Wednesday, May 8, 2013

R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen

I stopped writing about celebrity deaths on my blog last year, mostly because there were so many that it felt like my blog was becoming the obituary column. In this case though I'll make an exception.

Legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen died May 7 at age 92. Sad, but that's a pretty good run.

I always looked forward to his films in the pre-home video days of my youth. Anytime one would come on TV I'd stop what I was doing and watch. I was intensely interested in how special effects were created, so Ray Harryhausen was the only non-actor name I ever recognized in movie credits.

I liked all of his films of course, but my favorites were the ones with dinosaurs in them. Proper, scaly dinosaurs, not the modern kind that have feathers.

Many modern filmmakers were inspired as children by Harryhausen's work. Among them were Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and George Lucas, who all filmed their own crude stop-motion epics in their backyards, citing Harryhausen as the reason they became directors. Without Harryhausen's influence there would have been no Star Wars or many other genre classics.

I never experimented with stop motion myself, mainly because we didn't have a film camera when I was a kid. Those were for rich families, dontcha know. So I turned to drawing and illustration as my creative outlet, since paper and pencil were cheap. Who knows, if we'd had a camera I might very well have become a famous film director. Thanks a lot, Mom & Dad, for not being rich and for depriving the world of my numerous multimillion dollar movie epics.

Nowadays stop-motion is a rarity as studios insist on creating digital creatures. Unfortunately few of them have the personality, style and substance of Harryhausen's monsters. The best thing about his creatures? You actually got to see them in the film. When I punished myself by watching Wrath Of The Titans a year or two ago I was struck by the fact that the movie featured some interesting looking monsters (I think) but they spun and whirled around the screen so fast that I never got a good look at any of them. Just because you can make your monster spin like a tornado doesn't mean you should. Slow it down a bit and let the audience take a gander at it.

I never got to meet Mr. Harryhausen, but I did manage to get a look at him once and a horror convention. The line to see him was just too long, so I settled for a quick glimpse from twenty feet away to prove to myself that he really existed. Now of course I wish I'd taken the time to wait in line and speak with him.

Harryhausen was part of a mighty nerd triumvirate of friends consisting of himself, author Ray Bradbury and publisher/collector Forrest Ackerman. Sadly, all three have passed on to the great comic book shop in the sky.

Time to cancel my weekend plans for a Flying Nun DVD marathon and have a Harryhausen one instead!

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