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Tag Archive: John Landis


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.

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The 3D movie is here to stay and it’s as big as it’s ever been.  Not only new movies continue to hit the big screen and impress us with newer ways to turn a movie visit into an amusement park ride, whether in 3D or IMAX 3D.  Old films continue to get the 3D treatment, too.  An entire branch of films and home video releases are devoted to this category, with films that weren’t originally filmed in 3D like Titanic, Jurassic Park, Top Gun, I, Robot, and Beauty and the Beast among the films getting the upgrade–the best results coming from the incredible 3D work done to The Wizard of Oz (reviewed here) and Predator (reviewed here).  But a music video getting a 3D upgrade?  That’s new.

This year the 1980s are coming back in a big way.  Michael Jackson’s Thriller knocked our socks off as part of the latest trailer for Stranger Things season 2 last month.  The powerhouse music video (which even made the National Film Registry) has been given a complete 3D and sound upgrade for a premiere at the Venice Film Festival this summer followed by a return to the theaters for the first time since a limited run in Los Angeles when it debuted back in 1983.  Thriller is truly a one-of-a-kind film, directed by John Landis (The Twilight Zone, The Blue Brothers, Animal House, Trading Places) and co-written by Landis and Michael Jackson, the film was a dream project for Jackson, who was a fan of Landis’s fang-filled An American Werewolf in London.  Jackson spared no expense, pulling in monster maker Rick Baker for prosthetics and Michael Peters for choreography input.  It’s a little bit meta–Vincent Price’s Thriller was the (fake) monster movie Michael and his girlfriend watched in the theater in the video, with a great shot of the marquee as they emerge from the theater.  Fans of a new generation will be able to see Thriller in real life on their local theater marquee.

A fan of 3D, Michael Jackson pioneered the re-launch of 3D films in 1986, starring in his sci-fi film Captain EO, a 3D musical with executive producer George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, scored by James Horner and co-starring Dick Shawn (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Producers, The Year Without a Santa Claus) and Anjelica Huston (Prizzi’s Honor, The Addams Family, The Grifters, The Watcher in the Woods) as an incredibly designed borg villain (an inspiration for Star Trek First Contact’s Borg Queen).  John Napier (Broadway’s Cats) created the costumes, Rick Baker returned for makeup and monster creations, and Tom Burman (Planet of the Apes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Goonies, Dead Again) created Huston’s makeup.  A Disney theme park exclusive, Captain EO was shown up until 2015 in the parks’ 3D theaters, but has not been released in a home version.  The Captain EO 3D comic book is regularly still available here at Amazon.

Michael Jackson’s first (and then, presumably only) 3D film featured Anjelica Huston as this spectacular borg creation, the Supreme Leader.

Michael Landis returned to lead the 3D, music, and sound effects upgrades for the new 3D release of Jackson’s film/video Thriller, saying, “I am so happy to have had the chance not only to restore but enhance Michael Jackson’s Thriller!  We took full advantage of the remarkable advances in technology to add new dimensions to both the visual and the audio bringing it to a whole new level.  Even though Thriller was shot traditionally, I was able to use the 3D creatively.  Let me just warn you, there is a rather shocking surprise in there!”

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