The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) movie poster
director Nathan H. Juran
viewed: 11/28/2014

Having just watched the documentary The Sci-Fi Boys (2006), I was actually kind of keen on seeing one (or more) of Ray Harryhausen’s great movies.  Here’s where Turner Classic Movies On Demand pops in and offers The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

The kids and I did the Harryhausen Sinbad cycle but that was 6 years ago now.  Felix would have been 7.  Clara would have been 4.  So, I wasn’t all that surprised that she didn’t remember it at all.

This was my childhood favorite of the Harryhausen adventure films.  For some reason, I preferred it even over Jason and the Argonauts (1963), though that is often cited as his most polished achievement.  But hopped up on the joys of the clips from his films, sharing the connection with the special effects dudes and other filmmakers who thrilled to his monsters back in the days of our childhood, I was glad to revisit the movie.

Bernard Herrmann’s score channels the Scheherazade, pumps up the adventure, and Nathan H. Juran, who worked with Harryhausen on 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), among other thrillers with giant beings, sets the stage for Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews), the Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant), and the charming Genie (Richard Eyer) to do battle against the evil Sokurah (Torin Thatcher), but more importantly against the cyclopses, the Roc, the dragon and the sword-bearing skeleton.

Clara watched the movie with fresh eyes, no remembering the film at all from age 4, and she really enjoyed it.  Since we watched it on demand and not with an accompanying DVD extras, I threw on Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (2011), which is available on Netflix Streaming.  We didn’t end up watching the whole documentary, which actually covers a lot of ground and interviewees with The Sci-Fi Boys, but I wanted to give her some of the background of the way the film was made, the effects crafted.  She was really into it.

The Sci-Fi Boys (2006)

The Sci-Fi Boys (2006) movie poster

director Paul Davids
viewed: 11/27/2014

Director Paul Davids’ The Sci-Fi Boys is a paean to Forrest J. Ackerman and Ray Harryhausen and is endorsed and features many of the special effects and art design mavens who were deeply influenced by those two pioneers in their respective trailblazing.

Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland is one of those things that I sure wished I could have gotten my hands on more often as a kid.  I read the hell out of the two issues that I ever owned, pored over the images, received contact highs.  Ackerman is described as “The First Fanboy” but maybe it’s better to see him as the first sci-fi nerd.  Actually, his obsessive interest in the writers, directors, effects people and the monsters is what opened the eyes of his readers to aspects of film-making that other people turned a blind eye towards.  And his collection of memorabilia reminded me of Henri Langlois, just with a sci-fi bent and a cape.

As for Ray Harryhausen, I’ve written about him here many times before.  He was always a favorite of mine, but truth be told, I may well have learned his name from those two issues of Ackerman’s Famous Monsters that I had.  I also got to see him in person, receiving much of the same type of love an kudos heaped upon him here by many of the techie gurus who were also inspired by him.

We’ve got Peter Jackson, John Landis, Dennis Muren, Rick Baker, Stan Winston, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Frank Darabont.  But we’ve also got some more obscure guys like Donald F. Glut and Paul Davids himself.  Apparently, like Dennis Muren, whose own teen film Equinox (1970) was a testament to hands-on approaches of home-made movies that Harryhausen inspired, Davids and Glut made some pretty awesome Super 8 movies, though maybe they didn’t go on to win Academy Awards for their effects.

You know, this movie made me realize how much I wish I had access to a Super 8 camera when I was a kid.  We had only one cheap, very poor camera in our household and so I didn’t grow up with any of that technology anywhere in any real vicinity.  I can only imagine what I might have done with one in my hands.  I do indeed have a distinct memory from probably around 11-12 of wishing I had a camera to shoot movies.  It makes me appreciate all the more the technology and tools readily available in our present day and age.

I was inspired enough to try to get my kids to watch this movie or the other documentary about Ray Harryhausen.  I’ve even encouraged other friends to check it out.  Not so much because it’s so excellent or compelling in and of itself, but these are indeed guys who deserve the recognition and knowledge, not just of their first generation fans, but of fans generations to come.

