Ray Harryhausen Receives Accolades from BAFTA on his 90th Birthday!

Ray Harryhausen with the Medusa model from the 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS
Ray Harryhausen with the Medusa model from the 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS

Watch the Video of the BFI and BAFTA special achievement award presented to RAY HARRYHAUSEN on the occasion of the master animator’s 90th birthday:
This fabulous 42 minute minute video includes comments from:

  • James Cameron
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Guillermo Del Toro
  • Nick Park
  • Frank Darabont
  • John Landis (Host)

With guest speakers:

  • Sir Christopher Frayling
  • The Tortoise and the Hare Animators
  • Randy Cook
  • Colin Arthur (mask-maker)
  • Gary Raymond and John Cairney
  • Phil Tippett, Dennis Muren & Ken Ralston
  • Tony Dalton & Vanessa Harryhausen
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Peter Jackson

(Jackson shows his rare amateur film inspired by Harryhausen and presents a special BAFTA Award to Ray.)

LAWRENCE FRENCH: In your earlier films, although you didn’t have star names, you always had excellent British character actors, such as Douglas Wilmer, Laurence Naismith and Patrick Troughton. In fact, all those actors appeared in Sir Laurence Olivier’s film version of Richard III. Did you see Richard III when in came out in 1955?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh yes, although that was many years ago. And as you say, we always had very talented actors, even if they were not what today you would call stars. But they were all very competent actors: Douglas Wilmer was brilliant as King Pelias in Jason and later we used him in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad as the Grand Vizier. Laurence Naismith was also in Jason, and we used him again in The Valley of Gwangi.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What led you to stop making movies after Clash of the Titans?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: I had enough of spending my time in a dark room after everybody else went home. I spent most of my life in a dark room, painted black, which can be depressing if you are aware of it, although I was never aware of it. I also felt that tastes had changed. After Clash of the Titans, we were going to do a follow-up and I helped Charles develop a script with Beverly Cross called Force of the Trojans, although a lot of the effects work would have been farmed out to someone else. But even though Clash had made a lot of money for MGM, they didn’t want to back it. They felt costume pictures weren’t suitable and the pictures the studios wanted you to make all had to have explosions in them every five minutes. So I’m grateful that I got in on the tail end of the great days of Hollywood.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: So once MGM passed on making Force of the Trojans, you finally decided to retire?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, pretty much. I was able to spend most of my time doing the things I had always wanted to do for a long time. I began making bronze figures of some of the characters used in my films, and doing many other things, including getting re-acquainted with my family. Unfortunately, when you devote too much time to a film, you have very little time to see your family.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Now that all your fairy tales and early films are out on DVD, are there any animation scenes that got cut which might be included on future DVD releases—such as the Ghoul fight from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: There’s not a great deal and once I finish a picture it’s out of my hands. I don’t recall the Ghoul sequence having been cut that much. It couldn’t have been that important, because I’ve looked at the picture on DVD and it didn’t bother me. I did have a sequence we cut from Jason and the Argonauts during the skeleton fight. After Jason cuts off one of the skeletons heads, the skeleton got down on his hands and knees to look for his head, but it slowed the whole pace of the scene down, so we decided to cut it out. Unfortunately, I never kept that footage. I should have saved it, but once you finish a film, you are so glad to be done, you don’t think about those kinds of things.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What are you thoughts about the current state of the movie business compared to Hollywood in the forties when you were first starting out?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Well, today everyone is saturated with all sorts of entertainments, where in the good old days you looked forward to going to the movies on Saturday night and it was a big event in your life. The people who made pictures in the forties, the big studios and producers had great imagination. When you look back at some of those pictures, you see that they knew how to make the average person see things bigger than life for two hours. It was a relief or an escape that we all loved. But today, you are bombarded with so many different things: DVD’s, Television, the Internet, and everything else, so I think people become rather jaded. That means you have to go over the top, in the sense of showing more, to make it bloodier and more ghastly in order to top all previous productions. Where that will eventually lead, I have no idea. At the rate some of today’s horror films are going, only people who work in the slaughterhouse would care to see them. I think also, that today, the fantastic image is so overdone it no longer amazes you and they tend to do overly violent things. It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes—you have to disguise the fact that there’s nothing really there in the story with smoke, loud noises, 8-frame cuts and zoom-in and zoom-outs—all the techniques that cover up the fact that there’s no story. In some of today’s movies, you don’t even know what you’re watching. I saw The Matrix and I didn’t know what the picture was all about. When I see a picture I want to know what I’m looking at. When characters are introduced I want to know who they are and what relation they have to the hero. But today there are no more heroes. There are only anti-heroes. So it’s a different world. Everything is so negative I don’t even feel like I’m part of the film business anymore.

