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.

Battle Angel Next for Cameron?

Frame from the Battle Angel Alita manga
Frame from the Battle Angel Alita manga

According to Sci-Fi Wire James Cameron (ALIENS, AVATAR) is hard at work on his adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga, BATTLE ANGEL ALITA, and it may be his next directorial project. He detailed his plans for the film at yesterday’s Earth Day ceremony at 20th Century Fox Studios which marked the debut of the AVATAR Blu-ray and DVD release.

The BATTLE ANGEL ALITA series is set in the future and focuses on Alita, a cyborg who has lost all her memories and is found in a garbage heap by a cybernetics doctor who rebuilds her. She discovers that there is one thing she remembers, the legendary cyborg martial art, ‘Panzer Kunst’, which leads to her becoming a bounty hunter. Cameron has been planning a film version for years now but it sounds as if the project is finally coming closer to fruition. Speaking about ALITA Cameron said,

“I just love the character. Maybe it’s from having daughters. I have three daughters, and thinking about what it’s like, the main character is this little girl that everybody kind of ignores. She’s got such a heroic heart on the inside, I’ve always loved that character”.

Cameron, speaking about AVATAR 2, also states that,

“Look, Avatar 2 is going to get made. It’s a question of is it the next film or is there something else in between. I haven’t made that decision yet.”

Fox Film Entertainment co-chairman and chief executive officer Tom Rothman says he doesn’t mind whether Cameron decides to made AVATAR 2 or ALITA next,

“My preference is only that he makes another great movie for us. We’ve seen a lot of the stuff on Battle Angel over the last year, so we’re very fired up about it. Look, James Cameron and 20th Century Fox have been in business together for over 25 years, one of the most successful partnerships in the history of the movie business, so that’s something obviously that will continue”.

From the sounds of these interviews it’s highly likely Cameron will make ALITA his top priority post-AVATAR; the studio have no preference and he still sounds very involved in the project. The real question is, should he? Although Cameron clearly has a passion for the source material I have doubts as to whether he’ll deliver a faithful adaptation or instead tone down the manga’s violence, change the age of the heroine and make it more of a family film. Neither of his last two films (TITANIC and AVATAR) have particularly impressed me and it seems his days of edgier sci-fi are behind him.
What do you think, is Cameron the man for an ALITA adaptation or should he stick with the Na’vi instead?

Avatar director talks environment on Earth Day

James Cameron on the set of Avatar
James Cameron on the set of Avatar

James Cameron, whose 2009 hit AVATAR raised the ire of conservative critics for its pro-environment message, has given an interview to Politico, in which he discusses the issues that inspired him to make the film. I know the conventional wisdom among elite science fiction fans is supposed to be that Cameron is arrogant and full of himself, but he makes a lot of sense in the interview, focusing not on himself or his films but on the bigger political issues.

Cameron was in town last week, along with “Avatar” star Sigourney Weaver, to testify on Capitol Hill about various issues, including a proposed dam project in Brazil. He also met Barack Obama for the first time — the president said he and his family enjoyed the 3-D movie.
“Oh, yeah, he was highly complimentary about the film,” Cameron said, nonchalantly. “That’s great, but it’s just a movie. … Does it engender some rise in consciousness at a national and international level? It remains to be seen.”
Speaking of the mega-grossing 3-D movie, Cameron hopes that it can serve as a business model for others.
“Look at ‘Avatar’: It’s good for the environment and it’s good for the economy,” said Cameron. “That’s the paradigm that we all need to look towards. The Republicans have created this concept that you can either have a healthy economy or you can work on the environment — but you can’t do both. You have to choose between them — but you don’t! … What’s good for energy and what’s good for the environment is ultimately going to be good for the nation.”


