Clash of the Titans theatrical release

Clash of the Titans (2010)
A giant scorpion, one of the film's many mythical monsters

Warner Brothers releases this elaborate remake of the 1981 original. The new version replaces Ray Harryhausen’s old stop-motion monsters with modern computer-generated imagery, and best of all – it’s in 3D! Loosely adapted from Greek mythology, the story has Perseus (AVATAR’s Sam Worthington) out to slay the Gordon, in order to use its power to defeat the Kraken, an undersea creature that demands human sacrifice. Liam Neeson (as Zeus), Ralph Fiennes (as Hades), Gemma Arterton, Nicholas Hoult, Alexa Davalos, Danny Houston, and Polly Walker round out the cast for director Louis Leterrier, whose THE INCREDIBLE HULK was a lot of fun. Travis Beacham and Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi wrote the new script, based on Beverley Cross screenplay for the 1981 version.

Obituary: Stan Winston

Stan WinstonStan Winston – who built up a company that became one of Hollywood’s top suppliers of high-tech makeup and effects – died on Sunday evening of multiple myeloma. He was 62.
Stan Winston Studios contributed Oscar-winning prosthetic make-up and animatronic effects to such blockbusters as ALIENS, TEMINATOR 2, and JURASSIC PARK. When computer-generated imagery revolutionized the field of special effects, Winston moved with the times, supplying digital effects as well.
Winston sat in the director’s chair on a few occassions Continue reading “Obituary: Stan Winston”

Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters – Book Review

Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director responsible for the classic Toho monster movies, is a figure of major importance in the history of Japanese fantasy films. Inspired by the stop-motion special effects of Willis O’Brien (e.g. 1933’s KING KONG), Tsuburaya yearned to create his own movie monster, and he finally got his chance when producer Tomoyuki Tanaka asked him to handle the special effects for GOJIRA (1954, released in the U.S. as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTER). The success of that film led to a literal tidle wave of sci-fi extravaganzas: RODAN, THE MYSTERIANS, MOTHRA, MATANGO. Although Tsuburaya’s work was in some ways less technically sophisticated than his idol O’Brien’s (working on smaller budgets, Tsuburaya had to utilize men in suits rather than animated puppets), the Japanese effects director nevertheless made his mark, establishing a recognizable style that was always entertaining if not completely convincing. In particular, the suit-mation approach allowed for the creation of larger miniatures, which could be spectacularly destroyed in slow-motion, yielding a level of on-screen mayhem impossible to achieve with the more expensive – and much slower – stop-motion process.
Tsuburaya’s life and career are the subject of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, which carries the lengthy subtitle Defending the Earth with Ultraman, Godzilla and Friends in the Golden Age of Japanese Science Fiction Film. This is an impressively extensive coffee table book, loaded with countless colorful photographs of monster mayhem and behind-the-scenes wizardry. Fans will find it a delight just to leaf through it, and even hardcore collectors are likely to find more on view here than ever met they eye before.
Author August Ragone does fine job of capturing the Tsuburaya story, from his early life and start in the film industry, through his work providing miniatures for Japanese battle movies during World War II, into the movie monsters that made him famous, and through the television productions (e.g., ULTRA-Q, ULTRA-7) that took once-frightening sci-fi monstrosities and turned them into kiddie fodder. The main narrative is occasionally interrupted by sidebar articles (some written by other experts in the field, such as Norman Englund and Ed Godziszewski), which provide different perspectives on Tsuburaya and his work.
Ragone delivers the information with all the enthusiasm of a devoted fan – an enthusiasm that (far from being annoying) sweeps the reader along like a boat in the rapids. Unfortunately, the book is thinly sourced and short on first-hand interviews; it frequently reads as if Ragone had simply read all the existing material on the subject, collated it, and summarized it. Consequently, you will not find the “you are there” perspective of, for example, Stuart Galbraith IV’s Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo.
Also, you will not learn much that is new about Tsuburaya’s movie magic. Ragone tends to wax understandably enthusiastic about “beautiful matte paintings” and “exquisitely detailed miniatures,” but there is little specific detail about how the special effects were achieved. When he does get descriptive, his prose can be confusing, as when he writes that the destruction of a bridge in RODAN “could only be shot once because of the precise timing required.” This seems to state the matter backwards: precise timing was required because the complicated action, filmed from multiple angles, needed to be captured in a single take.

Ragone never comes to grips with the gradual decline of Tsuburaya’s work; in fact, he barely even acknowledges it. As feature film budgets shrank, fewer miniatures were built and destroyed, and fewer composite shots were used to combine miniatures, monsters, and live-action. On top of this, Tsuburaya began to anthropomorphize his monsters, turning them into comical clowns instead of fearsome behemoths. (Think of the three-way monster conversation in GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER or Godzilla’s victory dance in MONSTER ZERO.) This kind of hijinx remains popular with fans, but it lowers the films down to a level of colorful camp that is notably inferior to the early black-and-white nightmare of GOJIRA.
What we are left with feels a bit like an authorized biography, with all the warts carefully air-brushed out. Nevertheless, the book remains enjoyably readable from start to finish. Fans of Japanese giant monsters will undoubtedly want to purchase it. The illustrations alone are worth the price, but once readers start to peruse the text, they will find themselves serenaded by a kindred spirit who captures the wild-eyed childish devotion born of many hours in front of the television set, watching wonderfully weird movies and television shows that ignorant unbelievers thoughtlessly dismiss. In adulthood, it is easy to forget that enthusiastic joy, but Ragone brings it back to life, like a bolt of lightening reviving a long-dormant Godzilla.

Academy names finalists for Best Visual Effects and Make-up Oscars

Given the great abundance of award worthy effects films that are released each year, one has to wonder why the Academy in all its great wisdom, continues to announce a list of seven finalists for the effects Academy Award and then insists on whittling it down to only three nominees.
Every other award category (except for make-up and sound editing) has five nominees, so to reduce the effects award to only three simply doesn’t make sense. It appears this rule is a hangover from olden days when there were often less then five films that could be considered worthy for nomination.
That was certainly the case in 1976, when the Academy’s board of governors made the startling bad judgement of giving an Oscar to KING KONG for best visual effects. That ridiculous mistake caused several prominent members of the effects branch to resign from the Academy in protest.  
In any case, today the Academy announced the list of seven finalists, which will be narrowed down to three actual nominees after a vote by the effects nominating committee on Jan 16.  
My own favorite effects film, SPIDER-MAN 3 didn’t even make the list, despite the excellence of effects work on display in creating the Sandman.  Also missing from the list are HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX and Disney’s ENCHANTED with it’s spectacular SLEEPING BEAUTY inspired live-action dragon.   
The seven effects films deemed the worthiest by the Academy this year are:
I AM LEGEND (Warner Bros.)
300 (Warner Bros.)
While the seven finalists for best make-up are:
LA VIE EN ROSE (Picturehouse) 
NORBIT (Paramount)
300 (Warner Bros.)

Ray Harryhausen to receive award

Stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen has been selected by the Art Directors Guild to receive its annual award for Outstanding Contribution to Cinematic Imagery. The 12th annual Art Directors Guild Awards will take place at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 16. Previous recipients include Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys), Steven Spielberg (WAR OF THE WORLDS), Robert wise (THE HAUNTING), and John Lasseter (TOY STORY).
In the days before computer animation, Harryhausen used miniature models with metallic armatures to bring dinosaurs and monsters to life in such films as JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. In 1992, the science and technical brand of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized his work with a lifetime achievement award.
RELATED ARTICLES: Harryhausen discusses his work on BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. Or see the video version below.