Review by C.J. Bunce
The Cyclops, the bronze warrior Talos, the large dinosaur Rhedosaurus, a giant gorilla, a barrage of battling skeletons with swords, Raquel Welch as a cavewoman, the horrifying Medusa–whatever the first image that comes to mind, generations of movie audiences have an instant picture that comes to mind when they hear the name Ray Harryhausen.
The 1949 King Kong-inspired film Mighty Joe Young and the 1981 Greek myth-inspired adventure Clash of the Titans represent two ends of a major chapter in the history of movie visual effects and how filmmakers viewed fantasy, sci-fi, and horror films. Each film represents different generations (each a film my father and I would see in theaters when we were about nine years old), and each bookends the career of famed special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. With his trademark Dynamation and later Dynarama stop-motion filmmaking advances, Harryhausen set himself apart from other filmmakers. The result? Just like The Beach Boys and The BeeGees have their singular styles among popular music, Harryhausen films are instantly recognizable and identifiable, films that could have only been produced by the mind and the hands of a single visionary. And hands-on creation was key to Harryhausen’s various film techniques, but it was often expensive and slow, requiring the better part of a year to painstakingly film thousands of images for only a few special effects sequences in a film. The sixteen films Harryhausen is known for are the focus of Richard Holliss’s deluxe hardcover chronicle, Harryhausen: The Movie Posters, first previewed at San Diego Comic-Con this summer and now available this month to fans everywhere for the first time.
Of the same stylish quality and presentation as another 2018 publication, Clint Eastwood–Icon (reviewed here at borg), Harryhausen: The Movie Posters also sees its auteur from the vantage of the myriad movie posters that advertised his films. Holliss takes an additional step that students of film should be drawn to, providing a film-by-film account of Harryhausen’s development of each film along with the posters, a view on his groundbreaking techniques including stop-motion animation via miniature models, stop-motion combined with live-action footage, background plates, storyboarding, combining location footage, miniatures, split-screen, and rear projection, using painted backdrops, multi-camera shots, full sound stages, backtracking from stop-motion to actors in costumes when finances warranted, creating steel ball-and-socket armatures under sculpted creatures of foam rubber, paint and latex, using blue-screen shots to combine actors and miniature stop-motion models, incorporating traveling mattes and matte paintings, and in-camera effects like forced perspective, and Harryhausen’s own sodium vapor effects system.
Where we saw in Clint Eastwood–Icon an evolution of the movie poster over time, reflecting changes in art styles and design movements, changes across posters advertising Harryhausen’s movies were more subtle. The studios seemed to prefer a palette of design concepts that could let audiences know this was a new Harryhausen film, with sweeping fantasy landscapes and key creatures and characters as bold centerpieces drawing-in the eyes of potential audiences. The posters represented aren’t only those styles seen by audiences entering American movie theaters. These include many variations that appeared in theaters across the globe, some by artists whose names are lost to time, with decade-appropriate type styles and language to match. In Harryhausen: The Movie Posters you’ll find artwork from obscure artists to more familiar creators, including Gene Widhoff, Luigi Martinati, Wik, Alfredo Capitani, Gustav Rehberger, Anselmo Ballester, V. Lipniunas, Vonderwerth, Jean Mascii, Charles Rau, G. Meyer, R. Kanz, E.A. Ubis, M. Copizzi, Roger Soubie, Tom Chantrell, Jack Thurston, Bodhem Butenko, Paul Tamin, Enrique Mataix, Raymond Elseviers, Picchioni Franco, Frank McCarthy, Olga Fischerova, Jacek Neugebaur, Brian Bysmouth, Mort Kunstler, Birney Lettick, Miloslav Disman, Roger Huyssen, S. Gorga, Bruno Napoli, and Greg and Tim Hildebrant.
The book includes reproductions of a near complete picture of the several posters created that advertised and promoted Harryhausen’s films: Mighty Joe Young (1949), The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), The Animal World (1956), Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960), Mysterious Island (1961), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), First Men in the Moon (1964), One Million Years B.C. (1966), The Valley of Gwangi (1969), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), and Clash of the Titans (1981).
For connoisseurs of film production, Holliss includes useful nuggets of information, like why Harryhausen’s stop-motion methods didn’t work well with certain formats, like MegaScope and Panavision, and Harryhausen’s rationale for his creative choices along the way. The book includes a brief introduction by movie director John Landis.
Harryhausen: The Movie Posters is a must for fans of Harryhausen’s films, collectors of movie posters and related memorabilia, art history buffs, anyone interested in advertising and design, and students of film and film history. The reproductions of the posters are top quality, in full color, with thick paper, and in an oversized format that allows fans to admire what we otherwise would never get to see up close and personal because of the rarity of the posters presented.