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The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen: Volume Two (1961-1964) | Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts and First Men in the Moon

  

From Indicator/Powerhouse comes three more classic Ray Harryhausen adventures presented with brand new 2K and 4K restorations, and containing a wealth of new and archival extras. Here’s the lowdown…

Mysterious Island (dir. Cy Endfield, 1961)
2K restoration – UK Blu-ray premiere

American Civil War prisoner Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) escapes in a balloon with other Confederate officers and a war correspondant Gideon Spillet (Gary Merril, aka Bette Davis’s ex) and end up on an unknown island in the Pacific along with shipwrecked aristocrats, Lady Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Elena (Beth Rogan). Holed up in a cave they nickname the Granite House, the plucky castways encounter strange creatures, pirates, an angry volcano and the charismatic Captain Nemo (beautifully underplayed by a blonde Herbert Lom).

This action-filled adventure, loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1874 novel, provides a field day for special effects man Ray Harryhausen, who conjures up a magnificent menagerie of oversized critters: including a giant crab (whose carapace was bought from Harrods Food Hall), a prehistoric Phorusrhacos (which looks like an oversized cassowary), a hive of bees, and a slumbering multi-tentacled cephalopod.

The picturesque Spanish locations (including Sa Conca Bay in Catalonia, and some others that would later be used in Jason and the Argonauts), evocative production design (especially the Nautilus and its Victorian-futuristic paraphernalia) and atmospheric score from composer Bernard Herrmann are an added delight to Harryhausen’s fantastical-take on a Boy’s Own-styled castaway adventure.

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SPECIAL FEATURES:
• 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• 2012 audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton (This is thoroughly enjoyable, and I love it when a genuinely surprised Ray keeps commenting on how sharp everything looks in the restoration – especially as he used filters to soften the actor’s faces in the first place. He also reveals many of his camera tricks, including using a cardboard cut-out for the Phorusrhacos)
• Audio commentary with film historians Randall William Cook, C. Courtney Joyner and Steven C. Smith (having heard everything from the master himself, I might leave this for a rainy day)
• Archive interview with Ray Harryhausen (featuring many of his storyboards)
• 2017 interview with actor Michael Craig (who talks about the difficulty of trying to act against an invisible crab on a beach filled with onlookers)
• 2017 interview with clapper loader Ray Andrew (who gives an entirely different account of that crab story)
• 2017 interview Kim Newman (on the shared cinematic universe of Jules Verne)
Mysterious Magic: 2017 interview with visual effects animator Hal Hickel (on the huge impact Harryhausen’s work had on his career)
• Islands of Mystery: vintage black and white featurette (this one really beefs the film up – making you expect more monsters)
• Super 8 version (a cut-down version, in colour, with a narrator to paste over the gaps)
• Back to Mysterious Island: A preview of the 2008 Bluewater Comic that re-imagines the adventure for a younger generation (colourful, but not my cuppa tea, sorry)
• Isolated Bernard Herrmann score (just perfect to listen to over and over)
• Trailers and TV Spots
• Image gallery

Jason and the Argonauts
(Don Chaffey, 1963) | 4K restoration

With his father’s kingdom in the hands of a tyrant, Jason (Todd Armstrong) sets sail with the bravest men of all of Greece aboard the Argo on a quest for the Golden Fleece. Along the way, they encounter a host of mythical creatures and rescue Medea (Nancy Kovack), the high priestess of Colchis, who soon causes problems for the crew when she falls in love with Jason…

This spectacular mythological adventure marked the pinnacle in the career of Ray Harryhausen. A landmark in the history of movie special effects, it was this film that inspired many a budding young film-maker – from Nick Park to Peter Jackson (who provides one of the commentaries in this Indicator/Powerhouse release) and – on a personal note – fuelled my love for myths, fantasy and ancient history.

Harryhausen’s Dynamation effects are delivered with amazing imagination (and took him almost two years to complete). Jason’s climactic sword fight with a band of resurrected skeletons remains the film’s highlight of course, while the other weird creatures including the giant bronze automaton (Ray’s take on the Colossus of Rhodes), a band of hungry harpies (who torture poor old Patrick Troughton) and the magnificient seven-headed Hydra.

As well as Troughton, a host of other recognisable British actors provide great support, including Laurence Naismith and Nigel Green as Argus and Hercules, Douglas Wimer as Jason’s nemesis Pelias, amd Michael Gwynn and Honor Blackman as Olympians Hermes and Hera. This truly is the greatest mythical adventure film ever made.