Cameron Talks Avatar 2 Ideas

Director James Cameron
Director James Cameron

The LA Times have been talking to James Cameron (AVATAR, ALIENS) on the eve of the AVATAR DVD release, due to hit shelves tomorrow (which also happens to be international Earth Day). During the interview Cameron lets some vital AVATAR  sequel plot details slip and confirms the theatrical re-release of AVATAR is arriving this summer.

Cameron on his plans for an AVATAR trilogy,

“We created a broad canvas for the environment of [the] film. That’s not just on Pandora, but throughout the Alpha Centauri AB system. And we expand out across that system and incorporate more into the story – not necessarily in the second film, but more toward a third film. Part of my focus in the second film is in creating a different environment – a different setting within Pandora. And I’m going to be focusing on the ocean, which will be equally rich and diverse and crazy and imaginative, but it just won’t be a rainforest”.

This is an interesting approach for a sequel to take and could even better the visual beauty on display in the original film. It should also be a good fit for Cameron as the director has been obsessed with the ocean throughout his career, having extensively dealt with the aquatic in films such as THE ABYSS, TITANIC and ALIENS OF THE DEEP. He also spoke about his plans to shorten production time for the sequels,

“The challenge on the next Avatar is to do what we did before at half the price and in half the time. Again, that’s an impossible goal, we won’t accomplish that, but if we can reduce by 25% in both categories, we’ll have really accomplished something.”

Cameron is well known as a man who likes a challenge and reducing his budget and production time by half, or even a quarter, would be very hard task for films of this scale. If he manages to pull it off it’d be very impressed. On the planned re-release of AVATAR,

“We’re working on finishing an additional six minutes of the film – which includes a lot of Weta work – for a theatrical re-release in August. We were sold out of our Imax performances right up to the moment until they were contractually obligated to switch to Alice In Wonderland, so we know we left money on the table there.”

This news, on the other hand, is far less encouraging. Does AVATAR really need a re-release? And all for the sake of just six extra minutes of running time? This seems like a pointless exercise in making yet more money from the film to me, and it suggests Cameron is getting rather greedy in his old age.
Both AVATAR sequels are a long way off yet but stay tuned into Cinefantastique Online for all updates on the world of Pandora.

“We’re working on finishing an additional six minutes of the film – which includes a lot of Weta work – for a theatrical re-release in August. We were sold out of our Imax performances right up to the moment until they were contractually obligated to switch to Alice In Wonderland, so we know we left money on the table there.”

Laserblast April 22 DVD & Blu-Ray: Avatar arrives for Earth Day

click to purchase
click to purchase

This is a rare week during which Laserblast blasts your way not once but twice. Why this strange anomaly in the space-time continuum? Because unlike during the other 51 weeks of the year, not all of this week’s DVD and Blu-ray discs are coming out on Tuesday. Arriving two days later than the rest of the pack – on April 22, to be exact – is James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster AVATAR. The home-vid debut was delayed to coincide with Earth Day – an appropriate date for the ecologically-themed science fiction. The film will be available in DVD and Blu-ray. Unfortunately, these discs will be extras-free, allegedly to conserve space needed to maintain optimum picture quality. Needless to say, some sort of “ultimate edition” is being prepped for November, which will include all the bonus features being omitted here. Although no date has been announced, a 3-D version is expected sometime later.
Blu-ray.com recently revealed some of the bonus features that will be appearing in the November ultimate edition release:

This four-disc edition will include a brand-new two-hour documentary on making Avatar, as well as unused additional scenes from the movie, which Weta Digital is now working on.
The additional scenes involve the Na’vi school run by Dr. Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), and Jake’s training as a Na’vi.
Many of the bonus features in the ultimate edition will appear in the intervening months through the Avatar Program at avatarmovie.com using a unique code found inside the Avatar Blu-ray/DVD.

