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Posts Tagged ‘Ray Harryhausen’

One Million Years BC (1966) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

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Stars – Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswick
Director – Don Chaffey

Released by Kino Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Anytime one of Ray Harryhuasen’s film makes it to Blu-Ray it is a cause for celebration.  Touting Ray’s animated dinosaurs and Raquel Welch in a leather bikini the film went on the become the highest grossing picture ever made by Hammer Films. This is a caveman and dinosaur picture with natural dialogue. The tribes speak a minimum of words so what carries the day is the wonderful visuals. There are many long takes of the incredible looking landscapes. Rocky vistas stretch over the desolate hardscrabble grounds. The effects crew use these colorful sulphur bombs to give the impression of volcanic dust wafting in the air. The film opens slowly. We see violent explosions of flame and molten lava under the credits. There is an elongated sequence of a sunrise.

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The film begins with a little narration and then focuses on a tribe of black bearded men and their cowering women. They fight over food. Life is tough. The strongest man rules and takes what he wants. He has a fight with one of his sons and with a few whacks of a stout staff he sends him on his way. John Richardson looks quite good here. Both Martine Beswick and Raquel Welch remark in their interviews that they were stopped in their tracks when they first saw him. Raquel says that next to her he was the real pretty one. Richardson as Tumac makes his way through the barren lands. He eventually finds the ocean. The sight blows him away. Then he sees a group of blonde women fishing and frolicking in the water. This is all too much. Suddenly he is attacked by a giant tortoise. The creature looks great. In this new transfer we can make out all kinds of detail in the skin textures etched into the body by Harryhausen. Anytime one of his models is on screen the picture is fantastic. There is a pretty lengthy battle. I’ve heard Harryhausen say that whenever he has one of his creature enter people usually go after it with a bunch of sticks and poke at it. They sure do here as well.

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Tumac is smitten with Luana the name of Raquel’s character. While all the other women have these scraggly looking one piece costumes she’s got a well crafted leather bikini. She also sports the most fantastic make up with eye shadow and eye liner never out of place. The blonde tribe is more evolved. They seem to cook better. They make better spears with sharpened rocks tied onto the ends of their staffs. While all the black haired tribe seems to do is yell and fight the blondes seem to have more fun. Tumac discovers laughter. When we have had just about enough of this another of Ray’s dinosaurs makes a welcome entrance. The scene with the Allosaurus is a terrific set piece. He’s not that much taller than the cavemen he attacks. The way Haryhausen manages the interaction is a joy to behold. The actors have to shoot the scenes pretending while looking at empty space without anything there. Ray will make a model of one of the people and switch from the real person to a model in peril with his dinosaur. It’s a great effect. The best example of this is when a huge flying pteranodon grabs Ms. Welch and carries her off into the air. That scene features a fight between two flying monsters in mid air. Watching this bit recalls the harpies flying around in Jason and the Argonauts. While comparing the social evolution of the two tribes has its merits it’s the Dino action we are in this for. At times the length between those scenes stretches out a bit too long. I will say though that while watching this new Blu Ray I found those interim portions much easier to take.

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This is a remake of a classic Hal Roach film One Million BC (1940) that stared Victor Mature and Carole Landis. Carole sported a bathing suit like outfit that while fetching enough was not the sensation that Raquel’s became. Posters were popular in the mid sixties. Comic book heroes, comedians, action stars and all kinds of counter culture types were available in these large 27 x 41 sized prints that you could tack to your wall. They were very affordable, too. The photograph taken of Raquel during the filming became a huge sensation. It was everywhere and without a doubt made her the star that she became. It had to have helped put a few more dollars in the Hammer coffers, too. The other woman in the film that had a bikini was Martine Beswick. She did a great fight scene between two Gypsy girls in the James Bond film, From Russia With Love. She gets another fight scene in this one, too. The encounter with Raquel is well choreographed. You can clearly see that the two of them are actually doing all the moves themselves. Martine does mention in her interview that her bikini was not near as well tailored as Raquel’s. This was something she made sure to negotiate for in her next Hammer film.

