Some of my favorite and formative influences of the fantastic as a child and teenager were the fantasy films of Ray Harryhausen. I was so taken by Harryhausen’s use of stop-motion animation to bring creatures to life that I saved my paper route money and purchased an 8mm camera with single frame capacity that allowed me to pose various action figures and move them incrementally while snapping single frames of film in order to produce my own crude animation tests. In those days in the 1970s it was much harder to find materials that described stop-motion and other special effects, but I managed to find a couple of good books and magazine articles on the process, and those, coupled with my filming of Harryhausen animation scenes off my nineteen inch black and white television for study, gave me the inspiration for a would-be stop-motion animation career. I never went to film school to pursue this dream like I wanted to as a teenager, but it was just as well since motion-control camera work and later computer generated imagery would soon signal the death of stop-motion as a significant expression of special effects in cinema. Thankfully it survives today as an art for the patient who want to breathe life into jointed figures through films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, and Coraline.
Yet even with my strong emotional connection to Harryhausen and the stop-motion animation he perfected this doesn’t mean that I believe that every film he was involved with was of equal caliber. One film that I feel didn’t match the wonder of Seventh Voyage of Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts was Harryhausen’s final film, Clash of the Titans (1981). There are several reasons why this film did not due well with audiences, not the least of which was the declining appeal of the classic mythology that Harryhausen had based so many of his movies on.
Because of my great admiration for Harryhausen’s stop-motion creatures, combined with my lack of appreciation for Clash of the Titans, I find I have mixed feelings about the remake of the film set for release on April 2. It remains to be seen whether audiences will embrace a revamped and action-packed Greek mythology, but I am pleased that Warner Bros. has retained the creatures found in the original, even if they are computer-generated. How will the new technology render these creatures compared with the artistry of previous decades? The trailer at the link above gives some indication, but at least in the case of Medusa, I think my money will stay with Harryhausen’s rendition. The new version is pictured above, and the scene from the 1981 film is found below. In my view Medusa is one of Harryhausen’s greatest creature animations, moving him very close in this context from fantasy and science fiction special effects technician to the creator of a dark, mythological, horror monster.