THE Wonderful Worlds Of Ray Harryhausen 1961-1964 is an essential purchase for anyone interested in the history of classic sci-fi.
The second box set from Powerhouse to gather together some of the stop-motion effects master’s finest fantasy films on Blu-ray, it finds the animator at the very peak of his powers across three game-changing science-fiction epics, all of which are presented in pristine new prints with a plethora of interesting extras to sweeten the deal.
It’s a lovingly packaged collection of timeless adventure movies and the perfect way to remember the impact of a truly original artist. If you love your cult classics curated with care and genuine affection you need this in your collection.
First up is Mysterious Island from 1960. Set during the civil war, it stars Michael Craig as the leader of a gang of Union soldiers who escape from a Confederate jail via a hot air balloon that smashes them into the sea and washes them up on the shores of a remote island where all manner of outsize horrors, from giant crabs to enormous bees, await them.
All these creatures are the result of the experiments of the crazed Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom) who hopes his giant beasts will solve the world’s food shortage. As the plot suggests, it’s mad adventure from the off, but the effects are hugely impressive for the time, the story skips along at a mighty pace and Bernard Herrman’s score is brilliant.
Next in line is Jason And The Argonauts from 63, possibly the very finest of the Ray Harryhausen/Charles H Scheer collaborations and a fantasy film that is packed to the stop-motion gills with memorable moments and iconic imagery.
A mad journey into Greek Mythology, it is crammed with more living statues, towering Gods and haunting harpies than even the most obsessive cult connoisseur could hope for.
The tale of Jason’s quest to find the Golden Fleece and reclaim the throne that was stolen from him at birth is a barnstorming thrill ride with such images as the giant bronze Talos, looming large over the humans, living long in the memory. It’s also this film that contains the sequence which first opened my eyes to the astonishing animation of Harryhausen at his most inventive. The nasty skeletons who emerge from the earth and indulge in some high speed sword fighting terrified me as a child and still puts the fear of God into me today.
Rounding up this collection is First Men In The Moon, a slightly less impressive HG Wells adaptation from 1964. Scripted by Quatermass scribe Nigel Kneale it’s a colourful romp that follows Lionel Jeffries as Victorian inventor Professor Cavor, who takes an unlikely crew of passengers on an unwitting trip to the moon when he’s trying out his new anti-gravity paint on his spaceship.
The 4K restorations make these films look immaculate and the extras that Powerhouse have added to the package are equally impressive. There are commentaries, documentaries and surplus material aplenty here and it all makes for a sublime experience for Harryhausen fans young and old.