Harryhausen died last year.  Bradbury the year before that.  Forrest J. Ackerman (“Uncle Forrey”) died in 2008.  Ackerman’s legacy will doubtlessly be the more obscure among the three men.  Fanzines were very 20th century, even though Famous Monsters has its web analogue now.  Bradbury and Harryhausen’s works in literature and movies are, on the other hand, much more for the ages.

Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Mighty Joe Young (1949) movie poster

director Ernest B. Schoedsack
viewed: 06/01/2013

A kinder, gentler, smaller King Kong (1933) knock-off, made by the people who brought King Kong, and for that matter The Son of Kong (1933), to the screen, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and even star Robert Armstrong.  Mighty Joe Young is more the kiddie film, with Joe a baby gorilla raised by a young woman.  Their relationship is in no ways sexualized as Kong’s was with Fay Wray. And he’s already a good guy, never really a bad guy, and even gets to be the hero and survive the movie.

But the real reason we watched Mighty Joe Young on this night was in tribute to the man who animated the gorilla, Ray Harryhausen, who passed away May 7 this year at the age of 92.  I grew up a fan of Harryhausen’s, perhaps one of the few people I knew who even knew who he was.  I was lucky enough to be invited to an in-person tribute to him in the 1990’s in Marin, which it was great to actually have seen him in person even if I never got to meet him (I’m actually not big on meeting famous people).  The kids and I have watched a good deal of his work over the years and this was one of the few that we hadn’t gotten to.

I always liked Mighty Joe Young, myself.  The best sequence is in the nightclub when he plays tug of war with the ten colorful strongmen, beating them handily.  Actually the nightclub itself is quite a thing.  I actually really like dated kitschy designs.  If the theme of the club had been Tiki instead of “darkest Africa”, I suppose that it would be less problematic to appreciate in full.  But it is a richly developed multi-level affair with performers and servers with bones through their noses and a crazy mid-century American take on the charms of the world of the jungle.  Politically correct, it is not.

Felix was tired and slept through the whole thing so it was just Clara and me.  She liked the baby Joe, a real baby gorilla, and thought that the big, stop-motion animated Joe was not so cute.  I begged to differ.  Harryhausen, working with and for his inspiration Willis O’Brien who had animated the two Kong films mentioned above, truly develops Joe as a character, getting some of his best “acting” in little moments of his petty annoyance, like spitting at their pursuers from the back of a truck in the film’s final segment.

Sure, it’s flawed, kitschy, and corny.  But that is part of what makes it great.  I’ve never seen the 1990’s digital re-make, nor do I have an iota of a desire to either.  Long live Ray Harryhausen!  Through the wonderful cinema he has left us to enjoy and share ever more.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) movie poster

(1956) director Fred H. Sears
viewed: 12/09/2011

When the flying saucers attack in Mars Attacks! (1996), they are essentially the same flying saucers that attacked the Earth in 1956’s Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.  In Tim Burton’s send-up/homage these were not stop-motion animated UFO’s, though.  Here, they are brought to life by stop-motion animation/special effects legend Ray Harryhausen and they give this film its iconic imagery.

Probably for most of my life, I could recognize a shot of these flying saucers and told you that they came from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.  But in actuality, I’d never seen the film.

But after watching Mars Attacks!, the kids and I revisited the film’s other major influence, The War of the Worlds (1953) which featured more stop-motion effects by another master, George Pal.  It’s completing a circle of sorts, and it also adds to my growing experience of 1950’s science fiction, for which I’ve always had a soft spot, but have been lately coming to more fully appreciate.  I often note that I like dated science fiction.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is not quite the film that The War of the Worlds is.  In fact, minus the spacecraft effects, the film is pretty hilarious and corny.   It all starts with an American program to put satellites in orbit around the Earth (this was science fiction at the time, though only by a year or so).  This seems to trouble some aliens, who shoot them down and then try to send a message to the scientist behind the experiments (Hugh Marlowe).  This missed connection leads to a confrontation that kills one alien and essentially starts a war between the creatures and all of Earth.

