Three Days of Ray Harryhausen

We use the word auteur primarily when we talk about directors. Occasionally we call producers auteurs. But Ray Harryhausen was the only special effects engineer who can be reasonably called an auteur. He picked the stories and fleshed them out. His drawings guided the art direction and camerawork. And his model animation technique, which he called Dynamation, turned complex puppets into magical creatures who seemed to have inner lives.

Eventually, his name in the advertising helped the bottom line. People watched his films because he made them. They still do.

This weekend, the Balboa will celebrate the late Harryhausen with three days of his films in a Dynamation Celebration. Here are some of the best movies and most tempting events:

Jason and the Argonauts

No other movie so successfully turns Greek mythology (or at least a family-friendly version) into swashbuckling adventure, while remaining true to the original spirit of the tales. As the gods bicker and gamble on the fates of mortals, Jason and his crew fight magical monsters and scheming human villains. Todd Armstrong and Nancy Kovack are unbearably stiff in the lead roles, but Nigel Green shines as cinema’s most articulate Hercules. But the real star, of course, is Ray Harryhausen’s hand-made special effects.

  • Saturday, March 2, 1:30
  • Saturday, March 2, 7:00

B+ The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

The first and best of Ray Harryhausen’s three Sinbad movies. In fact, of all his movies, only Jason and the Argonauts is better. The stop-motion animation is splendid, and the story, while trivial, is fun. Not a must-see like Jason, but still an entertaining escape into a fantasy past. 7thVoyage is an important movie in Harryhausen’s career; his first in color, his first period piece, and his first out-and-out fantasy after a series of sci-fi pictures. I discuss the movie in more detail in Earthquakes and Monsters.

  • Friday, March 1, 5:00
  • Sunday, March 3, 1:00

Vanessa Harryhausen/Panel Discussion
The master’s daughter talks about “Life with Dad’s creatures.” Since It’s a panel discussion, I assume there will be other people talking.

Most of Harryhausen’s films are fun. But the two above are clearly the best.