Summer of Love: Ray Harryhausen

What’s better than Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation monsters? I’d say very few things in this world. And whenever I come across a clip of his animated art, I long for a moment of film that seemed to actually have a soul. In fact, when I watch something by Harryhausen I am again encouraged to follow a long time dream I’ve had to start a single-screen movie theater in the heart of a small town (and why not Fredericksburg?) kinda like Century’s Baldwin theater which I grew up around the block from. It would have 70s multi-colored carpet, a kick ass concession stand (with Dots and Twizzlers), movie posters galore, and one great film after another. If this theater ever happens—which admittedly is about as likely as education truly reforming—every weekend for the opening month would feature a Ray Harryhausen double feature matinee on both Saturday and Sunday. The program would look something like this:

First Weekend:

King Kong (1933)*
Image of King Kong Poster
Mighty Joe Young (1949)
Image of Mighty Joe Young film poster

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
Image of the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)
Image of It came from Beneath the Sea movie poster

Second Weekend:

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
Image of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers Poster
Twenty Million Miles to Earth (1957)
Image of Twenty Million Miles to Earth film poster

The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960)
Image of the The Three Worlds of Gulliver movie poster
Mysterious Island (1961)
Image of Mysterious Island movie poster

Third Weekend:

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
Image of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad poster
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
Image of Jason and the Argonauts film poster

First Men in the Moon (1964)
Image of the First Men in the Moon movie poster
One Millions Years B.C. (1966)
Image of Mysterious Island movie poster

Fourth Weekend:

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)
Image of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad poster

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)
Image of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger film poster

Clash of the Titans (1981)
Image of Clash of the Titans movie poster

Clash of the Titans (1981) [No typo, how can his greatest project not be shown twice?]
Image of Clash of the Titans movie poster

The more I think about our current dearth of classic cinemas, or any kind of re-run movie house culture beyond cable TV, Netflix, and the like (especially if you’re far enough removed from a major city), the more I see it as the death of what proved one of the most important institutions of my childhood. And I often wonder if the “inevitable” passing of the single-screen movie house wasn’t just one possibility amongst many (and I guess the same can be said for its existence in the first place). I wonder what cultivating a social sense of movie going, seems sharing around some of the greatest narratives of the 20th century have really lost their physical context all together. Unlike books, so much of cinema depends upon space, scale, and a shared sense of being in the moment. We’ve lost that tradition to some great degree, but no one seems to bemoan it—-everyone is still weeping over the much heralded death of the book. Whereas as cinema culture has all but died already, and never really got enough disciplinary and curricular respect in the academy to ever really get a proper burial. I feel like cinema, and some kind of larger cultural knowledge of film, is something that is increasingly hard to get, and what better way to work towards the noblest of goals than with a real-life movie theater. A place to experience the wonder and magic of the greatest art form as part of growing up within a community. These are the things I am truly nostalgic for, a deep sense of love driven on by a longing to return home.

*I’m aware Ray Harry Hausen had noting to do with the making of the 1933 King Kong , but King Kong would provide an excellent opportunity t frame the beginnings of stop-motion animation, and suggest what was the very inspiration for much of Harryhausen’s work. Plus, how can you have a double feature with Might Joe Young, and not show King Kong as the first leg?

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15 Responses to Summer of Love: Ray Harryhausen

  1. Chris Bell says:

    The summer of love is just getting warmed up and you’ve already pulled out Harryhausen. He’s awesome. His art is awesome. Here’s a picture of him signing books at my parent’s bookshop a few years back

  2. Reverend says:


    I think Harryhausen is one of the most important figures from my childhood I never met. His skeletons, cyclops, and medusa remain ingrained in my imagination. And how can you ever thing of figurines and play the same after one of his movies? He warms up the Summer of Love!

  3. Film Forum did a Harryhausen retro about a decade back, but IIRC I was unavailable to attend. Love the man’s work.

    BTW, surely the Related Posts section should be pulling up or does it weight recency more than subject proximity?

  4. Mikhail says:

    The restaurant in Monsters Inc. is called Harryhausen’s, which is a great tribute. It’s a bit ironic since CGI has ripped the magic out of cinema. A great old special effects movie like King Kong or The Invisible Man, or any of the ones you mention here, work kind of like a magic trick. There’s a “how’d they do that?” marvel to them that’s pretty much gone now — the movies have become demystified and that is really just too bad.

