Blu-ray review: “Ray Harryhausen: Ultimate Blu-ray Collection” (1996)

“Ray Harryhausen: Ultimate Blu-ray Collection” (1996)

Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Released this month on Blu-ray is an excellent boxset that has one theme running through it, the special effects were all carried out by wunderkind Ray Harryhausen whose name was not only synonomous with stop motion but also influenced at least three generations of film makers who all speak about him with a reverence that is normally reserved for directors which is high praise indeed. These are seven movies that cover both sci-fi and fantasy with some legendary moments that many will recognise especially in the last two movies, if you have not seen I will not spoil them, they still look fresh as the day they were first screened.

Raymond Harryhausen (June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013) was an American artist, designer, visual effects creator, writer and producer who created a form of stop motion model animation known as “Dynamation”.

After having seen “King Kong” (1933) on its initial release for the first of many times, Harryhausen spent his early years experimenting in the production of animated shorts, inspired by the burgeoning science fiction literary genre of the period.

The first film with Ray Harryhausen in full charge of technical effects was “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”(1953) which began development under the working title Monster From the Sea. The filmmakers learned that a long-time friend of Harryhausen, writer Ray Bradbury, had sold a short story called “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (later re-titled “The Fog Horn”) to The Saturday Evening Post, about a dinosaur drawn to a lone lighthouse by its foghorn. Because the story for Harryhausen’s film featured a similar scene, the film studio bought the rights to Bradbury’s story to avoid any potential legal problems. Also, the title was changed back to “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”. Under that title, it became Harryhausen’s first solo feature film effort, and a major international box-office hit for Warner Brothers. It was on “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” that Harryhausen first used a technique he created called “Dynamation” that split the background and foreground of pre-shot live action footage into two separate images into which he would animate a model or models, seemingly integrating the live-action with the models.

Harryhausen talked Columbia Pictures into reviving the Sinbad character, resulting in “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”, often remembered for the sword fight involving a statue of the six-armed Hindu goddess Kali. It was first released in Los Angeles in the Christmas season of 1973, but garnered its main audience in the spring and summer of 1974. It was followed by “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger” (1977), which disappointed some fans because of its tongue-in-cheek approach. Both films were, however, box office successes.

Movies in this collection

“It Came from Beneath the Sea” (1955)

Running Time: 79 minutes

Directed by: Robert Gordon

Written by: Hal Smith and George Worthing Yates

Festuring: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue and Donald Curtis

Narrator: “From her beginnings on a Navy drawing board, through the months of secret field experiments out on the Western desert, then through the desperate search for new metals with the properties she needed, she was designed to be the nation’s greatest weapon of the seas – the atom-powered submarine. Her engines were to be a miracle of speed and power, her sides strong enough to withstand any blow, her armament and fire power of greater force than the worst enemy she might encounter. The mind of man had thought of everything – except that which was beyond his comprehension!”

A nuclear submarine on maneuvers in the Pacific Ocean, captained by Commander Pete Mathews (Kenneth Tobey), comes into contact with a massive sonar return. The commander attempts to outrun and outmaneuver the sonar object, but cannot. The boat is disabled but manages to free itself and return to Pearl Harbor. Tissue from a huge sea creature is discovered jammed in the submarine’s dive planes.

A co-ed team of marine biologists, Professor Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) and John Carter (Donald Curtis) of Harvard University, is called in; they identify the tissue as being a small part of a gigantic octopus. The military authorities scoff, but are finally persuaded after receiving reports of missing swimmers and ships at sea being pulled under by a large animal. Both scientists conclude that the creature is from the Mindanao Deep, having been forced from its natural habitat by hydrogen bomb testing in the area, which has made the giant octopus radioactive, driving off its natural food supply.

“Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” (1956)

Running Time: 84 minutes

Directed by: Fred F. Sears

Written by: Curt Siodmak, George Worthing Yates and Bernard Gordon 

Featuring: Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor

Gen. Edmunds: “When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol, we don’t meet him with tea and cookies!”

