Harryhausen The Early Years Collection on DVD
By Jim Bray
Fans of this legendary moviemaker simply must take a look at this excellent
Ray Harryhausen the Early Years Collection is a two disc set that offers
beautifully restored versions of many early works from the special effects
master, including a collection of fairy tale stories that are absolutely
Okay, in the interest of journalistic honesty (hey, there's a concept!)
I must admit up front that I am a longtime Ray Harryhausen fan and must
also admit that this disc may not be of much interest to people who’ve
never heard of the man or who only have a passing interest – though
the fairy tales themselves are at least as entertaining and worthwhile
as many of the DVD’s now available for kids.
But as a Harryhausen fan I was delighted and thrilled by this collection.
I had heard of the fairy tales before but never seen them and I'm pleased
to say that they were worth the wait.
Ray Harryhausen is best known for his work creating special effects for
such classic sci-fi and fantasy films as Jason
and the Argonauts, First Men In the Moon, The Mysterious Island, The
7th Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans
and many more. Jason is my personal favorite, followed closely by the
Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and each film
is an excellent showcase for Mr. Harryhausen’s prodigious talent.
He’s chiefly credited for his stop motion animation, which brings
objects to life a frame at a time, but he was actually a lot more involved
in the movie making process than that. In fact, this DVD makes it clear
that he also thought up many of the projects, including their stories,
as well producing all of the special effects from scratch, usually (from
my recollection) by himself. Contrast that last point with the closing
credits on today’s special effects extravaganzas that list hundreds
of artists and technicians in the effects category.
You don’t get a lot of footage from his best known works which,
fortunately, are mostly available on DVD already, either separately or
in boxed sets. But the fairy tales are worth the price of admission on
their own, and thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’
lovely restorations it looks almost as if these short films were made
yesterday instead of more than 50 years ago.
First up is “Mother Goose Stories,” a short collection of
nursery rhymes brought to life by the painstaking labors of Mr. Harryhausen.
Then we get to the really good stuff: Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel &
Gretel, Rapunzel, King Midas and The Tortoise and the Hare, and you can
watch them all together with introductions to each short by Mr. Harryhausen
The fairy tales are amazing. Mr. Harryhausen doesn’t just animate
these puppets; he makes them act. I kid you not! Using stop motion combined
with replaceable heads that have different facial expressions (which he
brought to life by using a quick camera dissolve), he makes these characters
perform, in mime, accompanied by a narration. It was an innovative and
imaginative way for Mr. Harryhausen to use dialogue without having to hire
extra actors for different characters and then synchronize the words with
the visuals. And it works just fine.
The restored picture looks terrific, bright and sharp and colorful, and
the accompanying audio track sounds great as well. They’ve done
an excellent job on the restoration.
While the Fairy Tales and Mother Goose Stories are arguably the highlight
of the set, disc one also contains some of Mr. Harryhausen’s other
early films, including some done for the US military during World War
II, as well as a collection of early tests and experiments. You also get
a look at the making of (or, more accurately, the finishing of) The Tortoise
and the Hare, a film begun in the early 1950’s but which was finished
some 50 years later by a couple of talented fans in conjunction with their
hero and mentor himself.
And what a thrill that must have been for all involved!
Disc two is devoted mostly to honors and tributes to Mr. Harryhausen
and, while casual fans may not care about them, diehards are sure to wallow
in the acclaim given to this giant. There’s a look at the ceremony
at which he received his star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, accompanied
by his longtime friends Ray Bradbury and Forrest J. Ackerman ('4E",
to those of us who grew up reading his Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine).
Bradbury and Ackerman also turn up in other featurettes on the disc, and
their insights, memories and humor are much appreciated.
You also get a short feature on the David Livingston statue Mr. Harryhausen
designed for a Scottish park that bears the explorer’s name, as
well as a variety of other tributes and intereviews. One of my favorites
is the Appreciation by a veritable Who’s Who of movie magic, from
long time Industrial Light and Magic gurus such as Dennis Muren and Phil
Tippett to directors such as Frank Darabont and Peter Jackson, virtually
all of whom owe the inspiration for their careers to the works of Ray
The whole shebang runs just under four hours and though some of it is
a tad repetitive, I never lost interest, nor did I fail to be delighted.
Okay, this disc isn’t for everyone. But if, like me, you’re
a nut for cinefantastique in general and the works of Ray Harryhausen
in specific, you’ll want this DVD in your collection.
Ray Harryhausen, the Early Years Collection, from Sparkhill Home Entertainment
233 min. full frame, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Ray Harryhausen and his creations, along with guest stars such
as Ray Bradbury, Forrest J. Ackerman, John Landis, Richard Edlund, John
Dykstra and many more
Executive Producers Ray Harryhausen and Eric Young
Produced by Arnold Kunert
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