Yesterday morning I booked a ticket to see the 1963 Ray Harryhausen epic Jason And The Argonauts on the big screen. It’s playing at the NFT1 in June, complete with a Q&A from film historian Tony Dalton – an event to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. The BFI programme, posted to members last week, says: “We also hope to welcome Ray Harryhausen.”
Yesterday evening, I heard the sad news that Ray had died.
As a young kid in the 1970s, I was in thrall to stop-motion animation. Like Ray, I was bowled over by the original King Kong – I can still clearly remember sitting and watching it, having been guided to it by my parents – and I never missed a chance to see any of Ray’s own films when they were on telly. The fantastic creatures of The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad and, of course, Jason And The Argonauts just seemed magical. I was also a dinosaur nut, and the likes of One Million Years BC and The Valley Of Gwangi wowed me in exactly the same way that Jurassic Park would 20 years later.
I’ve sometimes wondered whether I’m part of the last generation to experience stop-motion as a contemporary weapon in fantasy cinema’s special-effects arsenal.
As a kid in the 1970s, I was wowed by television showings of the likes of Jason And The Argonauts, One Million Years BC and The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad – films that, at the time, were relatively recent releases, though I must admit, I didn’t discern any real difference between these ’60s/’70s epics and much older films such as King Kong. To me, stop-motion monsters were always eye-popping and wonderful, in the purest sense of the term – the pinnacle of special-effects artistry.
In 1981, my parents took me to the cinema to watch Clash Of The Titans, the last film I can recall seeing that was built entirely around stop-motion set-pieces. Sure, later movies had their moments – eg, Return Of The Jedi in 1983, and The Terminator in 1984 – but Clash still feels like a last ‘hurrah’ for the kind of film that defined my childhood experience of monsters and magic.