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Jason and the Argonauts

The Harryhausen Collection on DVD

"20 Million Miles to Earth"
"The 3 Worlds of Gulliver"
"Jason and the Argonauts"
"The 7th Voyage of Sinbad"
"The Golden Voyage of Sinbad"
"Clash of the Titans"

Ray's Masterpieces Make Delightful DVD's

Ray Harryhausen's body of work is a wonderful collection of fantasy and science fiction films in which his imaginative special effects are really the movies' star.

Few would argue that his greatest achievement was 1962's "Jason and the Argonauts," the movie version of the Golden Fleece myth. Produced by longtime partner Charles H. Schneer, written by Jan Read and Beverly Cross, and directed by Don Chaffey, Harryhausen's menagerie of fabulous animals are in top form.

The film stars Todd Armstrong as Jason, with Nancy Kovack as the love interest Medea in what's essentially a supporting role. Fine support is given by Honor Blackman as the Greek Goddess Hera, Laurence Naismith as Argus, and Nigel Green as the mighty Hercules. The concept of the Greek Gods meddling in human affairs from high atop Mount Olympus would be repeated in 1981's "Clash of the Titans" (the myth of Perseus and Andromeda) and despite the star studded cast of the latter film (Laurence Olivier made a terrific Zeus), the "Jason" cast still does it best.

But Harryhausen movies aren't about actors, directors, and screenwriters (well, okay, the script's a big deal); they're about Ray Harryhausen's special effects, and the master was certainly busy on Jason. We're treated to the colossus Talos, the seven-headed Hydra, an army of skeletons, and a group of Harpies, all of which are lovingly realized.

Sure, they can't be real, but that's the charm of Harryhausen. While other movies were using actors in costumes for their monsters (and Ray does that here, with the God Triton), Harryhausen's stop-motion "Dynarama" monsters were different because it was obvious they couldn't possibly have been actors.

Jason positively shines with imagination and with Harryhausen's meticulous craftsmanship - and nowhere has this classic fantasy been seen better than in the high resolution heaven of this Columbia Tristar DVD release.

To get an idea about how hard it was to do what they can now do much more easily (and, alas, convincingly) with computers, check out the interview that accompanies the "Jason" DVD. It's conducted by director John Landis, who's so obviously a huge Harryhausen fan that most of the interview sees him gibbering in excitement about being in the presence of the master (I felt the same way when I met Mr. Harryhausen oh-so-briefly a couple of years ago, where he autographed a poster for me). But here you'll learn how difficult it was for Harryhausen to keep track of, for example, seven Hydra heads moving in different directions - and how meticulous the construction of the model monsters was.

The DVD offers both widescreen and "pan and scan" versions on opposite sides (finally, a widescreen version of Jason on video!). Picture quality is so clean that it's easy to tell the special effects sequences because the movie suddenly gets grainier than it was a few seconds before. Audio is Dolby Digital mono and it isn't the greatest, all things considered. It's a shame that Bernard Herrmann's score sounds a tad muddy, though. I've been told by a personal friend of Messrs. Harryhausen and Herrmann that some of his films originally had magnetic stereo soundtracks (as well as full stereo sound on a couple of laserdisc versions), and it's a shame these tracks weren't made available for the DVD.

The mono sound here is directed to the center front channel, which is as it should be. Other extras include liner notes, chapter stops, multiple languages, and the theatrical trailer.

Despite its flaws, this is easily the best video version yet of "Jason and the Argonauts," and a legitimate collectible for Harryhausen's millions of fans.

Jason and the Argonauts, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
approx. 104 minutes, Widescreen (1.85:1)/Pan and Scan, Dolby Digital Mono
Starring Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond, Laurence Naismith
Produced by Charles H. Schneer, Written by Jan Read and Beverly Cross
Directed by Don Chaffey

7th Voyage of Sinbad

"The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was Harryhausen's first color feature, which made it a groundbreaking film in the annals of cinefantastique.

As straightforward an action/fantasy film as a Harryhausen movie can be, it stars Kerwin Matthews in the title role, with Kathryn Grant as the girl/princess/requisite love interest.

The story follows Sinbad on his usual quest (this time to the Island of Colossus - a couple of times) where he meets and faces an evil magician, a genie in a lamp, and a terrific variety of Harryhausen's trademark critters, from a two headed Roc and a giant Cyclops to a skeleton swordsman and a mean, firebreathing dragon.