Scientist Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his new bride Carol (Joan Taylor) are driving to work when a flying saucer appears overhead. Without proof of the encounter, other than a tape recording of the ship’s sound, Dr. Marvin is hesitant to notify his superiors. He is in charge of Project Skyhook, an American space program that has already launched 10 research satellites into orbit. General Hanley (Morris Ankrum), Carol’s father, informs Marvin that many of the satellites have since fallen back to Earth. Marvin admits that he has lost contact with all of them and privately suspects alien involvement. The Marvins then witness the 11th falling from the sky shortly after launch.

“The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958)

Running Time: 88 minutes

Written by: Kenneth Kolb

Directed by: Nathan H. Juran

Featuring: Kerwin Mathews, Torin Thatcher, Kathryn Grant, Richard Eyer and Alec Mango

Sokurah the Magician: “From the land beyond beyond… from the world past hope and fear… I bid you Genie, now appear.”

Sinbad the Sailor and his ship’s crew make landfall on the island of Colossa, where they encounter Sokurah the magician fleeing a giant cyclops. Though he escapes, Sokurah loses a magic lamp to the creature. Sinbad refuses his desperate pleas to return to Colossa because Parisa, Princess of Chandra, is aboard. Their coming marriage is meant to secure peace between her father’s realm and Sinbad’s homeland, Baghdad. After reaching Baghdad, Sokurah performs magic at the pre-wedding festivities, temporarily turning Parisa’s handmaiden into a snake-like being. Despite his prowess and a dark prophecy about war between Baghdad and Chandra, the Caliph of Baghdad refuses to help the magician return to Colossa. Later that night, Sokurah secretly shrinks the princess, enraging her father, the Sultan of Chandra, who declares war on Baghdad. Sinbad and the Caliph give in to Sokurah, who explains that the eggshell of a Roc is needed for the potion that will restore Parisa, and it can be found only on Colossa. Sokurah provides Sinbad with the plans for a giant crossbow for protection against the island’s giant creatures.

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver” (1960)

Running Time: 100 minutes

Written by: Arthur Ross and Jack Sher

Directed by: Jack Sher

Featuring: Kerwin Mathews, June Thorburn, Basil Sydney and Sherry Alberoni

Dr. Lemuel Gulliver: “…you don’t need Reldresal or me to fight a war!”

Emperor of Lilliput: “Of course I don’t need a prime minister to fight a war! But I need one to blame in case we lose it.”

In 1699, Dr Lemuel Gulliver is an impoverished surgeon who seeks riches and adventure as a ship’s doctor on a voyage around the world. His fiancée Elizabeth strongly wishes for him to settle down, and the two quarrel.

Gulliver embarks on the voyage and is soon discovered that Elizabeth has stowed away aboard his ship to be near him. A storm develops and sweeps him overboard. Gulliver is washed ashore on Lilliput, a land of tiny humans who see him as a threatening giant. The Lilliputians are afraid of Gulliver and tie him down with stakes to the beach, but he eases their fears by performing several acts of kindness. An old quarrel between Lilliput and neighboring Blefuscu is revived, and Gulliver lends a hand by towing Blefuscu’s warships far out to sea. Lilliput’s Emperor then views the giant as a threat to his throne after Gulliver is critical of the reasons for the war. Gulliver escapes in a boat he had previously built when the Emperor orders his execution.

“Jason and the Argonauts” (1963)

Running Time: 104 minutes

Written by: Apollonios Rhodios

Directed by: Don Chaffey

Featuring: Todd Armstrong,  Nancy Kovack, Honor Blackman and Gary Raymond

Zeus: “For the moment, let them enjoy a calm sea, a fresh breeze and each other. The girl is pretty and I was always sentimental. But for Jason, there are other adventures. I have not finished with Jason. Let us continue the game another day.”

Pelias usurps the throne of Thessaly, killing King Aristo, but knows that a prophecy states that one of Aristo’s children will avenge him. The god Hermes, disguised as Pelias’s soothsayer, watches as the infant Jason, Aristo’s son, is spirited away by one of Aristo’s soldiers. Pelias slays one of Aristo’s daughters after she seeks sanctuary in the temple of the goddess Hera. Because the murder has profaned her temple, Hera becomes Jason’s protector. She warns Pelias to beware “of a man wearing one sandal”.

