Sad To See You Leaving 2013: Ray Harryhausen

by George_East on December 26, 2013

I bloody well hate CGI.  It is the bane of virtually all blockbuster films these days, making many of them all but unwatchable.  Tired and obvious computer generated realities that have no soul, no art and no style.   You only have to look at the number of CGI artists, compositors and other geeks on the credit sequence of such films to know where the budget is going.  Character, acting and writing have largely been sacrifice on the altar of special effects.

And it is not even as if the CGI creates anything approaching a believable reality – from the CGI Rome in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator to the tube train crash in Skyfall, you can pretty much guarantee that the CGI bits will be the worst bits of the film you watching.   Sometimes, like with the Marvel franchise films, there doesn’t really seem to be anything other than CGI in the film (or at least CGI and knowing looks by Robert Downey Jr).  Does anyone think the CGI additions to the Star Wars films has enhanced them in any way?

When I was a growing up in the 1970s, watching the kind of films you do  as a boy before you are 10 years old – fantasy and sci fi films, the special effects may have been a little clunkier but they were no less real and most importantly they had a style and class about them that detracted from the film’s story.  Indeed with one man in particular they reached the level of art: Ray Harryhausen.

Harryhausen who died in May 2013, at the ripe old age of 92, was, of course, famous for his stop-motion model animation.   He made his name with films like Seven Voyages of Sinbad (1958), One Million Years BC (1966)and, of course, Jason and the Argonauts (1963), which seemed to be permanently on the telly in the late 1970s.   The scene in which Jason seeking to escape Colchis is confronted by the skeleton warriors created from the teeth of the Hydra used to scare the living crap out of me when I was a child and still makes me feel uneasy now.

The stop motion figures would be animated to interact with the live characters on the screen.  This was revolutionary at the time and because they are physically there in the filming, still results in interplay which feels more real than blue screen CGI, where it is all added in afterwards in post production.

Harryhausen had a last hurrah in the Star Wars (but not CGI) era in 1981 with Clash of The Titans, the only film of his I ever saw at the cinema.  It seemed dated and old fashioned to my 11 year old eyes at the time, fresh from seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back.    Things did feel that they had moved on.

But as the sophisticated modeling (very much influenced by Harryhausen) of Spielberg and Lucas started to morph into computer based effects until we reached the full CGI horrors of today,  it became clearer and clearer that we had lost something vital in the special effects we see today:  the craft and humanity provided by a genius like Harryhausen.

For your delectation I have included the skeleton fight from Jason and The Argonauts in the clip.  Genius.

RIP Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013.

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