A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ray Harryhausen Dies at 92: "7th Voyage of Sinbad" is Only Flimsy Excuse I Have for Noting This Here

The great animator Ray Harryhausen died yesterday at the venerable age of 92. Members of my generation will remember him as the man who made monsters come alive in the movies in the era before CGI. Any graying male, and probably a few of the females, of a certain age will remember the dueling skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts (1963); he made dinosaurs and cyclops and such like believable through stop-motion rubber models in the days before computer graphics; his work probably looks primitive to kids today (it does to mine), but it stretched the minds of a whole generation. And it inspired George Lucas, Tim Burton, and others of a generation who would take special effects to new levels. In Pixar's Monsters Inc. the fancy restaurant is named "Harry Hausen's," one of many tributes slipped into later animators' movies.
See? Middle Eastern!
Rubber Monster
What, if anything, does this have to do with the Middle East? Well, I managed to write an obit for the great bluegrass genius Doc Watson here on the grounds that some if his spirituals mentioned the river Jordan; and I don't have to reach nearly so far for Harryhausen: he did the special effects for the 1958 film The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (also see here) and later, in the 1970s, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). The latter opened in the same summer as the first Star Wars, when the torch had clearly been passed to a new generation of special effects. And while it still had rubber monsters, it also had Jane Seymour in a harem outfit (left), suggesting the core audience had matured a bit since the 50's.
Jane Seymour in Eye of the Tiger
The Sinbad movies have only the most tenuous connection to the 1,001 Nights version: mostly the hero's name, the vaguely Middle Eastern settings, and, well, that's about it. But when I was ten years old, the first of them (the only one I saw) was a wonder, and the rubber monsters seemed real.
But the only real way to pay tribute to Ray Harryhausen is to remember his monsters. He did it all without computer graphics, and in those less-jaded days, it seemed wondrous. Here's a collage that claims to have clips of all of them:

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