1920 - 2013
Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation who fired the imaginations of millions of moviegoers, has passed away at the age of ninety-three. From his brilliant animating of the titular MIGHTY JOE YOUNG in 1949 (designed and directed by the great Willis O'Brien) to his charming retelling of "The Tortoise & the Hare" in 2002, Harryhausen's influence on the medium of film cannot be overstated. THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS... all elevated to classic status by Harryhausen's indelible, handmade movie magic. That this magic seemed possible made it all the more exciting. Any kid with a Bolex camera, a few jars of clay and a remarkable reserve of patience could bring their own monsters and spacecraft to life one frame at a time. But there was a special quality, a tangible character to Harryhausen's creations that proved inimitable. No one could craft an alien invasion, a dinosaur battle or a rampaging Ymir like Harryhausen. His magic was his own, and it will be missed.
My earliest Harryhausen memory is of watching THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS with my older brother. The scene where the lone police officer bravely/stupidly walks down the city street, blasting away the Rhedosaurus with his pistol, only to be snatched up and swallowed like a tiny piece of candy was both frightening and the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Thanks to the various "monster books" my brother had accumulated (oversized tomes with glossy pictures of fantastic creatures from the films of Melies onward), I soon learned that Ray Harryhausen was responsible for this memorable moment and countless others. Over time, I became quite enamored of the Ymir from 20 MILLION MILES FROM EARTH; the creature's violent, somewhat panicked response to being attacked - coupled with that horrible shriek - when still at human height gave Ymir a fascinating, if not entirely sympathetic quality (Ymir's not terribly nice to animals in this movie). And when I saw CLASH OF THE TITANS in 1981, I was so excited that I could identify it as the work of the artist who created this legion of otherworldly beasts. This might've been my first independent recognition of cinematic authorship. I'm sure I'm not alone in this experience.
Every single fantasy, horror and science-fiction filmmaker working today owes Ray Harryhausen an enormous debt of gratitude - and fortunately, over the years, many of these artists were able to express their thanks to the man himself. Harryhausen did not keep his distance from his audience; he engaged them as eagerly as his films sought to thrill them. Everything about Harryhausen was accessible. He made films for the eleven-year-old dreamer in all of us. And his enduring gift is that every time we watch his movies, we are eleven years old again.
Our condolences go out to his family and friends.
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