‘Gushing fan boys’ is the phrase that jumps to mind throughout Gilles Penso’s Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, a documentary that looks at the life, work, and legacy of one of Hollywood’s most innovative creators. It’s not just Penso’s obvious enthusiasm towards an idol, but of everyone else involved; directors like Tim Burton, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Terry Gilliam, John Landis, and Peter Jackson all get on the other side of the camera to explain just how far Harryhausen’s influence reaches into modern cinema.
Penso covers everything you’d possibly want to know about the trials and tribulations of an up-and-coming effects maestro, working his way through Harryhausen’s CV and the various methods he deployed to articulate a truly mind-boggling understanding of fantasy. With each film, Harryhausen’s methods are peeled back, talked over, and presented in a great collection of sequences sure to inspire interest in any newbies, whilst giving new appreciation to seasoned fans.
Key scenes from all Harryhausen’s works, archival footage and contemporary clips, behind the scenes footage, and original artwork, all bolster Penso’s view that we shouldn’t discard the old ways so quickly. There’s genuine passion and love for the man’s work in every frame of the documentary, a need to educate the viewer beyond CGI, hence expanding that part of the viewership who see Harryhausen as a prolific auteur as opposed to just an effects man. At a time when CGI is the accepted mode of “special effects” it’s good to look back and see how things used to be, and the very different type of life they granted a picture. Harryhausen and Spielberg muse at one point as to just how long can CGI grow and grow as a tool before the effects stop being special. You can’t help but think we’re at that point. Maybe, that’s why films like Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts are, now more than ever, so fresh.
An informative and discursive look at the career of a legend delivered smoothly and energetically by a group of loving fans devoted to the preservation of a legacy. Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan can be appreciated by everyone from the biggest fanatic to people just getting into his films.
Stars: Tim Burton, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Terry Gilliam, John Landis,