Harryhausen is in great form in this outing, as is Bernard Herrmann's musical score, and the Columbia/Tristar DVD does the film justice for the first time since it initially appeared on videocassette.

The picture quality, which the company says is from a new high definition transfer, looks great in all its widescreen glory and the audio has also been remastered and sounds as good as it can - though the audio is directed to the main front channels instead of our preferred center front configuration. As with other Harryhausen films, the picture gets a tad grainy during many of the "Dynamation" scenes, but this is an unavoidable situation caused by the state of the art when Harryhausen made the films.

Harryhausen fans will love the extras on this dual layer disc. Not only do you get a repeat of the John Landis interview from the Jason DVD, you get a terrific, hour-long documentary on Ray's career (narrated by Leonard Nimoy). There's also a short featurette promoting the film's "Dynamation" stop motion animation technique, and Columbia also throws in a good set of liner notes, trailers for a bunch of Harryhausen's films (which makes you salivate for their eventual DVD release!), the original theatrical poster - and the regular chapter stops and subtitles/alternate language tracks.

This is the best video incarnation of 7th Voyage of Sinbad that we've seen and is a fitting way for this groundbraking fantasy film to be seen - and owned.

The 7th Voyage of SInbad, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
approx. 88 minutes, Widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby Digital Mono
Starring Kerwin Matthews, Kathryn Grant, Torin Thatcher, Richard Eyer
Produced by Charles H. Schneer, Written by Kenneth Kolb
Directed by Nathan Juran

1973's "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is the best of the Sinbad movies and second only to "Jason" as a showpiece for Ray Harryhausen.

John Philip Law (Pygar the Angel in "Barbarella") is Sinbad this time around and he does a good job in the role. The villain - the evil sorcerer Koura - is played by a pre-"Doctor Who" Tom Baker and he's appropriately larger than life and menacing. The script is by Brian Clemens of "The Avengers" TV series fame and the wonderful musical score comes courtesy of the great Miklos Rozsa of "Ben-Hur" fame.

The story sees Sinbad embark on a voyage to the lost land of Lemuria accompanied by the usual love interest (Caroline Munro as a freed slave girl) and the Grand Vizier of Marabia. Along the way are Harryhausen's trademark monsters and magic, including Sinbad's ship's figurehead brought to life, a couple of honunculus spies, the six-armed Goddess Kali, "The God of the Single Eye," and a Griffin (not Merv, however).

The story is witty and exciting and Harryhausen's imagination is given excellent rein, making "Golden Voyage" a marvelous movie experience.

The DVD is offered in digitally mastered anamorphic widescreen and Pan&Scan on opposite sides and if you've only seen this on VHS before it'll knock your socks off. The audio is Dolby Digital mono, digitally remastered, and it sounds okay.

Extras include a good liner essay inside the box, and a series of featurettes on other Harryhausen titles like "Mysterious Island" and "3 Worlds of Gulliver." There's also some vintage advertising, the trailer, and talent files.

Way to go, Ray!

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
approx. 105 minutes, Widescreen (1.85:1)/Pan&Scan, Dolby Digital Mono
Starring John Philip Law, Tom Baker, Caroline Munro
Produced by Charles H. Schneer, Written by Brian Clemens
Directed by Gordon Hessler

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver on DVD

Jonathan Swift gets the Ray Harryhausen treatment in this version of "Gulliver's Travels."

And while the movie is one of the special effects pioneer's weaker efforts, that doesn't prevent it from being an enjoyable time in the home theater, if only to watch Harryhause at work.

And that's always a worthwhile pursuit.

Harryhausen, as noted in the reviews above, is a treat, a gem and it's a shame that he retired when he did, though all things considered it was probably the smart thing to have done considering the onset of "go motion" and computer generated effects.

Anyway, in this flick Dr. Lemuel Gulliver (Kerwin Mathews) wants to make something special of his life, and so embarks on a sea voyage on which his fiancee (June Thorburn) has stowed away in order to provide a Love Interest to the story.

Ah, but they're separated when Gulliver is lost at sea and washes up on the shore of Lilliput. Well as you undoubtedly know, the Lilliput folk are tiny human beings and to them Gulliver looks about the same size as Talos did to Jason and his Argonauts.