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SPECIAL FEATURES:
• 4K restoration from the original camera negatives (despite the odd flashes of grain, this really is the best presentation of Harryhausen’s film we shall ever see)
• English mono and English 5.1 surround sound audio options
• Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalston (This one is filled with lots of behind-the-scnes anecdotes, some we’ve heard before on the other commentaries, and much of it is also explored in the three books that Ray and Tony have published – which are also a must have)
• Audio commentary with film-maker Peter Jackson and Randy Cook (Also very interesting, as Peter and Randy cover the film’s influence and legacy, although some of their conjecture is cleared up in the Harryhausen commentary)
• Original Skeleton Fight Storyboards
The Harryhausen Legacy: archival documentary
• Ray Harryhausen interviewed by John Landis
The Harryhausen Chronicles: archival documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy
• Original trailers & TV spots
• Previews (Ghostbusters, Close Encounters, 20 Millions Miles to Earth, It Came from Beneath the Sea, 7th Voyage of Sinbad)
• Image gallery

First Men in the Moon (Nathan Juran, 1964)
4K restoration – UK Blu-ray premiere

The world is shocked when a team of United Nations astronauts land on the Moon in 1964 only to discover that the Victorian British beat them to it – back in 1899!

In a Dymchurch nursing home, they track down the only survivor of the expedition, 91-year-old Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd)… Bedford then tells the assembled investigators how he travelled to the Moon with his fiancée Kate (Martha Hyer) and inventor Professor Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) in a spaceship which Cavor had coated with a revolutionary anti-gravity paste. And what did they find living beneath the Moon’s surface? Only an insectoid population with advanced technological know-how.

HG Wells’ 1901 science fiction tale gets the Dynamation treatment from Harryhausen and his 20 Million Miles to Earth director Nathan Juran, based on a screenplay by Nigel Kneale, who was best known for his Quatermass series.

This is entertaining yarn finds Lionel Jeffries going full pelt with his cranky inventor act, while the always stalwart Judd provides some energetic heroics. Martha Hyer’s Kate, meanwhile, is a spirited and feisty creation that was not in Wells’ original novel, but proves to be most welcomed here (and not just on account of her looks).

The film’s stand out creature is the giant caterpillar-like ‘moon-bull’, while the Selenites (actually kids in rubber suits) could easily have come out of a classic Doctor Who adventure or even Lost in Space (which Juran would later direct). Boasting great production values in spite of its limited budget, and having a great sense of Victoriania, this is million times better than the 1967 Jules Verne-pastiche Rocket to the Moon and a Harryhausen adventure that I can happily revisit time and again.

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SPECIAL FEATURES:
• 4K restoration from the original camera negatives (It looks fantastic, especially the sequences involving the lunar surface and the Selenites’ underground city).
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen, Tony Dalton and Randy Cook (there’s a wealth of information on offer here from the trio, with Harryhausen spending a lot of time chuckling at the film’s more comic elements, like Jeffries’ performance and improbably science. But then Ray does say, ‘you should never over analyse fantasy’. Now that’s something I totally agree with. He also reveals that his major influence for the stairs leading to the Grand Lunar’s throne room was 1935’s She – which was produced by Merian C Cooper, whose King Kong inspired Harryhausen in the first place).
• An introduction by Harryhausen fan Randy Cook
Tomorrow the Moon: This vintage featurette is my favourite extra as it combines behind-the-scenes footage of the film (featuring producer Charles Schneer, Harryhausen and Juran, and some of the sets, and models) with the real-life US Apollo space project.
• 2017 interviews with special effects assitant Terry Schubert (who reveals how all the effects were created in a small space on a Slough trading estate); production manager Ted Wallis, clapper loader Ray Andrew (who has some great memories of cinematographer Wilkie Cooper) and title designer Sam Suliman (who wasn’t impressed with his titles).
• Isolated score by Laurie Johnson
• Trailer commentary from John Landis (who quickly runs out things to say)
• Trailers
• Image gallery

Read about the First Volume of The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen HERE.

 

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The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen: Volume One (1955-1960) | Three classic adventures get a glorious HD restoration

Powerhouse Films have released three fantasy classics from special effects titan Ray Harryhausen for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK as part of their Indicator series. Containing a wealth of new and archival extras – including exclusive new interviews with director Joe Dante, SFX maestro Dennis Muren, and Aardman Animation co-founders David Sproxton and Peter Lord – this Limited Dual Format Edition Box Set is a must-have for your cult film collection.

