The above photograph is of me at the London Film Museum just a few months ago. I felt honoured to be standing in the very place that a few months earlier Rick Baker, John Landis and Peter Jackson had stood with the man himself to celebrate the incredible achievements of one of my all time biggest cinematic inspirations…
…and now, a few months later, I’m struck by the tragedy of this recent news and am filled with deep regret that this was as close as I’ll ever get to shaking the hand of Ray Harryhausen. Every fantasy I’ve had of seeing just one more Harryhausen film is now fully extinguished, and there shall forever be an empty space in the industry and in my heart, which one of the most inspirational cinematic geniuses once filled.
My deepest sympathies go to all friends of this great man. To his relatives and to his wife Diana. The pain is surely felt worldwide by anyone with an interest in special effects and film. May he continue to inspire generation after generation of movie-makers and through the preservation of his incredible work, may his legacy continue to live forever.
In response to this news I’ve decide to compose this tribute, celebrating the immortality of Ray Harryhausen through his inspiring influence on cinema. And where better to start than with my all-time favourite movie The Lord of the Rings?
The Lord of the Rings (2001-03)
The Lord of the Rings is full of intertextual references and homages to some of Peter Jackson’s favourite movies, including The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Aliens and Hitchcock-style cameos. But nothing is referenced more than Ray Harryhausen, and his influence on the movies is far from secret - with Peter Jackson often referring to The Lord of the Rings as his “Harryhausen movie”.
One scene in particular that he regards as his “Harryhausen scene” is a moment in The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) when the fellowship are trapped in a dark tomb and are forced to confront a huge cave-troll that bares an undeniable resemblance to Harryhausen’s famous cyclops in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958).
The Hobbit (2012-14)
Harryhausen’s influence is equally as prominent in Peter Jackson’s more recent prequel The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), in which the main antagonist of the movie Azog the Defiler has his left hand severed by the dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield. When we see Azog later in the story we perceive that a metal claw has been used as a crude replacement for the hand…
…which is strikingly reminiscent of the metal claw used in the same manor by the creature Calibos in The Clash of the Titans (1981)
Another movie that’s regarded as a Ray Harryhausen tribute is Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996) which features many alien spacecraft that are directly inspired by those from Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956).
In both films the flying saucers crash into the roof of the Washington Monument, creating an iconic image that has also been replicated in an episode of The Simpsons
But Mars Attacks! isn’t the only time that Tim Burton has displayed his affection for Ray’s films. Many of Burton’s movie monsters (Particularly in A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Frankenweenie (2012)) are ostensibly inspired by Harryhausen’s work and the piano owned by the Everglots in Corpse Bride (2005) is also conveniently branded with the name “Harryhausen”
In a similar vein, Peter Docter also named a fictional restaurant after his muse in the Pixar movie Monster’s Inc. (2001)
Tim Burton’s affinity with Harryhausen is particularly evident in an interview he did in 2005 for About.com. When asked about his use of stop-motion in films he replied: “It mainly it had to do with Ray Harryhausen. He was the guy. If I saw his name, no actor meant anything but his name certainly meant something. I think that’s where the love of this animation comes from because you could see an artist at work. His monsters had more personality than most of the actors in the movies. Even if the monster was just a monster, their death scene was always so beautiful and tragic. The final twist of the tail or whatever or the one final breath, he brought such passion into the work. To me he was the guy that not only inspired me but inspired almost any animator.”
It’s fascinating how many animators or aspiring animators, myself included, were inspired almost exclusively by Ray Harryhausen. After two generations his work, his films and his art continue to motivate not just stop-motion animators, but any animator as well as special effects artists and, for that matter, many directors, producers and screenplay writers.
When paying tributes to Harryhausen yesterday George Lucas said “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars” which I see as a testament to the incredible impact he had on the industry. I can only say that I hope that his work continues to inspire generations of animators, film-makers and other artists as much as it has done these past two generations.
Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
Army of Darkness (1992)
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)