And that's fine! We get to see lots of Harryhausen work, only almost all of it this time involves using human actors instead of stop motion model creatures.

In some ways it's a shame, though, because a cyclops centaur is more fun than Gulliver.

The good doctor is insufferably nice, as he really does become someone special to the Lilliputians. He brings an end to war between them and their neighbor, which is also populated by Barbie doll/G.I. Joe-sized people.

But fate has other plans for him than to be a VERY BIG FISH in a small pond and he finds himself in Brobdingnag, where he's the G.I. Joe sized doll in a world of titans.

Here he's a court curiosity, kind of a pet, really. At least he's reunited with Elizabeth, who also washed overboard from the ship and is already a member of the King's court.

This section also offers ample opportunity for Harryhausen to work his magic, and he does. Except for a superfluous stop motion crocodile, which seemed to be in the movie to satisfy Harryhausen's stop motion animation fans - except that it isn't up to his own standards.

The screenplay seems aimed at kids, rather than fantasy film, Swift, and/or Harryhausen fans, and this takes away some of the sense of wonder that's in other Harryhausen movies.

Still, it's fun to watch and some of the shots are really good. Particularly impressive are the shots of the "gigantic" Gulliver trussed up and tied down upon his arrival in Lilliput.

Even better, in the extras section of the disc there's a "Making of.." featurette and it gives some neat insight into how Mr. Harryhausen pulled off his visual stunts. Watch for the imaginative placement of Gulliver and the Lilliputians in one scene that looks very convincing, yet isn't really a special photographic effect at all; rather, it's a staging effect, where the two elements of the shot are different distances from the camera to make the scale seem realistic in the two dimensional film medium.

The DVD itself is okay. It's supposedly mastered in high definition, but it isn't anamorphic widescreen, alas, which leads us to believe the original film was shot "full screen". This means you'll have to stretch or zoom it on widescreen TV's, but such is life. The video quality is good, very good in places. Audio is pretty straightforward Dolby Digital mono. And of course it doesn't hurt to have Bernard Herrmann along with a fine score.

There are some great extras, chief of which is "The Harryhausen Chronicles," a 57-ish minute documentary and career retrospective of Mr. Harryhausen narrated by Leonard Nimoy. There's also the "Making of" featurette mentioned above, and a "This is Dynamation" featurette.

Harryhausen fans will have to own The 3 Worlds of Gulliver; fantasy film fans will probably enjoy it on its own merits, in a "B" movie kind of way.

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
99 min. full screen (4x3, not 16x9 TV enhanced), Dolby Digital mono
Starring Kerwin Mathews, Jo Morrow, June Thorburn
Produced by Charles H. Schneer
Written by Arthur Ross and Jack Sher, directed by Jack Sher

20 Million Miles to Earth

20 Million Miles to Earth on DVD

Harryhausen fans won't be able to live without this early classic from the man whose work inspired so many.

It's another telling of the "King Kong" story, this time featuring a returned US exploratory voyage to Venus that falls to earth (well, sea) near Sicily. A single crew member (William Hopper) survives the effects of the Venerian atmosphere, the one person who knows what's up on the alien world - and who's familiar with the special cargo they've brought back with them.

That cargo washes up on shore when the space ship sinks in the Mediterranean and is discovered by an entrepreneurial little boy - who then sells it to a zoologist (Frank Puglia) who just happens to be doing research in the area.

Naturally, his purchase turns out to be a lot more than he bargained for: it's an alien being called a Ymir that the crew had brought back to earth. Our atmosphere causes its metabolism to speed up, and once it's released from its egg the creature grows from doll-sized to gigantic - much to the chagrin of the humans who, in typical Hollywood tradition, are ultimately bent on its destruction.

The poor creature isn't really bad, but it's confused and when it gets attacked it defends itself, which sets off further attacks and the destructive rampage for which we paid the price of admission.

The story is pretty good; Kong is better overall, though even it has its hokey parts, but it's Harryhausen's work that stands out. His treats this time include space ship effects and the creature, the latter of which exhibits the classic Harryhausen Dynamation flourishes - and we get to see it running amok through the streets of Rome as well as the famed Coliseum, which suffers greatly at the hands of the Ymir and the military ordnance brought to bear on it.