First up is 1954’s It Came from Beneath the Sea starring Faith Domergue, Kenneth Tobey and Donald Curtis. One of the first films to feature Harryhausen’s special effects puppet animation, this classic sci-fi thriller uses them most impressively, while creating a tangible atmosphere of fear and chaos when a giant octopus emerges from the Pacific to wreak havoc on San Francisco. The sci-fi is presented here in both the original black and white print and an authorised (and surprisingly effective) colourised version.

 

A fun offering from the height of the 1950s monster movie boom is the second feature, 20 Million Miles to Earth, starring William Hopper (from TV’s Perry Mason) and Joan Taylor. Directed by Nathan Juran (TV’s Lost in Space) it features a scaly, clawed alien from Venus which doubles its size every 24 hours… The sci-fi is also presented in the original black and white print and a director-approved colourised version.

 

In 1960’s The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Kerwin Mathews gets to be a big man in a little world and a little man in a big world in this appealing version of Jonathan Swift’s classic. While it’s light on action, Mathews makes for an engaging hero, while Harryhausen conjures up some cute special effects for the little Lilliput and big Brobdingnag sequences (though the squirrel sequences is a bit of a disappointment). The film also makes great use of the location scenes set in Avila and Segovia in Spain.

 

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
• HD restorations of It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth
• 4K restoration from the original camera negative of The 3 Worlds of Gulliver
• Original black and white and alternative, authorised colourised versions of It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth audio commentaries about the colourised versions with Ray Harryhausen (which are both excellent and hugely entertaining).
The 3 Worlds of Gulliver audio commentary with film historians Randall Cook, C Courtney Joyner and Steven C Smith (this one is heavy on the creation of the musical score and lots of bios of the cast and crew).
• New interview with filmmaker Joe Dante
• New interview with SFX maestro Dennis Muren
• New interviews with Aardman Animation’s David Sproxton, Peter Lord and Dave Alex Riddett
• Archival documentaries, interviews and featurettes
• Original trailers and promotional films
• Isolated score on The 3 Worlds of Gulliver by Bernard Herrmann (I forgot how good this was)
• Promotional and on-set photography, poster art and archive materials
• Booklet with essays from Kim Newman, Dan Whitehead and Charlie Brigden, and film credits

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Ray Harryhausen’s legendary Sinbad adventures restored and on Blu-ray in the UK for the very first time!

The Sinbad Trilogy on Blu-ray

 

The 7th Voyage of SinbadTHE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (Nathan Juran, 1958)
The film for which director Nathan Juran (who also did TV’s Lost in Space and Land of the Giants amongst others) will be remembered and a huge box office smash at the time of its cinema release. Kerwin Matthews takes the title role as the fearless Sinbad who sails into troubled waters to save a princess (Kathryn Grant) cursed by an evil magician (played with gleeful menace by Torin Thatcher) who wants to get his hands on a magic lamp and its genie. But the real stars of this rousing Arabian Nights adventure are, of course, Ray Harryhausen’s incredible stop motion animated monsters, most notably his glowering Cyclops and chained dragon. Believe it or not, the scene involving the sword-fighting skeleton warrior was originally cut by the British censors as being too frightening! How times have changed.

The Golden Voyage of SinbadTHE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (Gordon Hessler, 1973)
Ray Harryhausen pulls out more Dynamation magic for this second Sinbad adventure which sees John Phillip Law’s seafarer battle a one-eyed centaur, a six-armed sword-wielding Kali idol, a gryphon, and a homunculus as he seeks out the fabled Fountain of Destiny to restore the disfigured face of the Grand Vizier of Marabia (Douglas Wilmer). Phillip Law might look the part, but he makes for a rather dull hero, while an eye-catching Caroline Munro is in desperate need of more dialogue (and where does a runaway slave get so many snazzy outfits from?). Tom Baker, however, chews the scenery in true pantomime villain style, and it was on the back of his performance that he landed the Doctor Who gig – and changed his life forever.

