Review by C.J. Bunce
As in any creative industry, as much as Hollywood is rife with successes, far more projects barely make it past the idea stage. Others make it through preliminary steps only to get left behind, most never heard of again. Decisions are made, offers are given, and you move forward. The fact that Tom Selleck rejected the role of Indiana Jones is a famous footnote to movie history. Most recently Amanda Seyfried recounted rejecting the role of Gamora in the Marvel films. A Mouse Guard movie made it through pre-production before getting stalled. For every successful project, how many others are left behind? If you’re as iconic as filmmaker Ray Harryhausen, you might have even more projects left in the discard pile than others. Those might-have-been projects, rejected ideas, and even scenes that made it beyond mere idea to concept art come together in John Walsh’s new look at the auteur and father of stop-motion creatures, Harryhausen: The Lost Movies.
Ray Harryhausen’s creations were cutting edge for the first century of cinema, their creator a special effects visionary who found his niche in fantasy worlds, via films like One Million Years B.C., Clash of the Titans, and Jason and the Argonauts. Documentarian John Walsh met with Harryhausen, who died in 2013, to film a documentary about the filmmaker, and along the way he chronicled 70 projects Harryhausen considered but did not go through with, including script and concept art material. Some of these are projects he was asked to participate in and couldn’t find a fit, or films he passed up for other projects, including films anyone could see translated by Harryhausen, like Conan, Tarzan, King Kong, Moby Dick, John Carter of Mars, and Beowulf. Then there are those surprises fans could only dream about, like Harryhausen’s take on The Empire Strikes Back, The Princess Bride, Dune, or X-Men. Harryhausen: The Lost Movies provides fans with a glimpse into Harryhausen’s involvement in these projects, some with photographic clues of how his input might have resulted in very different films.
Pulling together some never-been-seen-before artwork, sketches, photos, and screencaps of test footage from the Harryhausen Foundation archives, Walsh creates a scrapbook of sorts, an artist’s sketchbook. Harryhausen considered every other major classic fantasy and fairy tale to utilize his brand of special effects storytelling. He created test footage for H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, but his letter to Orson Welles was not answered. His alien designs from that footage are in this book.
Harryhausen also created scenes, discussed in the book, for scenes that were not included in the final cuts of his most popular films, including effects he created for Mighty Joe Young, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and Clash of the Titans.
The only thing missing from the book? Those multimedia components that can’t be fully translated to the printed page (perhaps including a CD or online access code to that missing test footage might have been a nice addition). One addition might have been some audio from a cassette tape discussed in the book–a soundtrack demo supplied by multiple Oscar-winning composer John Barry for Clash of the Titans (the production went with Laurence Rosenthal’s score instead).
What do the films Harryhausen didn’t make say about the creator? If you’re a fan of Harryhausen and the history of stop-motion animation, this should be the next book on your shelf. A September release, Harryhausen: The Lost Movies sports an enticing full-color hardcover, published by Titan Books, and available to order now here at Amazon.