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Gilles Penso
Ray Harryhausen, James Cameron, Ray Bradbury, Tim Burton, Peter Jackson
Writing Credits:
Gilles Penso

The remarkable career of the movie industry's most admired and influential special-effects auteur - the legendary Ray Harryhausen - is the subject of Gilles Penso's definitive documentary.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English PCM Stereo
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 6/28/2016

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Gilles Penso, Producer Alexandre Poncet, Film Historian Tony Dalton and Associate Producer Timothy Nicholson
• ‘A Treasure Trove” Featurette
• Interviews
• Interview Outtakes
• “Message to Ray”
• Deleted Scenes
• “On the Set of Sinbad
• Paris Cinematheque Q&A
• London Gate Q&A
• Trailers


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan [Blu-Ray] (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 5, 2016)

For a look at one of Hollywood’s most influential technicians, we go to a documentary called Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan. The program follows the standard framework, as it mixes movie clips, behind the scenes footage and interviews.

In the latter category, we hear a lot from Harryhausen himself. We also get notes from author/friend Ray Bradbury, film historian Tony Dalton, animation supervisor Randy Cook, creature supervisor Phil Tippett, visual effects supervisors Ken Ralston and Dennis Muren, special effects creator Steve Johnson, Varese Sarabande musical producer Robert Townson, composer Christopher Young, actors Martine Beswick, Caroline Munro and John Cairney, concept designer Greg Broadmore, animation director Andrew Jones, daughter Vanessa Harryhausen, special makeup artist Colin Arthur, and directors Terry Gilliam, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, James Cameron, Tim Burton, John Landis, Henry Selick, Nick Park, Steven Spielberg, Vincenzo Natale, John Lasseter, and Joe Dante.

Titan goes down a logical path, as it starts with thoughts about Harryhausen’s inspirations and what led him into films. We then learn about his early movies and his experiences during famous films like Mighty Joe Young, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Clash of the Titans. We also learn of Harryhausen’s influence of other filmmakers.

That final topic pops up a lot during Titan - far too often, honestly. As you can tell from the list above, the film includes a slew of people inspired by Harryhausen. While we see some who worked with him, we mostly hear from his successors.

Some of that material seems fine, but we get way too much of it from Titan. A lot of the time, the film feels more like an appreciation of Harryhausen than a discussion of his work.

Which seems like a shame, as Titan could’ve become a terrific exploration of his career. With more than an hour and a half at its disposal and access to both Harryhausen and his archives, the documentary could allow us a slew of insights.

Some of these do emerge, and when Titan concentrates on Harryhausen’s work, it proves to be interesting. I love all the glimpses of archival materials, and Harryhausen offers a great number of fine observations about his methods.

Unfortunately, the film’s tendency to focus on the thoughts of other filmmakers creates a drag. Should we learn how much influence Harryhausen has had? Sure, but do we need that subject to permeate the entire documentary to such a degree?

No, I don’t think we do. A little praise goes a long way, so the program’s choice to pepper everything it touches with plaudits creates a drag.

Despite that, I think fans should give Titan a look. As happy-talk-oriented as it may be, it still gives us lots of good information about Harryhausen’s unparalleled career. I just find myself disappointed that it doesn’t dig into its subject matter with the depth its subject deserves.

Footnote: one funny juxtaposition appears here. At one point, James Cameron opines that Harryhausen wasn’t wedded to stop-motion techniques and he’d use computer generated effects if he still worked today. We then hear Harryhausen state the opposite!

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C/ Bonus B

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was a more than acceptable presentation.

I mostly didn’t factor the archival material not shot explicitly for Titan into my grade. Those elements demonstrated all sorts of flaws, but it didn’t seem fair to criticize the Blu-ray for problems with that kind of stuff.

As for the new shots, they presented solid sharpness most of the time. These elements usually looked crisp and detailed, but some exceptions occurred. In particular, one session with Harryhausen demonstrated bland delineation; since we saw a lot of that interview, we found more than a few elements with lackluster clarity.

I noticed no problems with jagged edges or shimmering. Outside of the archival bits, I saw no source flaws.