In the end, this doesn't go down in movie history as one of Ray's best, but it's still eminently watchable and enjoyable, and definitely belongs in the DVD collection of all Harryhausen fans.

The DVD is pretty good, though Columbia Tristar has merely recycled some of the supplemental materials from the "3 Worlds of Gulliver" DVD. The picture is digitally mastered in High Definition and is offered in both anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) and Pan&Scan versions (accessed from a menu on the disc). The black and white picture quality is very good, with sharp edges and good detail and excellent "color" depth.

Audio is Dolby Digital mono and it's okay.

Besides the recycled "The Harryhausen Chronicles," a 57-ish minute documentary and career retrospective of Mr. Harryhausen narrated by Leonard Nimoy, and a "This is Dynamation" featurette, the only extra is the trailer for this movie and "3 Worlds of Gulliver."

We'd have preferred new Harryhausen material on this disc, and after a career as long as Mr. Harryhausen's there must be more gems for fans to savor than Columbia Tristar has given us so far but, unfortunately, it was not to be.

20 Million Miles to Earth, from Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment,
82 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, and Pan&Scan / Dolby Digital mono audio
Starring William Hopper, Joan Taylor, Frank Puglia, Thomas Browne Henry, Tito Vuolo
Produced by Charles H. Schneer
Written by Bob Williams and Christopher Knopf, Directed by Nathan Juran

Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans

Harryhausen's last film as a special effects wizard was 1981's Clash of the Titans. Though he usually made films for Columbia Studios, MGM, undoubtedly interested in cashing in on the post Star Wars special effects movie boom, lured him away and gave him a good budget to work with. This not only allowed him to create some spectacular images, but also enabled the hiring of a powerhouse cast.

The story is a retelling of the legend of Perseus (Harry Hamlin) and Andromeda (Judi Bowker), with the Hollywoodizing one would expect, which leads to some liberties being taken both in the story and in the creatures required for the production.

This means we're treated to new Harryhausen critters like the Kraken and a bunch of giant scorpions as well as the more "Greek" Medusa, Pegasus, and many more creatures brought to life with typical Harryhausen flair and attention to detail. We also get a half animated, half live action creature Calibos, which is certainly unique and interesting.

Also along for the ride is an all star cast that includes Burgess Meredith as a mortal artsy-fartsy type, and Laurence Olivier as Zeus leading a cast of immortals that also includes Maggie Smith, Ursula Andress, Claire Bloom and more. Olivier is particularly good as Zeus; we'd have loved to see him perform the role in Harryhausen's best effort, Jason and the Argonauts.

The story is well known, so we won't go over it here. Suffice it to say that Perseus must go virtually to Hell and back in order to save his love, fighting Harryhausen's creatures and overcoming other obstacles along the way.

But what's with Bubo, the mechanical owl. He seems to be merely a reason to cash in on R2D2, which is a shame.

The Warner Brothers DVD is very good. For the most part, the anamorphic widescreen picture (16x9 TV compatible) is excellent, though the high resolution of DVD's also works against some of the special effects shots because the grain shows up. Still, the picture's about as good as it can get, all things considered.

Audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and it's very good, though there isn't a lot of surround used. Particularly welcome is the excellent reproduction of the musical score, a sweeping bit of orchestration that fits in well with other Harryhausen film scores by such giants as Miklos Rosza and Bernard Herrmann.

Warner has also included some pretty nifty extras with the DVD. First up is a great conversation with Mr. Harryhausen himself, in which he reminisces about Clash of the Titans. Fans of the man will love it.

There's also "Map of Myths and Monsters," short featurettes focusing on each of the creatures and featuring Harryhausen giving some background.

Both of the extras are must-sees for Harryhausen fans.

Less spectacular is a superficial cast/crew filmography list and the theatrical trailer.

Clash of the Titans isn't Harryhausen's best, but it's still a marvelous piece of Cinefantastique and the DVD is very well done. This is definitely a disc that belongs in the library of Harryhausen's legion of fans.

Clash of the Titans, from Warner Home Video
118 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
Starring Harry Hamlin, Judi Bowker, Laurence Olivier, Burgess Meredith, Maggie Smith
Produced by Charles H. Schneer and Ray Harryhausen
Written by Beverly Cross, Directed by Desmond Davis

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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