March 23, 2023

The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen, Vol. 2: 1961-1964 from Indicator


Jason and The Argonauts

Fantasy, Adventure | USA, 1963| PG |Dir.Don Chaffey | Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond

As entertainment this movie is perfect. The movie is a fun adventurous one, with lots of spectacular moments and fights. From a technical point of view this movie is even a masterpiece. The stop-motion scene’s created by special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen is simply brilliant and makes this movie one of the most influential and important one’s, when it comes to special effects. But also the movie uses clever camera tricks and some well made miniatures. Yes, of course the effects all look out dated now but they still surprisingly, look convincing enough and at times they are even still simply breathtaking and spectacular to look at. Especially of course the legendary, fantastic end fight against the skeleton warriors.

The story is like good entertainment should be; Adventurous, exciting and simple to follow. The movie truly is none stop fun entertainment to watch with lots of spectacular moments with the legendary skeleton fight as the ultimate highlight. You don’t have to be a fan of ‘classic’ movies in order to enjoy this movie, everyone should be able to appreciate this movie and be entertained by it, especially when you are a fan of ancient Greek tales.

The movie is not exactly filled with impressive and memorable actors. As many movies as I have seen in my life, I don’t think I have ever seen any actors from this movie in any other movie, with the exception of course of Honor Blackman. But this movie clearly isn’t a character-adventure movie, it’s a special effect adventure movie. The special effects are really the most important element of the movie. So for the fans of special effects this is especially most definitely a must see.

Mysterious Island

Fantasy, Adventure |USA, 1961 | PG | Dir.Cy Endfield |Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Herbert Lom

Mysterious Island isn’t, as it very quickly seems to be, one of those adventure films where a bunch of people stumble across a lost continent, land or island where life is about a million years behind the rest of the planet. No. This is just some deserted island that has some giant creatures on it because Herbert Lom did some experiments that made them that way. Oh, and there’s a volcano and some pirates, but there’s nothing mysterious about them either.

Mind you, Island probably isn’t the most likely title to have them cramming into the theatres. It’s still a decent little film though, filled with the usual eccentricities of a number of other similar films of the time, most notably Ray Harryhausen’s wonderfully enjoyable special effects. The giant bees are probably the best of them on this occasion – in fairness to Ray, the giant chicken wasn’t the best of his creations and I wouldn’t eat any nuggets off that thing. It also has issues with the fact that there are not enough giant creatures and adventuring, and rather too much chatting and homemaking, so it does drag during its middle parts.

There are some really enjoyable scenes outside of these though – the opening hot air balloon escape and landing is good stuff (just how common were hot air balloons during the American Civil War, by the way?) and any of the fights with giant crabs / chickens/bees / octopuses are also really good. It is a bit too daft for its own good at some points – how stupid would you have to be, having encountered giant creatures already, not to cotton on to the fact that the pool of honey you just found was created by giant bees?

First Men in the Moon

Sci-fi, Adventure | USA, 1964 | PG | Dir.Nathan Juran | Edward Judd, Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries

As an adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel this is an entertaining and colourful piece of Science Fiction. The operative word being fiction as the science is bunk but fun, in a Steampunk kind of way. It starts off rather jokey but becomes more serious when the action moves to the lunar surface. This shift in tone doesn’t feel as jarring as it should due to Juran’s direction and the three lead actor’s performances. While Edward Judd as Bedford and Martha Hyer as Kathrine are fine in their parts, its Lionel Jeffries as Cavor who really shines. He sets a template here for nearly every eccentric boffin who has appeared in Sci-Fi movies that followed down the years.

The special effects stand up quite well for their age. Ray Harryhausen’s work here retains a charm that today’s CGI can never really hope to have. On the downside, the Selenites who inhabit the Moon look like men in rubber costumes. That is because they are men in rubber costumes bur director Juran shoots and lights them as well as he can to try and hide their shortcomings.

Another disappointment is the ending that feels rather rushed. It also features a rehash of a key element from the ending of one of H.G. Wells more famous works (I believe this is not the case in the novel itself , so the blame lies with screen writer Nigel Neale of Quatermass fame). But these are minor gripes really as this a lovely piece of Sci-Fi hokum.

Special Features
• Ray Harryhausen audio commentaries
• Additional Mysterious Island audio commentary with film historians Randall William Cook, C. Courtney Joyner and Steven C. Smith
• Additional Jason and the Argonauts audio commentary with filmmaker Peter Jackson and Randall William Cook
• ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ Original Skeleton Fight Storyboards
• Ray Harryhausen on ‘Mysterious Island’
• Actor Michael Craig on ‘Mysterious Island’
• Hal Hickel on ‘Mysterious Island’ (2017): new interview with the special effects maestro
• Kim Newman on ‘Mysterious Island’ (2017): new appreciation by the author and genre-film expert
• Islands of Mystery: vintage featurette
• Randall William Cook Introduces ‘First Men in the Moon’
• Tomorrow the Moon: vintage featurette
• New and exclusive interviews with crew members, including camera assistant Ray Andrew (Mysterious Island) and production manager Ted Wallis (First Men in the Moon)
• Back to Mysterious Island comic-book
• Archival documentaries and interviews
• Super 8 version of Mysterious Island
• Isolated scores
• Original trailers, teasers, TV spots and promotional films
• John Landis trailer commentary for First Men in the Moon
• Image galleries
• Limited edition exclusive 80-page book with new essays by film experts Kim Newman and Tim Lucas, an in-depth oral history of all three films, and full film credits