  5. Grant says:

    In an attempt to inject some sense of occasion in cinema for my kids last summer I set up a projector and kingsize bedsheet in the backyard and rear projected a film for the neighbourhood kids … popcorn and all. The last time I did this I had a ‘Science Fiction Double Feature’ … The Day The Earth Stood Still (’51) and This Island Earth (’54). It was wonderful to watch the kids wide eyed and mouth agape as they sat out under the stars enjoying classic science fiction. Not a peep about ‘why is there no color?’ … they completely allowed themselves to be carried away by the stories.

    I plan on doing this again this summer at the cottage in NS … there is a large hayfield behind the cottage and I am already prepping the bills for the summer of thrills. Bring your lawnchair, a blanket, and some snacks – you’re all invited.

    And the soundtrack …

  6. Arnold Kunert says:

    I enjoyed your article very much and was very pleased to see that you used the DVD cover art for the 50th anniversary release of “20 Million Miles to Earth.” Ray Harryhausen and I worked on the colorized version of that film with Legend Films of San Diego in 2007 and Ray was thrilled with the results. I also had the honor of producing the special features for the 50th anniversary DVD, which includes a commentary track by Ray, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett and me. Although we all worked on the commentary track at the same time, Phil and Dennis were in Berkeley, California, at an audio house and Ray and I were in London. It was, as you can imagine, great fun!

  7. keanu says:

    this is cool. i’m going to be in a new sinbad movie and ray h is going to consult.

  8. Reverend says:


    Yeah, I noticd the related post thing too, and I think it is that I am using two tags for the Summer of Love posts, which gives them more credit, I need to work on my tagging logic, I’ll see if I can;t fix that. Good eye, btw.

    That’s it, the demystification from CGI does really take the magic out of the experience. And I guess kids having the ability to make their own movies and render their own animation on a generic laptop suggests a sense of promise, but at the same time a sense of loss. Kinda weird, I need to get my head around that.

    I just have to say this: you make the internet a cooler place. Between your Lego contests, movie poster design, cool ass Xmas activities, and now 50s scifi outdoors double feature—you really make this stuff happen. And while I sit around bemoaning my lost memories through nostalgia, you’re out there making them for your kids—and that is just rad. In fact, you’re rad. There, I said it.

    Thanks for commenting here, and I’m gonna have to pickup the 50th anniversary DD< especially given all the special features, commentary, and interviews. Harryhausen seems to have the aura of a crftsman in a modernist sense, and it really shows in his creations. I think one of the things I loved more generally about elaborate sets, costume designs, and especially special effects---is the sense of art of the design of the process---something all too often lost in the focus on directors and actors. Its the unsung artists of the cinema that often leave the most lasting impression on us---and Harryhausen, while not unsung, certainly represents that part of a vanished Hollywood as well. @Keanu, This is awesome, it could be the role you both acknowledge the ennui of being a swashbuckling Arab in search of treasure, while at the same time highlight the nicer part of Sinbad's character---I think it was made for you, personally. And you better believe I'll be in the theaters on opening day

  9. keanu says:

    thanks, jim. love your blog.

    grant, you’re inspiring me to try a backyard screening but I may not have enough space — how far from the sheet did you have to put the projector?

  10. Jim Doran says:

    The skeleton fight scene is still one of my favorites of all time. It still holds up.

    Keanu – I hope you get to fight skeletons. That would be awesome.

  11. Reverend says:

    Awesome screen shot, and that skeleton fight scene may go down as one of the greatest special effects sequences of the 20th century. Stanely Kubrick eat your heart out 😉

  12. Grant says:

    @keanu Distance and screen size will really be depend on projector you use. I used to get an idea of my max possible image, required distance, and luminosity. If you rear project you may have to settle for a slightly small screen image depending on the translucence of the ‘screen’ … I like a white, ironed, king-sized, summer bedsheet – works great suspended from trees/poles. Borrow a guitar amp from one of your bandmates & pipe your laptop sound through. You can also rent something like a Fender Passport for a weekend for $30 or so ( ) .,. drive-in magic

  13. Ah, Harryhausen. Just watched First Men in the Moon with my son.

    Didn’t Ray Bradbury do a story loosely based on/a tribute to the man, about a figure animator?

  14. keanu says:

    Bryan, I don’t know the story you mean but the two Rays were apparently lifelong buddies so I wouldn’t be surprised.

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