Not surprisingly, the movie’s palette tended toward natural tones. The movie’s hues came across with reasonably positive clarity and definition. The hues never popped, but they were fine most of the time.

Blacks seemed fairly deep and firm, while the occasional low-light shots appeared well defined and clean. Overall, I found the image to seem pretty good for this sort of flick.

Don’t expect much from the LPCM stereo soundtrack of Titan. This was a consistently subdued affair that concentrated on dialogue. Music spread gently to the side speakers, but much of the mix felt pretty monaural in nature.

Audio was acceptable. Interview dialogue appeared good, as the material seemed natural and intelligible. Music was fairly full, while effects appeared restricted, mainly because most came from old film clips. This became an adequate track without anything remarkable about it.

Titan comes with a bunch of extras, and these launch with an audio commentary from writer/director Gilles Penso, producer Alexandre Poncet, film historian Tony Dalton and associate producer Timothy Nicholson. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion of aspects of the film’s creation, score, editing, and various challenges.

Chatty and chummy, the commentary becomes an easy listen – but it doesn’t necessarily tell us a lot about the documentary. The remarks favor praise a lot of the time, so the content doesn’t always seem especially involving. Still, we get a decent overview of the processes involved with the movie’s creation, so it’s a relatively worthwhile chat.

A featurette called A Treasure Trove lasts 13 minutes, 36 seconds. It allows us to view a slew of items from the Harryhausen Archives. It can be interesting to see the creations, but the format seems inefficient, as it wastes too much time with images of the items as they get unpacked.

Under Interviews, we locate four clips with participants who didn’t make the final film. We hear from filmmakers Edgar Wright (4:24) and Peter Lord (2:26) as well as special makeup effects creator Rick Baker (5:08) and actor Simon Pegg (3:44). Most of these comments just praise Harryhausen; Baker offers a little more substance, but not much.

More of this sort of footage appears under Interview Outtakes. This section includes special makeup artist Colin Arthur (2:40), visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren (5:12), concept designer Greg Broadmore (4:12), director Joe Dante (5:56), director John Lasseter (4:56), visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston (3:33), actors Martine Beswick and Caroline Munro (2:05), director Nick Park (6:52), creature effects supervisor Phil Tippett (4:53), animation supervisor Randy Cook (3:51), special makeup effects creator Steve Johnson (7:45) and daughter Vanessa Harryhausen (3:25).

The content of the “Outtakes” follows the information from the main program pretty closely. That means a lot more appreciation for Harryhausen’s work and career. We get a few technical insights – and I like Vanessa’s memories of her unusual toy chest – but we don’t get a lot of new facts here.

A Message to Ray runs two minutes, 16 seconds and featues Ray Bradbury, James Cameron, Guillermo Del Toro, Ken Ralston, Vanessa Harryhausen and Randy Cook. This appears to have been a 2013 birthday greeting to Harryhausen. It seems like an odd addition to the set.

Eight Deleted Scenes fill a total of eight minutes, 19 seconds. These include participants from the main feature, though we also get a segment with visual effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. These tend to be technical and seem mostly interesting.

On the Set of Sinbad goes for two minutes, 59 seconds. As expected, it provides some archival 8mm footage from the 7th Voyage shoot. It becomes a decent historical curiosity.

Two Q&As follow. “Paris Cinematheque” (18:39) features Penso, Poncet, Nicholson and Dalton, while “London Gate” (8:58) includes Harryhausen himself as well as Dalton, Landis, Munro, Penso, Park and Poncet. Both offer some useful details, though neither comes packed with substantial material.

In addition to the trailer for Titan, we find a Ray Harryhausen Trailer Reel. It includes promos for The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, 20 Million Miles to Earth, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, It Came From Beneath the Sea, Jason and the Argonauts, Mighty Joe Young, Mysterious Island and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

As a look at arguably the most important effects technician in Hollywood history, Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan offers a mixed bag. When it focuses on Harryhausen’s work, it illuminates, but the filmmakers fill the documentary with far too much praise. The Blu-ray brings us acceptable picture and audio as well as a mix of supplements. Parts of Titan work but the program lacks much substance.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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