The aliens are mostly shown in stiff-moving space suits, though one is shown unmasked at one point, which was quite interesting.  But the saucers are what this movie is all about, flying over iconic monuments and eventually crashing into ones like the Washington monument and the Capitol Building.  All told it’s good fun.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) movie poster

(1953) director Eugène Lourié
viewed: 10/23/10

Rainy Saturday afternoon.  Netflix streaming on Felix’s Nintendo Wii.  Another Ray Harryhausen flick.

As I’ve noted before, I always loved Ray Harryhausen movies since I was a kid.  I guess I also always liked both The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), something about the similarity of the titles, the black and white footage, and the cool monsters.   Of course, I always liked the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth a little better that the Rhedosaurus, but you can’t beat it.

Actually, what’s interesting is that that film from 1953 features nuclear explosions begetting the unleashing of a dinosaur long trapped in arctic ice, one year before Gojira (1954) was birthed in similar circumstances.  Not quite bearing the full looming weight of the nuclear angle, the dinosaur swims to New York City and starts beating the hell out of the city.  You know, as giant dinosaurs on the loose do.

The finale is not as dramatic as 20 Million Miles to Earth‘s ending, but set at Coney Island amid a roller coaster being crunched to bits, it has good style, if not the drama.    But it’s good stuff up and down.

I do have to say that Netflix streaming is something I need to access at my house.

Jason and the Argonauts

Jason and the Argonauts (1963) movie poster

(1963) director Don Chaffey
viewed: 08/21/10 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

Celebrating animator/special effects legend Ray Harryhausen’s 90th birthday, the Castro Theatre booked a series of his films for the weekend.  Each day featured a different triple feature.  Saturday, it was The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963).  Sunday featured It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957).  The kids and I have watched most of these over the past few years, as well as a few others of his films, so I was keen on taking them down to the Castro to see them on the big screen.  But I didn’t think they’d last through a double feature, much less a triple feature, so I had to pick one…and I opted for Jason and the Argonauts because it’s Harryhausen’s favorite of his films.

It was kind of funny because it had been 3 years since we’d watched the film, still quite within my memory span, but not in Clara’s (she might not have sat through it the first time anyways) and vaguely for Felix.  We watched both the Talos (the giant bronze statue come to life) sequence and the famed skeleton fight on YouTube to warm them up and get them excited about it.  And actually, when it came time to head down to the Castro, we had an entire entourage with us.

Clara kept wanting to hide her eyes when the monsters came on screen and the adventure kicked in.  I told her, “This is the best part, don’t hide your eyes!” Because really, the films without the animation are tolerable, but nothing spectacular.  But of all the films Jason and the Argonauts features some of the cooler monsters, but also one of the more cohesive and logical storylines.

I was a little torn between seeing Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.  As a kid, I think my favorite was the latter, mainly because I liked the cyclops and the dragon more than Talos.  And The 7th Voyage of Sinbad features a skeleton fight, too.  Only with one skeleton, not the seven or so that go all out in the Jason and the Argonauts finale.  A good time was had by all, but I did find myself a bit wishing that I’d caught another film or two of the series.

What with having watched A Town Called Panic (2009) the night before, the kids have a pretty passionate appreciation for stop-motion animation.  Me, I like the monsters.  We all like Harryhausen.

One Million Years B.C.

One Million Years B.C. (1966) movie poster

(1966) dir. Don Chaffey
viewed: 06/10/09

This cult caveperson film from 1966 features special effects from the legendary Ray Harryhausen, but as it is best known, the best special effect in the film is simply Raquel Welch is a leather bikini.  And yeah, that figure is something else!

