The Film (5/5)
There are people who know who Ray Harryhausen is (and to know him is to love him) and there are people who’ve never heard his name (even if they did watch his movies as a kid on Saturday afternoon TV). And so with a documentary like this, there’s a tough question; for whom are we making this? Is it for the diehards who know all of his work and will get bored with a lot of introductory stuff, or is it for the people who’ve never heard of him, who won’t really have an appreciation for the adoration because they don’t have the context?
Director Gilles Penso decided to say “both!”
And what he put together is a retrospective on the man’s entire career, talking about his own influences, his process, his craft, showing the end result on the screen and all the while having today’s effects filmmakers talking about how Harryhausen influenced their own careers.
For the newcomers it does an excellent job of explaining to them what effects work was before the advent of CGI, and giving them a very easy-to-understand (but no less impressive) breakdown of the sets and models, and for the die-hards there’s a definite sense of excitement to see these original models in their original context and get that behind-the-scenes look at some of their favorite moments.
But what really brings the entire thing together is hearing from the man himself, as he walks us through his entire career, and giving us the bit of perspective on each of his films that only he can; why he made the ones he made, how he made them, why he stopped making them altogether.
To say too much more would essentially be to just give the entire film away, and it’s something that’s absolutely worth watching, so I won’t say anymore.
This is the only thing that could possibly be seen as a knock against the documentary, because a lot of the interview footage was shot with what looks like consumer cameras in whatever lighting was available in the room, and those conditions don’t always lend themselves well to the Blu-ray treatment. But Arrow did their part with it and any lack of quality in the presentation is due entirely to the source material, as opposed to anything they did. And honestly, the content is so good that you’re not altogether concerned with how well an interview subject is lit.
There are a handful of interviews that were taken after the documentary premiered, a selection of Q&As from various premieres, original trailers from the old movies, and segments of interviews that were cut for pacing reasons.
But there are two standouts – in one, filmmakers produce what might be the world’s best unboxing video, as they gain access to Harryhausen’s own warehouse, and uncrate all of the original models and set pieces from all of the original films. The sense of wonder and unfiltered joy is palpable. In the other, someone (I’m not sure if it was the filmmakers or Arrow) got their hands on some behind-the-scenes film from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. It’s nothing particularly revelatory, and it isn’t even that long – but it’s got a lot of just neat historical value.
A great package for a great film about a great filmmaker. If you’ve never heard of Ray Harryhausen you’ll walk away from this with a new creative hero, and if you’ve loved the man’s work your entire life you’ll be equally appreciative of all the context that – chances are – you’ve never gotten before. It’s easily worth a watch, and would probably just as easy be right at home on your shelf.