Sense of Wonder: Diary of the Dead Hollywood Preview with Romero & John Landis

A state trooper becomes one of the living dead.
Four months since the West Coast premiere of DIARY OF THE DEAD at Screamfest, I took advantage of the opportunity to see it again at the American Cinematheque’s preview on Wednesday night, in the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. This is the theatre where I saw ALIEN during its initial run, so the venerable venue has many pleasant monster movie memories for me. As if that were not reason enough to see the film two days before it officially opens, there was an additional inducement: George A. Romero would be in attendance to discuss the film. Of course, I had just had a one-on-on interview with him the day before, but I wasn’t able to squeeze every question in during the limited time, so why not check out what he had to say the fans at the Egyptian?
I’ve heard some complaints about the film, allegations that it hits its political points too squarely on the nose; the acting is overdone; the dialogue is bad. Concerned that I had overlooked some flaws during the initial excitement of seeing a brand new DEAD movie from Romero, I was eager for a second viewing, and I have to say that I still do not see most of what people are complaining about. The dialogue and performances are strong if not always outstanding. There are some moments that hit false notes, when an actor overdoes a bit or plays a scene without the polish one would expect from a seasoned professional, but overall these elements work together in the context of the film that is supposed to have an almost hand-made feel.
I do think there are a few minor problems with the pacing. Romero does have some points he wants to make, and they are stated fairly overtly rather than always being dramatized so that the audience can figure them out. I did find myself sometimes losing patience with the voice-over narration continually interpreting the events for me, but I can forgive the device to a certain extent, because what we are seeing in DIARY OF THE DEAD – unlike the superficially similar BLAIR WITCH and CLOVERFIELD – is not supposed to be raw “found” footage. DIARY OF THE DEAD is presented as if it were a finished “film within a film” (titled THE DEATH OF DEATH), which has been shot and edited by young film students desperate to make some kind of sense out of the worldwide disaster that has engulfed them. So it is completely understandable that Debra (Michelle Morgan) would be adding her voice to her boyfriend’s film. That doesn’t mean the device works perfectly, but it does make sense in context.
Other minor problems occur when Romero’s sense of humor pokes through what is otherwise a serious film. One can forgive the perhaps too pat contrivance of having the action at the beginning and at the end perfectly mirror each other: THE DEATH OF DEATH begins production as a student-made horror film about a mummy. At the end, the character in the mummy costume really becomes one of the living dead and recreates – to far better effect – the action he was performing so badly before, right down to ripping the leading lady’s top off on cue. What is a little hard to forgive is that when the beautiful blonde from Texas abandons her friends (rather like the beautiful blonde who abandoned her comrades in FEAST), Romero cannot resist putting a funny “Texas” music cue on the soundtrack.

The star of the film within a film will re-enact her role in real life, down to the bodice ripping.

On the plus side, the film is filled with interesting ideas about the media and voyeurism. The overall tone is serious and convincing. For all the thematic rumblings, Romero does not skimp on the graphic mayhem, which is achieved with a combination of prosthetics and computer-generated imagery. His film captures a real sense of not just visceral horror but tragedy, both personal and global; there is an almost depressing sense of dread at the onset of the apocalypse, the fear that everything the characters are doing may be useless because this could quite literally be the end of everything.
After the film, fellow director John Landis sat down with Romero for a brief interview. Landis began with a not too well-informed question, asking whether DIARY OF THE DEAD was Romero’s first experience with CGI (which was used quite extensively on Romero’s previous film LAND OF THE DEAD.
Romero explained that this was not the first time and said, “Some of these effects are fantastic. Actors don’t let you melt their heads, so some of those things were predictably CG.” He added that CGI had the benefit of speeding up the production because there was less time spent on set-up and clean-up: “We shot this film – the principal framework of it – in twenty days; then we did three days extra. The whole idea is to get off the set, so it’s a lot easier to have somebody hold up a gun and a zombie falls. Then you paint in the flash and paint in the splatter.”
Here, Romero gave a shout out to Greg Nicotero, who has supplied splatter effects for several Romero films, including LAND OF THE DEAD and DIARY OF THE DEAD.
Read the rest of the interview at Hollywood Gothique
[Note: This article’s title has been changed from “Talking about Diary of the Dead.”]