This movie has got it all: giant tarantulas, giant iguanas, giant turtles, and a couple of T-Rex-like dinosaurs and a triceratops (with the obligitory battle between the two dinos) and even some ape-men.  And volcanos.  And a catfight between Welch and another cavewoman with hair-pulling and rolling around.  What’s not to love?  The only thing that it doesn’t have is meaningful dialogue.  Largely because it doesn’t really have any actual “dialogue”, though I’m sure if it did it would have been meaningful.

What’s interesting, that I’ve only semi-stumbled upon since watching it, is that this film seems to be a remake of sorts of a Hal Roach-directed One Million B.C. (1940) but also echoes back to The Lost World (1925) though that has more to do with the dinosaur battle than the true period setting.  Because despite the massive scientific anachronisms, this film is meant to be set amidst the real time of the film’s title and even features a very humorous voice-over that begins the film, setting back, back to the creation of the Earth.

The film is directed by Don Chaffey, who worked with Harryhausen on what is probably both men’s masterpiece (certainly more so for Harryhausen), Jason and the Argonauts (1963).  This one is more rip-roaring camp, saddled as it is with Caveman acting.  And oddly enough, though I am going through the entire Harryhausen catalouge, I actually rented this one with an eye to the Caveperson movie, after having watched 10,000 BC (2008), which clearly is of a later time, but at the same time not lacking in its own anachronisms.

As a cult film, it’s pretty solid, because it’s pretty funny to see a giant iguana and a giant spider alongside a giant sea turtle and dinosaurs.  As well as caveman acting.  And monkey people.  And Raquel Welch in her bikini, well, that will never ever go out of style.

Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans (1981) movie poster

(1981) dir. Desmond Davis
viewed: 04/24/09

The kids and I have watched a number of the films of Ray Harryhausen.  In many ways, though Harryhausen only ever did the special effects (the stop-motion animated monsters and creatures), and while he worked with a number of different “directors”, those films are his more than anyone else’s, far more the core of the enjoyment and magic of the films.  And for those in the know, Clash of the Titans was the last film on which he worked.

Released in 1981, the film I remember quite well from its initial run.  I’d been a Harryhausen fan as a kid, tipped off on “who he was” by Famous Monsters of Filmland, but a long-time fan of his Sinbad films ( The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) & Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)) and his masterpiece, Jason and the Argonauts (1963).  But Clash of the Titans was a bit of a let-down, over-long, clunky, and though featuring some excellent sequences, felt very behind the times in comparison with Star Wars and the modern special effects.

The reality is that the film is clunky.  Harry Hamlin as Perseus isn’t exactly “star power”.  But the film has a pretty rich cast of actors including Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Maggie Smith as Theta, plus Burgess Meredith, Usula Andress, and Claire Bloom, to boot.  And some of the effects are more clunky.

The film’s best sequence is the slaying of Medusa, which is one of the best of Harryhausen’s work.  She’s wonderfully designed and manipulated.  There are some others, Bubo the R2D2-sounding robot owl, the Kraken (looks cool but doesn’t do a whole lot), the 2-headed dog, a couple of scorpions.  I always found it a dissapointing finale to a great career.  And that’s pretty much how I saw it this time with the kids.

Clara wasn’t into it at all.  But Felix liked it.  He was interested in the depiction of the mythological characters of whom he has read in a Mythology book, which he kept on his lap during the film.

The funny thing was, the very day we watched it, there was an article in the local paper The San Francisco Chronicle, listing 5 great bad movies (that are so bad that they’re good), such as Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and the new cult film The Room (2003).  I think that’s going a bit too far for Clash of the Titans because it’s not that bad.

Additionally, I had just read that they had signed Liam Neesan and Ralph Fiennes to play Zeus and Hades, respectively, in a new re-make due out next year.  It’s not utterly surprising, but here is a chance to make a better movie, for certain, with effects out of the computer with no doubt many a tip of the hat to Harryhausen, a pioneer of special effects.  But the wonderfully anachronistic use of stop-motion animation to depict the real surreal is something that should still be appreciated, an art form somewhat easily dismissed as passe in today’s day and age, but something that had great qualities and craft in the hands of Ray Harryhausen, a master of the form.