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It is a real treat to have this Harryhausen film in such good shape. Kino has included both the International cut and the shorter by 9 minute US version. Among the trims were some shots from the Harryhausen effects scenes. Tim Lucas in his commentary finds this completely without cause. This is why everyone came to see this film. Why would you take even a frame away from any of the work he contributed? Tim’s commentary is full of stories and generous details about the film. He has a nice relaxed delivery and apparently is drawing information from a huge trunkful of information about the film. He credits his sources at several times which is a very nice touch. The interviews with Raquel Welch and Martine Beswick are very candid and lot of fun. The best though is hearing Ray Harryhuasen himself talk about his work on the project as he shows off a few of the actual models that he used in One Million Years BC. So yes, the ridiculous dialogue of the cavemen can be over the top and there may be a bit too much of them altogether. However the dinosaurs are the main attraction and they are served up wonderfully here. Highly recommended.

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Video – 1.85:1
The cover boasts a brand new 4K restoration and once you fire up this disc it backs it up.  Both the US and International cut appear to be in terrific shape. Each version gets their own disc. Colors are strong. Black levels are nice and deep without any distortion or noise. Sure you can tell when matte work is in the background or optical effects are being used but this overall picture is outstanding. The landscapes and vistas in the exteriors all look magnificent. There is quite a bit of time between the dinosaur encounters with only the locations and bikini clad merits of Ms. Welch and Beswick on hand to fill the time so be glad the picture looks so good.

Audio – DTS HD 2.0
Not that you really want to hear it but all of that monosyllabic dialogue is easy enough to follow. The music is brash and supports the film well.

Extras – Commentary by film historian Tim Lucas | In the Valley of the Dinosaurs: Interview with Star Raquel Welch | An Interview with SFX Legend Ray Harryhausen | Interview with Actress Martine Beswick | Animated Montage of Posters and Images | Trailers.  On the inside cover there is a reproduction of a controversial publicity picture.  That’s a nice cheeky touch by Kino.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent (Classic for Ray Harryhausen fans)

Mysterious Island (1961) Blu-Ray Review

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

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Stars – Gary Merrill, Joan Greenwood, Herbert Lom, Beth Rogan, Percy Herbert, Michael Craig, Michael Callan
Director – Cy Endfield

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Ray Harryhausen’s films are an absolute delight. This one does not center around a title monster or a quest by Jason or Sinbad. Mysterious Islansd is a marvelous adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel about civil war era prison escapees whose balloon gets carried away to a fantastic island. While Ray is known for creating an array of articulated creatures and giants his work with that initial balloon sequence is remarkable. We see a balloon in a Union prison camp. I can’t remember any reason why it’s there but it looks so neat tied to the ground. A group of Confederates and one Union man hijack it to make an heroic escape.  They soar into the skies where we get to spend a while with them as they try to cope with the winds and establish their own navigation. It makes for a thrilling start. After loosing control of the balloon the group is deposited into the ocean and swept up onto the beach of an island. Harryhausen fans will spot that the beach in this film is the same one used for parts of Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. You’ll recognize the place where Sinbad’s crew stopped to fill up their canteens.

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In short order they fashion a Swiss Family Robinson style series of huts. The interaction between the men who have to work together is handled nicely. Each gets their own distinct character. Most amusing is Gary Merrill who plays Gideon a journalist who covers the war. He gets drafted into being the cook for the crew. The attack on the beach by a giant crab is a set piece for the film. The large crustacean looks perfect right down to every detail. We learn in the accompanying documentary that Harryhausen had a real crab hollowed out and fitted with armatures that he could manipulate with his stop motion photography process. His technique makes the crab move realistically and he incorporates an animated man held by one of its claws. The next scene features Gideon serving a crab meat delicacy to everyone. Director Cy Enfield (Zulu) keeps a light adventure tone to everything. Two women, one young and one older join the proceedings.  While leaving the island is a priority there is plenty of action.