Sense of Wonder: Cameron bites back at conservative critics

Back in January, I wrote a little editorial (“Conservatives Carp at Avatar“), in which I noted that right-wing “thinkers” and gone off the rails with specious and downright silly arguments about percieved faults with the themes in James Cameron’s blockbuster film. Months later, I see that Cameron has finally fired back, during a press conference to promote his film’s April 22 DVD release (on Earth Day, appropriately enough). According to this article in the NZ Herald, Cameron called Glenn Beck a “madman” and a “f-cking asshole,” to boot.
While some might object to the angry language, I think it’s nice to see Cameron standing up for himself. Too often, well-intentioned liberals restrain themselves, abiding by a self-imposed sense of fair play that is not shared by the other side. And to be honest, Beck is at least a kook, if not a madman.
Unfortunately, the article by Guy Adams frames the story as a temperamental director lashing out against his critics, without addressing the merits of the arguments. Instead, Adams tries to present Cameron as having been assailed from all sides of the political spectrum, which necessitates identifying the New York Times’ David Brooks as being “on the left” – which is, frankly, a ridiculous assertion to make about a Bush apologist. (I guess the fact that Brooks smiles a lot instead of breathing fire, is what makes him pass for left-wing in Adams’s view.)
After finishing with Beck, Cameron remained in fine form as he moved on to global warming skeptics:

He declared his desire to “call those deniers out into the street at high noon and shoot it out with those boneheads,” before reflecting that his best efforts at persuasion would be futile because such people “have got their head so deeply up their ass I’m not sure they could hear me.”
“I didn’t make this movie with these strong environmental anti-war themes in it to make friends on the right, you know…”

Extras-free Avatar DVD coming in April

NPR.com notes, with understandable skepticism, that Fox Home Entertainment’s April 22 Blu-ray release of AVATAR will be entirely extras free, allegedly in order to conserve space on the disc. Of course, the space problem will be solved by November, when an “ultimate edition” (presumably loaded with bonus features) will hit stores in time for the Christmas shopping season. And at some yet-to-be-named date, a 3D version will arrive.
You don’t have to a conspiracy theorist to agree with Linda Holmes suggestion that the release strategy is deliberately designed to get fans to pay three times for the same film: once in April because they can’t wait, once in November because they want the bonus features, and once more in the future because they want to see it in 3D.

David Fincher reforges Heavy Metal with help from Cameron and Snyder

Mike Fleming at Dealine New York is reporting that David Fincher is reviving HEAVY METAL with the help of James Cameron (AVATAR) and Zack Snyder (WATCHMEN). Based on the famous adult comic book, which previously inspired two films (one in 1981 and a sequel in 2000), HEAVY METAL would be a 3d animated anthology, containing approximately nine segments, with different writers and directors contributing different episodes. Cameron, Snyder, and Fincher would each direct one episode.
Fincher had set the project up at Paramount two years ago, but the studio dropped out. The involvement of Cameron and Snyder could reignite studio interest and hopefully get Fincher a greenlight to proceed. Other directors who have been considered include Gore Verbinski (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN), Rob Zombie (HALLOWEEN), andLike its predecessors, this new HEAVY METAL would be rated R, in the spirit of the sexy, violent storylines of the magazine.

2nd Annual Wonder Awards Winners

Zoe Saldana is the Wonder Awards choice for Best Actress, in the Best Pic winner, AVATAR.
Zoe Saldana is the Wonder Awards choice for Best Actress, in the Best Pic winner, AVATAR.

It’s Sunday, March 7, and everyone is wondering what the winners will be. Well, wonder no more, because here are the official winners of this year’s Cinefantastique Wonder Awards. Oh sure, other people are tuning into the Oscar telecast to see whether Sandra Bullock takes home an Academy Award, but for aficionados of horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema, the Wonders are the awards that really matter, because they offer a chance to recognize great films that are often denied Academy Award nominations because of their genre affiliation.
Of course, this year is a bit of an exception, because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated two science fiction films for Best Picture, AVATAR and DISTRICT 9, along with one animated fantasy, UP. With several other Oscar nominations in technical categories, the genre has at least a fighting chance of winning some recognition from Academy voters.
Nevertheless, the Wonders are the true measure of achievement in the genre, voted on by experts with a life-long love of horror, fantasy, and science fiction – and more important, voted on by those imbued with that all-important Sense of Wonder.