Still, this is not the one to start with nor finish with of his films.  I doubt anyone would disagree with that suggestion.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) movie poster

(1977) dir. Sam Wanamaker
viewed: 09/05/08

With the kids back from England, I querried them on what to rent for Friday night movie night.  Felix was pretty clear: Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.  Or rather semi-clear: Sinbad and the Golden Eye.  Eventually we worked it out.

The third and final Ray Harryhausen animation-effect Sinbad film after The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) is certainly the least interesting of the three.  Harryhausen, of course, would produce the visual effects for on more film, 1981’s The Clash of the Titans, which I reckon that we’ll queue up before too long.  It’s interesting timing for Harryhausen, coming out the same year as the original Star Wars (1977), it is the end of an era of stop-motion animation, the end of an era only truly ear-marked by the beginning of a new era, one in which the visual effects folks were the progeny of Harryhausen.

For Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, I distinctly remember when this film hit the theaters, was already a big Sinbad and Harryhausen fan.  It was less inspired than its predecessors, and while Harryhausen would attempt one last shot at a major special effects film, this one was not his most interesting.

Just simply the monsters in this film are less interesting.  Starting with three bug-eyed demons (a poor man’s versions of the skeleton warriors, not so well-designed), and then a giant walrus, giant bee, a baboon, a giant sabre-tooth tiger.  The “minotron”, the all-gold robotic minotaur, doesn’t really get to do a whole lot.  He stabs a sailor and then ultimately gets crushed by a big stone that he clumsily pulls on top of himself.  The best beastie in this film is the trogolodyte, the humanized good guy with a horn and scaly skin.  He’s the most aesthetically pleasing and nice to see a good guy monster.

The film doesn’t feel too inspired.  Some of the effects look less effective, color-challenged transposition of Harryhausen’s DynaRama.  It’s not abysmal.  It’s just weaker.  Felix did enjoy it.  Clara and Victoria were frightened by the minotron, so they skedaddled to watch Felix the Cat upstairs.

I am sure we’ll see more of Harryhausen’s work.  This is one cycle, the Sinbad films, that is now complete.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) movie poster

(1974) dir. Gordon Hessler
viewed: 05/09/08

Furthering my watching of my favorite films of my childhood with my kids, we watched The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, the second of the Sinbad films featuring the work of stop-motion animator and special effects legend Ray Harryhausen.  My daughter is actually the one who asked to queue this one up, but mainly Felix and I watched it.  He found it “scarier” than The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958).  I found it somewhat unsurprisingly less satisfying than the earlier film (as I had remembered), though certainly not without merit or charm.

The monsters in this film, Harryhausen’s specialties, are two brought-to-life statues, the first the wooden figurehead of Sinbad’s ship and then the six-armed metalic Kali statue in the oddly pan-pagan/pan-Asian tribal islanders (unusually green-skinned).  The other beasts are a one-eyed centaur and a griffin and a cute little bat-like Ymir-ish creature.

But it takes a long time for the action to build up and the film’s main characteristic other than Harryhausen’s brilliant animation is the excellent performance of a pre-Dr. Who Tom Baker as the villainous magician (channeling Christopher Lee).

My recollections from childhood were that this was the 2nd best of the Sinbad films, not as good as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad but better than its follower, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977).  I always still enjoyed it.  I didn’t have a problem with it.  But it’s not the film that The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.  I have no doubt that soon we will watch the third of the series.

It’s an amazing thing, watching these films with my kids.  It does fulfill something within oneself that is hard to specify.  Oddly enough, Felix had been looking forward to the just released Speed Racer (2008) film (which has gotten critically panned).  And I am wondering if that is something I should take him to or not, especially when I know that he is much more looking forward to seeing Kung Fu Panda (2008) and WALL-E (2008) more than anything.

Who knows?