Visual effects dorks have long been carefully attuned to the minutiae of movie making magic – the game changing advances of John Dykstra or the pure craftsmanship of Phil Tippet – but few FX titans can claim to dominate not just the art, but the shape of sci-fi and fantasy cinema itself like the great kraken that is Ray Harryhausen.
With a career that began in the wake of 1933’s King Kong when he was just a wee lad, Harryhausen is remembered through such jaw-agape moments of Sunday afternoon TV viewing as the skeletons arising from the ruins of ancient Greece to do battle in 1963’s Jason And The Argonauts, the blade-spinning Kali statue in 1974’s The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, and of course, that first unleashing of the kraken before a shirtless Sam Worthington’s slo-mo sandal-kick ruined it for everyone.
Harryhausen’s pioneering advances in stop-motion and ingenious visual trickery find obvious fans in the fantastic filmmakers who lend their talking heads to this documentary – Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, James Cameron, Joe Dante, Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton and Peter Jackson being the biggest of the big guns wheeled out to boom their respects. But if anything its proved through the film’s compelling mix of film-by-film recollections from both Harryhausen himself and his disciples, it’s that his influence is far more fundamental and all-pervasive than you might have assumed.
From the movement of dinosaurs in everything from Spielberg’s Jurassic Park to Jackson’s King Kong remake – who owe their lurching lizard kings to 1956’s The Animal World and hardly anything to the protestations of weary paleontologists – to the comedy glove puppet tentacles of Spider-Man 2‘s Doctor Octopus – directly drawn from those of the strangely endearing city-smashing squid in 1955’s It Came From Beneath The Sea – Ray Harryhausen’s presence is felt across the breadth of sci-fi and fantasy, from the biggest benchmark effects, to the littlest touches.
And that undeniable influence of Harryhausen clearly brings out the best in the interviewees too, who might otherwise have been cagey in assigning a part share of their multimillion dollar success to anyone outside of their own retinue, and there’s a genuinely moving moment when Spielberg and Tippet recall bringing him on set for Jurassic Park – for the scene in which the T-Rex smashes the jeep off the road – to let this mild-manner movie master know that none of this spectacle would have been possible were it not for his incredible oeuvre, wayward imagination and seemingly limitless ambition.