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Harryhausen’s sequences are woven into the film well by Enfield. The youngest of the crew, Elena played by model Beth Rogan and Herbert wander off together. We can all spot the budding romance between the young soldier and the fetching Elena. Michael Callen who is Herbert would soon have terrific role in Cat Ballou (1965). They climb up a trail following honey only to find themselves sealed into a chamber in the honey comb by a huge bee. Another stand out bit features something like a giant bird without flying wings. As the guys fight it off and try to take it down we are treated to a very nice interplay between Bernard’s Herrmann’s playful score and the comical action.

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The performances of the cast push things along while always retaining that Classic Illustrated style of adventure. Things may get tense and challenging but no one is being eaten by any of these beasts. The third portion of the film involves Nemo. Herbert Lom (Phantom of the Opera) playz him more seriously. He’s a brilliant scientist who has developed these super sized plants to help feed the world. Like other characters of Jules Verne he detests war and is dedicated to vanquishing the activity on a world level. The underwater scenes with the men walking on the ocean floor with sea shell-like aqualungs are gorgeous to look at. This is a first class adventure fantasy. Ray Harryhuasen’s style is good fit with Jules Verne; just as good as he would match up with H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon (1964) a few years later.

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Twilight Time is calling this an Encore Edition for those who missed the initial release.  I was absolutely satisfied with the transfer. Though I have not seen the previous edition there were several sequences that sported excellent color that stood out as eye candy. Bernard Herrman’s score also sounds full and robust in the 5.1 DTS mix. Ray Harryhuasen in Blu-ray that looks this good is a treat. It transcends any nostalgia by leaps and bounds as these films still retain large amounts of magic. The trade off is that in return for that luscious color, sharp detail and exuberant soundtrack you may occasionally see a slight tipping of Ray Harryhausen’s hand here and there. But there is nothing to see. It really is magic.

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Video – 1.66:1
Very nice detail. Strong robust colors. The transfer looks like an adventure of this kind should. No complaints at all. Again I can not compare it to the previous Twilight Time release but there were several sections that definitely stood out in every area.

Audio – 5.1 DTS-HD MA, 2.0 DTS-HD MA, 1.0 DTS-HD MA with subtitles offered in English SDH
If you like Bernard Herrman’s work the sound track is a joy. The way he combines different instruments and brings things to a crescendo is just a delight. The bit with the giant bird is another one of his fun pieces. Though he is know for so much and mostly identified with Hitchcock his style was a perfect match for Harryhausen. That they worked together four times is a tribute to the producers who made that happen.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score and effects track, Commentary with film historians Randall William Cook, C. Courtney Joyner and Steven Smith, Ray Harryhausen on Mysterious Island, Islands of Mystery, TV Spots, Theatrical Trailers

The making of documentary is fascinating. It appears to be the same one that was on the old Sony DVD. The commentary is new to this edition.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

First Men in the Moon (1964) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

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Stars – Lionel Jeffries, Edward Judd, Martha Hyer
Director – Nathan Juran

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 5,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

When people talk about Ray Harryhausen movies First Men in the Moon doesn’t jump into the conversation as often as it should. Granted it does not feature any of the mythological creatures or monsters that Ray is known for. His work in this one is mostly seen in the wonderful set design and illusions that happened below the surface of the moon. There is one beast whose presence is practically a cameo. The Selenites who inhabit the moon are a mix of Ray’s stop motion magic as well as some short folk or children wearing body suit costumes. The leader of this group is glimpsed behind a beautiful crystalline prism that pulses and vibrates with light. So yes there were no tantalizing pictures in Famous Monsters or the various science fiction books to demand your attention. This Victorian era tale is based on one of H.G. Wells’ books. It can proudly stand amongst The Time Machine (1960) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) and others in the sci-fi sub genre of turn of the century films.