Sinbad and the Eye of the TigerSINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (Sam Wanamaker, 1977)
Sinbad’s escapades get a colourful (well it is the 1970s) injection in this final Arabian Nights adventure starring Patrick Wayne (son of John) who along with Jane Seymour’s Princess Farah take on an army of Ray Harryhausen’s special effects creatures in their attempt to undo the spell on the princess’ brother (Damien Thomas), who has been turned into a baboon by Margaret Whiting’s sorceress, Zenobia. Harryhausen is at the top of his game here – his three ghouls, troglodyte and robotic bronze Minoton (played by an uncredited Peter Mayhew in the close-ups) being the stand-out. And while the saber-toothed tiger might look more cuddly than fierce, its the back-projection work employed in the location scenes at Petra in Jordan and the Hyperborea-set climax that really let the team down.

These classic adventures are presented here in new restorations on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK  and they look terrific (check out my comments below). Plus, you’ve got some exclusive interviews with Tom Baker, Caroline Munro and Jane Seymour, as well as some super archival interviews with Harryhausen and producer Charles H Schneer and loads more.

Order now: http://www.powerhousefilms.co.uk/product/the-sinbad-trilogy-dfe

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
• New 4K restoration of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad from the original camera negative (absolutely loved this restoration, especially the sound which brings Bernard Herrmann’s score to the fore).
• 2K restorations of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (this one has grain problems in the low-light shots and night-time scenes) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger from the original camera negatives (also a little grain in the night-time shots, but otherwise an excellent transfer – despite the inherent production flaws).
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen
• Previously unreleased audio interviews with Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles H Schneer
• New interviews with actors Tom Baker (his Catholic indoctrination story had been me in stitches), Caroline Munro (who thought John Phillip Law was a dreamboat) and Jane Seymour (who never got to any of the exotic locations used in the film hence the terrible back projection)
• New interview with SFX maestro Phil Tippett
• Original Super 8 cut-down versions (these are a real treat, despite having no sound)
• Archival documentaries (all of them fascinating), interviews and featurettes (loved the Trailers from Hell one with Brian Trenchard-Smith on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and one on Bernard Herrmann)
• Original trailers and promotional films
• Isolated scores by Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa and Roy Budd
• Promotional and on-set photography, poster art and archive materials
• Box set exclusive 80-page book with new essays, and film credits

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Throwback (2013) | I’m a Yowie, Get Me Out of Here! – This shaggy tale from Down Under is a yawn-er!

Throwback (2013)

Two mates, Jack (Shawn Brack) and Kent (Anthony Ring), take a canoe trip deep into the rainforests of far north Queensland to search for the lost gold of an infamous 1800s bushranger. The pair find their bounty but when the greedy Kent turns on Jack, they loose the bag. Suspecting Jack has hidden the stash, Kent takes him and a park ranger (Melanie Serafin) hostage in an attempt to force Jack in turning over the treasure. However, lurking in the dense undergrowth, is a ferocious ape-like creature called a Yowie, Australia’s answer to Bigfoot…

Throwback (2013)

Filmed in Yowiescope (ie: digital video), this bargain bin Aussie horror is a real yawner. Especially when you compare it with the polished Norwegian adventure Ragnarok: A Viking Apocalypse (check it out here), which has the exact same story, but with a giant CGI snake instead of Humphrey B Bear with roid rage.

Throwback (2013)

To its credit, Throwback (which is dedicated to Ray Harryhausen) has a nifty title sequence that evokes 70s eco-horrors and some clever in-jokes (fancy a glass of Boggy Creek Rosé?), the landscape is a knockout (of course), and the Raiders of the Lost Ark-inspired score is by the legendary Richard Band. On the downside, however, it’s very talky, littered with weakly-delivered clichés; there’s lots of running around, but little action – despite the cast getting shot at, drowned and stabbed; all the grisly bits happen off-screen; the sound editing is poor; and the Yowie (played by six ‘actors’) isn’t remotely scary (you don’t even see its face).

And to top it all, veteran Aussie actor Vernon Wells (of Mad Max 2 fame) gets little more than a cameo as a suspended detective hunting a suspected serial killer, who is bizarrely dressed like a nutty survivalist (it’s never explained why). This one joins 2014’s Hunting the Legend as one of the lamest Bigfoot-themed creature features ever.

Throwback (2013)

THE UK DVD RELEASE
The Monster Pictures UK DVD release includes a host of extras (should you want to bother), including alternative ending, behind the scenes stuff, deleted scenes, trailers, Q&A, video blogs, radio interviews, shorts by director Travis Bain, and Vernon Wells reading an excerpt from Henry Lawson’s The Hairy Man.

DID YOU KNOW?
Yowies have a genetic fear of crocodiles and can throw their growls.

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