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Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection

01/03/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection in the USA - or Buy Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection in the UK

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region 2 DVD: Sony Pictures CDR 43017LC. 2 DVDs 233 minutes of, well, everything pre-film. Price: about GBP 4.00 (UK) if you know where to look, about GBP 12.00 (UK) if you don't) .

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When I reviewed ‘Ray Harryhausen’s Fantasy Scrapbook’ last month, I wondered if any of his early work was available on DVD. Looking along the riverbank shop, I came across ‘Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection’ and as is appropriate to being investigative, decided to look further.

I have to say from the start, this was a worthy investigation. If all you’ve ever seen of Harryhausen’s work was his fantasy films, seeing his early film shorts and realising that they were made in 1946 and look as fresh today as they were made will make you respect the man even further. The second DVD does explain that the original films were digitally restored but so are many early films these days but this is a really superlative job.

These film shorts are truly a delight to watch and his ‘Mother Goose Adventures’ through several nursery rhymes are a superb display of animation. If I had to be critical then there was a couple times when the dissolves between heads was obvious. Saying that, the dissolves between other heads is so good that it makes the odd blemish stand out. Then you keep thinking, 1946. Most modern day animators would wish they were that good today. Harryhausen points out in commentaries between each film short that some of them are still used in American schools today. Looking at these, I can well believe that. If you just wanted to keep your young sprogs quiet for an hour, this is a great investment.

When Harryhausen knew he was going to be called up for World War Two, he took night school to become a cameraman, before realising that they became targets on the battlefield. However, under the entertainment unit and Frank Capra, he convinced him that stop-animation could be used to explain to troops how to build a military bridge, the short of which is included here sans people. Another shows how the Americans beat an outpost on a Japanese island.

The ‘Tests And Experiments’ are very raw Harryhausen at the start of his career to provide material to show his animation skill. At long last, I’ve now seen the material that Willis O’Brien told Harryhausen said his dinosaurs had legs like sausages. He was right but I suspect their thickness was to support the weight of the bodies.

The second DVD covers everything from a star of fame on Hollywood Boulevard to various interviews all conducted in 2004 as part of the celebrations for Harryhausen’s fifty years in the business. You also get to see some of the original animation models and some of his sculptures based on animation models.

If you are a Ray Harryhausen fan and missed out on this DVD, grab it now. It’s been out five years and I suspect me discovering it and giving a review here will see it sell out You don’t want to miss this great work.

GF Willmetts

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