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The film takes a good while establishing its characters on Earth before we even think of going to the moon. Edward Judd plays Bedford a playwright who has yet to write a word. His creditors are after him and he is holed up in a bucolic cottage well off the beaten path. His fiancé Kate played by Martha Hyer has tracked him down to his hideout to get him to finally marry her. They have a nice rapport and though this is set in an era of virtue it kinda sorta seems like she has moved in to this tiny Hobbit house with him. We are never sure but it’s a nice texture. The costumes and setting are beautiful. Bedford’s bicycle riding neighbor is one of the great eccentric scientists. He is always in a frenzied hurry and bubbling over with excitement about his experiments. There is definitely a juvenile appeal in Lionel Jeffries’ performance but he’ll also charm the inner child out of any adult trying to hold it back. Cavor (Jeffries) has invented Cavorite – a paste that when painted on something causes it to loose its gravitational pull making it fly. When Judd paints some on a chair and attempts to sit on it he flies about the house. That scene recalls a bit of the fun that Fred MacMurray had with Flubber in Disney’s The Absent Minded Professor (1961). Judd wants to paint it on boots and sell them but Cavor wants to go to the moon in his sphere he has stashed in a dilapidated shack.

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Their explorations below the moon’s surface are full of wonder. The sets are a nice evocation of the kind of fantasy worlds that writers like H. G. Wells and Jules Verne envisioned. Harryhausen gives the interiors some nice depth and detail. When they meet the denizens of the moon Cavor naturally wants to communicate with them and understand the science of their world. The other two clearly know that they need to get away, if they can. There is a lovely modern day preface and coda that bookends the tale. Seeing the aged Bedford interrupted by scientists and reporters in his nursing home is humorous and full of an I-told-you-so attitude. Clearly the astronauts that land on the moon in the very beginning were not the first men in the moon at all. When they discover a tattered British flag they know someone was there before them. First Men in the Moon has much more characterization than your typical science fiction / adventure film of the era. Lionel Jeffries is able to play the role in a way that lets us laugh at his antics as well as genuinely care for him. Simply said he lets us believe in Cavor as a real though unusual person.  This is a thoroughly enjoyable film that sparkles with imagination.

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Video – 2.35:1
This Blu-Ray is simply exceptional. It looks stunning in every aspect. Easily one of the best if not the best I have ever seen a Harryhausen film look. Colors are robust. The sets stand out. This is one of those Blu-rays that will show off your system.

Audio – DTS-HD MA 5.1 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is clear. The score by Laurie Johnson, who had worked with Bernard Herrmann has two distinct textures. One feels almost like a Prokofiev Peter and The Wolf take on the characters. The instruments blend in a whimsical and light way, giving individual themes and cues. Once the story gets to the moon we can hear a more adult sense of awe in the colors of the orchestra that are chosen. The later has more in common with Bernard Herrmann’s style. It’s a wonderful score and it sounds terrific here.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Randall William Cook Introduces the film, Commentary with Ray Harryhausen and FX Artist Randall William Cook, Tomorrow the Moon, Original Theatrical Trailer.
Randall Cook’s introduction of the film is both a fond remembrance of Ray Harryhausen and a god explanation of his enduring appeal.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

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Stars: John Phillip Law, Douglas Wilmer, Tom Baker, Caroline Munro, Gregoire Aslan
Director: Gordon Hessler
Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 units
Available at screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Ray Harryhausen’s last two Sinbad films have always been viewed as second class citizens. Granted The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958) is regarded as one of his very best works and these two have an awful lot of expectation to live up to. In between the grandmaster of stop motion special effects did plenty of films including what many consider to be his very best work, Jason and the Argonauts (1963). It was fifteen years later, though the story is a completely different tale and has no real continuity to speak of. This one and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) seem to linger at the bottom of many fans’ list of favorite Harryhausen movies. While Golden Voyage is admittedly not the best of Ray’s work, it is still a solid second tier Harryhausen and one that should never be dismissed or passed up by those who love solid special effects and adventure fantasy films.

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The story will seem familiar because all these tales involve the famed hero setting out to sea in search of some mysterious and very rare treasure. He will encounter trials and dangers. His crew will have a long time trusted right hand man, a bumbling newcomer who will earn respect by the end, some kind of oracle or magic talisman and a few assorted colorful scallywags. The villain will be memorable and a bit over the top. The one thing you can be sure of though is that it will have several set pieces that let Ray Harryhausen demonstrate his magic and indulge his imagination. His creatures have more character and personality than a bazillion gigabytes of CGI.

