It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) dir. Robert Gordon
Starring: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis, Ian Keith
Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956) dir. Fred Sears
Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor, Donald Curtis, Morris Ankrum
Sony Pictures has released a couple of must-haves for sci-fi cine-buffs. Sony has slowly been reissuing Ray Harryhausen classics in reverant 2-Disc special editions with superb packaging, menu screens, commentaries and special features documentaries.
For those who aren't familiar with Ray Harryhausen, he is the great special effects genius who mastered the art of stop motion animation. Though Mr. Harryhausen would probably object to being called an animator as he exclusively worked with live action photography - specifically merging and matting his stop motion creations with shot footage.
Harryhausen got his break working with his idol Willis "King Kong" O'Brien on the Merian C. Cooper production of "Might Joe Young" (1949). After making a name for himself for his solo work on "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" he hooked up with schlock producers Charles Schneer and Sam Katzman in the mid 50's producing some of the 'great' classics of early sci-fi.
I use quotes around great because "It Came From Beneath the Sea" is really schlocky - a bad film, really. When a gigantic octopus reaks havoc on a nuclear submarine in the Pacific, two scientists and a Navy officer join forces to stop the massive beast. Same with "Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers" - a simple story of humans battling malevoent aliens with a penchant for destruction. Before Roland Emmerich started blowing up national monuments these films reveled in destroying treasured architecture. In "Beneath the Sea" Harryhausen takes down San Francisco - Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge - and in "The Flying Saucers", it's Washington that takes the pain. In these films Harryhausen and director Fred Sears create some of the cinema's most indelible images - see above.
Of course, these films are b-movies, and most of the dialogue and plotting are excruciatingly dull. In "Beneath the Sea" there's an attempted love triangle that doesn't create any sparks. And there's way more screentime devoted to dialogue and exposition. Indeed, it's tedius, and it's all filler for Harryhausen's beautiful sequences.
Sony's fine DVDs are colorized under supervision by Harryhausen himself and offered in a neat "ChromoChoice" viewing experience, which allows the viewer to toggle between color and black and white. Each disc features a filmed conversation between Tim Burton and Harryhausen. It's fun to watch the mega-successful Burton show pennance to the elder statesman. Each DVD features a boatload of interesting and informative featurettes, including a lesson on how old style stop motion is painstakingly created.
Harryhausen kept making films into the 70's and his last was 1981's "Clash of the Titans". Since then Phil Tippett assumed the reigns as the stop motion master. With CGI, its a rare art form, especially in live action film. It's a shame because there's a rough and organic quality to stop motion that CGI can't capture unless consciously recreated. Thanks to Sony Harryhausen's films will always remain readily available. Enjoy.