  • James Cameron for AVATAR


  • Neil Blomkamp & Terri Tatchll for DISTRICT 9
  • Pete Docter, Bob Peterson (story by Docter, Peterson & Thomas McCarthy) for UP


  • Saoirse Ronan in THE LOVELY BONES


  •  Robert Downey Jr in SHERLOCK HOLMES
  • Sam Rockwell in MOON


  • Vera Farmiga in ORPHAN


  • Jackie Earle Haley in WATCHMEN






  •  Henry Selick for CORALINE


  • Mauro Fiore for AVATAR


  • James Cameron, John Refoua, Stephen E. Rivki for AVATAR


  • Michael Giacchino for STAR TREK


  • MOON


Sense of Wonder: Conservative critics carp at Avatar, Part 2

Due to technical difficulties that have recently restricted access to the Internet, yesterday’s Sense of Wonder column – “Conservative critics carp at Avatar (surprise!)” was written in some haste, omitting a couple of points I wanted to make. I came back to add an update at the bottom, but the length of the comments seemed worthy of posting separately.
First, I think the following quote from John Podhoretz at the Weekly Standard is worth singling out for particular scorn:

“The conclusion does ask the audience to root for the defeat of American soldiers at the hands of an insurgency. So it is a deep expression of anti-Americanism-kind of,” […]

The very language betrays a hint of silliness, veering from emphatic (the anti-Americanism is “deep”) to wishy-washy (“kind of”) in a single sentence. More important Podhoretz overlooks the fact that there are no American soldiers in AVATAR, only mercenaries from Earth, whose nationality is never specified. Soldier fight for reasons of patriotism and national defense; mercenaries do it for the money.
Only in the cuckoo crazy conservative world of Podhoretz and his ilk could defeating mercenaries be read as “anti-American.” Stop and consider the premise underlying this thesis: aggressive military action in defense of coroporate profit, regardless of the harm to innocents, is equated with “Americanism,” and being against this is somehow un-American. You have to wonder what kind of “America” Podhoretz imagines he is living in.
The second point I overlooked is more of a Big Picture type: the real reason conservatives gasbags are ganging up on AVATAR is that it is popular. They may whine that the film is simple or not nuanced, but this is mere camoflage; what really bugs them is that people are responding to it in an overwhelmingly positive manner.
Why is this an issue? Because one of the myths of conservatism for the past few decades has been that movie ticket sales are down because Hollywood has lost touch with real American values. Never mind competition from television, home video, computer games, and the Internet; the conservative party line is that American is a bastion of conservative values, but Hollywood is preaching a liberal message that appeals only to hippies on the West Coast and the liberal elite on the East Coast. They like to point to weak box office performers like REDACTED as proof of this belief, and rather unconvincingly claim that blockbusters like THE DARK KNIGHT offer support for Bush’s War on Terror. When a truly conservative manifesto like AN AMERICAN CAROL tanks, they blame liberal conspiracies to suppress conservative voices. And when something like AVATAR comes along and makes millions, these pseudo-intellectuals suffer from an overdose of cognitive dissonance.
Personally, I thought James Cameron was a bit too ham-handed with his message in AVATAR, but now I am starting to enjoy that fact. Had Cameron been subtle, no doubt his conservative critics would be accusing him of insidiously indoctrinating American viewers on a subliminal level. With the message right out there in the open, there can be no doubt that America has embraced the film’s themes without falling for any subterfuge. It turns out that viewers will patronize a liberal-minded film without apology and with no need to tone down the message to appease the apologists for colonization, greed, and mindless military action.
It’s enough to make the gas bags’ heads explode.

This article has been edited since its original posting, to correct errors and clarify meaning.