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This time around Sinbad finds a piece of a puzzle that when combined with one that is held by a Vizier in a golden helmet, who he meets in a gorgeous palace, will reveal a treasure beyond imagination. While preparing for the trip Sinbad picks up two passengers. One is a good for nothing son whose father believes the voyage will make a man out of him. He also gives away a slave girl who Sinbad fancies because she has an eye tattooed on her palm, and is drop dead gorgeous, too. Fans of Dr. Who will quickly recognize Tom Baker as Koura the mysterious and magical bad guy. With each spell cast Baker ages and deteriorates. Baker delivers a terrific role here making the evil prince quite a bit of fun. John Phillip Law plays a swarthy and relaxed Sinbad. He’s got a great look for the part and has an easy going charm. Caroline Monroe is a delight as the slave girl though she mostly gets to look scared and scream at the monstrosities the crew encounters. Perhaps the producers were mindful that these films had an appeal to more than just youngsters. Any of the ads and posters for the film capitalized on the tantalizing figure of Miss Monroe.

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The true stars though and the main attraction are Ray Harryhausen’s creations. This is not his best set of creatures. The ones that Jason and his Argonauts encountered ten years earlier were far more imposing and fearsome. They really felt like dreadful legends come to life. A few of these feel like we have seen them, or parts of them before. There is a small winged homunculus that Koura sends to sneak around and spy on Sinbad and his gang. Koura sees and hears what the creature does. This little guy though, when we get a good look at him bears more than a resemblance to the Ymir creature from Harryhausen’s 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957). The one real standout  is the six armed statue of Kali that comes to life. She does an intricate dance with her many hands gesticulating gracefully. Then armed with six swords she has a terrific battle with Sinbad. This is first rate Ray at his finest. The articulation of the arms is fascinating. Each of Kali’s feet also move in perfect time with her whether she is dancing or fighting. The other thing about Ray’s work that feels like a signature to his style is the emotion he gives his characters. They readily express fear, anger and sometimes a delightful almost juvenile petulance. He gives them lives not only in movement but in attitude.

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There is an on going line about trusting to Allah but always making sure your camel is tied up. The phrase seems to make little sense yet the characters always say it with knowing assurance. Kudos to the writers for getting a last scene pay off to the phrase with a corny joke that did indeed get me to laugh. Golden Voyage is a very enjoyable outing. With this new blu-ray the colors are very attractive giving the whole affair a Classics Illustrated quality. Golden Voyage plainly does not have the magic and robust sense of adventure that Jason and  Seventh Voyage had. Still it’s very easy to get lost in the look of the film. As the somewhat loosely structured narrative flows one can be sure that there will be plenty of stops for fantasy creatures.

Video – 1.85:1
Colors are delightfully bright throughout. Detail is fine. When opticals and mattes are used to blend several images together there is a quality drop, but that is to be expected. The increase in detail afforded by the HD process enhances these kinds of fantasy films immensely. None of the effects shots are spoiled for this viewer at all. Instead the wonderful and imaginative world they inhabit seems that much more real and inviting. Also it is a real joy to get a good look at Harryhausen’s work in that kind of detail. His creations are stunning. Stop motion animation is a very hands on art. It’s a pleasure to behold when the hands belong to Ray Harryhausen.

Audio – 5.1 DTS-HD, subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is clear, even the lines about tying up your camel. Bernard Herrmann had done the spectacular score for Seventh Voyage of Sinbad which has everything a good fantasy film orchestration should have. You’re practically bouncing in you seat as the credits roll waiting for it to start. The Golden Voyage score by the usually dependable Mikos Rozsa is a bit of a let down. The main theme doesn’t have that majestic kick and many of the cues are too obvious. The orchestrations which are usually a big contribution to these adventures fall  short in this film. The soundtrack is good though not outstanding.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature Isolated Score Track , Mysterious Island featurette, 3 Worlds of Gulliver featurette, Earth vs The Flying Saucers featurette and Trailer. The featurette for EVTFS is hosted by Joe Dante. Joe has good questions for Ray and has an infectious appreciation for the film.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic
Movie – Good

Blu-Ray – Excellent