The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen Vol 1 Blu-ray Review

On sale 29th September from Indicator.

These spectacular films, each featuring pioneering special effects by filmmaking legend Ray Harryhausen, are presented on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. 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 stunning Limited Dual Format Edition Box Set is strictly limited to 6,000 units.

When Ray Harryhausen passed away in May 2013 it, in a way, marked the end of an era.

The man had became forever linked to the now nearly forgotten old school methods of generating special effects in cinema. Using stop motion animation, as well as his own technique dubbed Dynamation, to create everything from dinosaurs to tiny crocodiles Harryhausen excelled at this art form.

Throughout his long career the artist would be responsible for movie monsters that would become iconic in cinema and show what was capable within the genres that Harryhausen mainly contributed to. His name has forever became linked with them as a result and people that grew up watching his work or those that discovered it later on will always think of Harryhausen when they hear the term ‘stop motion’. 

Now, over four years after his passing, Indicator are releasing a Blu-ray boxset containing some of his work. Titled The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen, Vol 1 this boxset is hopefully the beginning of Indicator issuing more of his work in HD (vol 2 is out in late October, sadly there has been no announcement of a third volume). Coming in some impressive packaging the set contains It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) and The 3  Worlds of Gulliver (1960).

Quite the line up, with two great films that are rewarding to begin with but are enhanced by the presence of Ray’s work, while the third entry has only one strong point to its credit which is, again, Ray’s work. 

The weakest title is It Came... (originally part of a double bill with Creature with the Atom Brain) which would have been bad by the standards of the fifties not just now. The feature has not aged well. It makes use of blatant stock footage, has a weak script and concentrates more on a shoddy romance subplot than the titular ‘It’. Actor turned director Robert Gordon was responsible for the effort, he wouldn’t direct many full length films and primarily directed TV series. Its fitting that, at times, his direction does feel like something from TV of its era. 

The picture quality is not good, not even the HD transfer can help the image on offer. The audio is the worst thing about It Came… however, as the sound throughout the entire run time is woeful. It is apparent that Gordon chose not to have or maybe couldn’t even afford a basic boom mic. It’s a struggle to understand the actors are times, especially when there is more than one person talking.

Harryhausen’s effects are used sparingly and are no wear near as good as anything he would go on to create, but, they add what little entertainment there is to be had during the movie.

20 Million Miles… is perhaps the best title here, with everything about it being an improvement over the previous entry into this collection. Directed by the man that helmed the cult classic Attack of the 50ft Woman (1958), Nathan H Juran, this is more like the sort of title expected in a batch of Harryhausen films. The acting, even from the child actor (Bart Braverman, still acting all these decades later), is solid that lends itself to a far more faster paced story with prolonged use of Ray’s talents. The high def is better too and while it does exposing some ageing in Harryhausen’s work it only adds to the charm. The final 20 minutes pretty much thrive on his work and is sci-fi monster stomping fun at its finest, with the plasticine creature having a remarkable tussle with a plasticine elephant. 

The third entry is the equally as good The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, which is rewarding for different reasons. With good production values for its type of feature, it is one of many takes on Jonathan Swifts classic tale. It’s biggest asset is the cast, which has such greats as Gregoire Aslan as a bumbling king and Kerwin Mahews in a performance so squeaky clean it’s almost sickening. Here Rays efforts are called upon for sequences involving oversized animals attacking the miniature characters, not as impressive as what was seen in 20 Million... but it shows the legends work in a non-sci-fi light. This flick, unlike the others, was shot in colour.

While only one is in colour, the two other titles can be viewed in their ‘colorized’ versions. Using the angle button on your remote you’ll be able to switch between the original black and white versions of It Came… and 20 Million… and the ‘coloured in’ versions in which the actors look like they’ve been painted by Andy Warhol. Harryhausen actually helped 20 Million… get the colour treatment in 2007 as he had lobbied for it to be shot in colour before filming began. This will explain why the colours are a marked improvement over those in It Came…

Each title comes with relevant special features, some old and some new. Below is a quick look at the best of the newest extras that mainly consist of interviews with other, famous animators….

Peter Lord Interview (10 mins) – The animator excitedly talks about how he became a Ray fan, the impact the man’s work would have on his life and Harryhausen’s anti-CGI stance plus more.

David Sproxton Interview (10 mins) – Mr Sproxton reveals worries he had with sizing his plasticine models, advances in shooting technology and the drawing power of Ray’s work.

Finding Harryhausen (10 mins) – Dennis Muren, the special effects artist that has won nine Oscars, speaks about the first time he saw a Harryhausen film, questioning the man about certain works and how he could be secretive about his methods.

Tidal Wave of Terror (7 mins) – Joe Dante is interviewed and shares his thoughts on why It Came… fascinated him, the career of Kenneth Tobey, director Robert Gordon and the ‘personality’ of Harryhausen movies.

 In closing, this boxset is a very worthwhile purchase. Two of the three movies are highly rewarding to watch and the wealth of extras is impressive. Roll on volume two…

Order here.