Twenty years later, Jason saves Pelias from drowning in a river, an “accident” orchestrated by Hera, but loses his sandal in the process, so Pelias recognizes his enemy. Learning that Jason intends to seek the legendary Golden Fleece to rally support against him, he encourages Jason in the attempt, hoping that Jason will be killed.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” (1973)

Running Time: 105 minutes

Directed by: Gordon Hessler

Written by: Brian Clemens

Featuring: John Phillip Law, Tom Baker, Takis Emmanuel and Caroline Munro

Sinbad: “You pace the deck like a caged beast, for one who enjoys the hashish you should be more at peace.”

While sailing, Sinbad comes across a golden tablet dropped by a mysterious flying creature. That night, he dreams about a man dressed in black, repeatedly calling his name, as well as a beautiful girl with an eye tattooed on the palm of her right hand.

A sudden storm throws the ship off course and Sinbad and his men find themselves near a coastal town in the country of Marabia. Swimming to the beach, he encounters the man from his dream, an evil magician named Koura, who demands that he turn over the amulet. Sinbad narrowly escapes into the city, where he meets the Grand Vizier of Marabia, who has been acting as regent following the death of the sultan, who had no heir. The Vizier, who wears a golden mask to hide his disfigured face, explains that Sinbad’s amulet is but one piece of a puzzle, of which the Vizier has another. The Vizier relates to Sinbad a legend, which claims that the three pieces, when joined together, will reveal a map showing the way to the fabled Fountain of Destiny on the lost continent of Lemuria. He who takes the three pieces to the Fountain will receive “youth, a shield of darkness and a crown of untold riches.”

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger” (1977)

Running Time: 113 minutes

Written by: Beverley Cross

Directed by: Sam Wanamaker

Featuring:  Patrick Wayne, Taryn Power, Margaret Whiting, Jane Seymour, and Patrick Troughton

Zenobia: “Sail for Rhodes or Tripoli, captain. You’ll find richer cargo there. Set sail in search of Melanthius and you’ll set a course for Hell and damnation.”

Sinbad, sailor and Prince of Baghdad, moors at Charak, intent on seeking permission from Prince Kassim to marry Kassim’s sister, Princess Farah. He quickly gets used to the city and its people, but finds it under curfew. When Sinbad and his men shelter in a nearby tent, one is poisoned and the rest are attacked by Rafi, Zenobia’s son, but Sinbad defeats him. Soon a witch (whom the audience later learns is Zenobia) summons a trio of ghouls, which emerge from a fire and attack Sinbad and his men. Sinbad disposes of the ghouls by crushing them under a pile of huge logs.

Sinbad meets with Farah, who believes that Kassim’s curse is one of Zenobia’s spells and if Kassim cannot regain his human form within seven moons, then Zenobia’s son will become caliph instead. Sinbad, Farah, and the baboon Kassim set off to find the old Greek alchemist named Melanthius, a hermit on the island of Casgar, who is said to know how to break the spell. Zenobia and Rafi follow in a boat propelled by the Minoton, a magical bronze automaton created by the sorceress that looks like a minotaur. During the voyage, Farah proves to be the only person capable of calming the baboon. Sinbad has been convinced that the baboon is Kassim by witnessing him playing chess with Farah, before which he had beaten him, and he truly proves who he really is to a sailor by writing a sentence that says it on the wall.

Special Features

  • Audio commentary by Visual Effects creator Ray Harryhausen, Visual Effects artists Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett, and documentary producer Arnold Kunert
  • Remembering 20 Million Miles to Earth featurette
  • The Colorization Process featurette
  • Interview with Joan Taylor featurette
  • David Schechter on Film Music’s Unsung Hero featurette
  • Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen, Arnold Kunert and animation expert Randy Cook and visual effects expert John Bruno
  • Remembering It Came from Beneath the Sea featurette
  • A Modern Day Look at Stop Motion featurette
  • Original Ad Artwork
  • Audio commentary with director Ray Harryhausen, Arnold Kunert and visual effects experts Jeffrey Okun and Ken Ralston
  • The Hollywood blacklist and Bernard Gordon documentary
  • Remembering Earth vs. the Flying Saucers featurette
  • Interview with actress Joan Taylor
  • The Colourisation Process featurette
  • Original Screenplay Credits
  • Galleries; Ad art and production photo galleries
  • This is Dynamation featurette
  • The Harryhausen Chronicles featurette
  • Making of The 3 Worlds of Gulliver featurette
  • Theatrical Trailer

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