Arnold Kunert is the friend and agent of Ray Harryhausen, the legendary stop-motion animator and special effects wizard. In the past Arnold was interviewed here in general on Ray’s work and career. In the following interview Arnold made some time to talk specifically about the colorized 50th anniversary edition of Ray’s classic film 20 Million Miles to Earth.
TheoFantastique: Arnold, thank you for taking some time to discuss this new version of the classic film. I’d like to ask a few questions about the background of the film itself, and then ask a few things related to this new 50th anniversary edition. With my previous background in reading about the life and work of Ray Harryhausen I was familiar with his involvement in a great number of areas, from initial concepts to pre-production artwork to the special effects themselves, but in watching this film and the background materials in the extra features I was surprised to learn that the story for this film came from Ray. Can you share a little about how this story came about and moved from story to film production?
Arnold Kunert: Ray’s original story dealt with a creature being brought back by a U.S. rocket from Venus and crash-landing in Lake Michigan, just outside downtown Chicago. As the funding for the film became available, Ray decided to change the location to Italy. He had never been outside the U.S. and decided this might be the best way to get to Europe.
TheoFantastique: This film has been a favorite of Harryhausen fans for decades since its release. The disc of special features in this anniversary edition includes commentary from folks like Rick Baker, John Landis, Tim Burton and other giants of Hollywood in fantasy films. So the film resonated with the well known members of its audience over the decades as well as among many more rank and file fans. It seems to stand out from other science fiction films from the same timeframe as well. Can you discuss some of the elements and features of this film that seem to make it memorable for fans?
Arnold Kunert: The most memorable aspect of the film is certainly the creature design. Of course, the European locations, most of them shot by a second unit before principal photography began, also add to the film’s appeal. Finally, Ray’s stop-motion animation is among the best of his career. Many visual effects artists consider the film one of their two or three favorite Harryhausen films for this reason.
TheoFantastique: I must admit that prior to watching the fiftieth anniversary edition of this film in its colorized version I was opposed to the colorization of classic black and white films, but color in this film is amazing and it has made me a convert to advocates of colorization. I know that in addition to this film Ray has also supervised the colorization of It Came From Beneath the Sea and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Can you describe how Ray came to the decision to colorize these films and how Legend came to be involved in the work that resulted in these fine pieces of work?
Arnold Kunert: Four or five years ago, I was contacted by a lady friend in San Diego who knew I was acquainted with Ray Harryhausen. That friend worked for a company called Legend Films, the president of which, Barry Sandrew, was the original inventor of colorization 15 years ago. Legend wanted to colorize one of Ray’s films, but I was originally reluctant to get involved, knowing how Ray felt about colorization and what had been done to 1949’s Mighty Joe Young in the late 1980s. However, after I visited the Legend Films facility, my mind was changed and I convinced Ray to consider working with them. The rest is, as they say, history. Ray personally supervised all three of his black-and-white Columbia films, as well as two of Merian C. Cooper’s RKO films, She and The Most Dangerous Game. Needless to say, Ray is very pleased with the results. Ray always wanted to do his black-and-white films in color, but the budgets wouldn’t allow for color. Now they are in color, exactly where they should have been 50 years ago.
TheoFantastique: How did the colorization process work and what was Ray’s part in working with Legend?
Arnold Kunert: I cannot explain the process beyond saying that it’s simply a matter of determining what colors a scene should have and programming those choices into a computer. Ray was in complete control of all the colors in all of his films, and, working with color designer Rosemary Horvath, made all of the color choices.
TheoFantastique: For me one of the more interesting parts of the extras on the second disc in this set was your discussion of promotional ad artwork during the 1950s that promoted this and other films of Ray’s. How did you come to be a collector of this type of material, and can you share a little with how this material was used in the past to promote films in contrast with film promotion today?
Arnold Kunert: I was given the material by National Screen Service in Chicago during the original releases of the films in the 1950s. I simply enjoyed having mementos of certain films I loved, most of them being Harryhausen films. I don’t know how things have changed since that time. I assume the internet and computers are used more widely today.
TheoFantastique: Arnold, thank you once again for your time and for sharing these great thoughts about this film, made an even better cinematic experience through colorization. Thanks as well for all of your work with Ray through “Ray Harryhausen presents…”