Ray Harryhausen Gift Set

The Ray Harryhausen Gift Set isn't the best example of the animator's work but it does provide a solid base for '50s B-movie style. Each film is a perfect example of a military man — army or navy — meeting up with a lady scientist to stop an invading force and save the earth. It might be a Venus-ian creature attacking Italy (20 Million Miles to Earth), a fleet of flying saucers (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers) or a monster from the deep trying to pull down the Golden Gate Bridge (It Came from Beneath the Sea). The stories are quick and no nonsense, which makes sense considering the films run less than 90 minutes each, but it's hard to see the genius of Harryhausen in any of them. There are no sword-wielding skeletons or giant statues come to life, although there is a giant octopus, which provides the best example of what Harryhausen can do, and the films are often poorly lit. These movies are enjoyable but hardly astonishing. The best part of the set is the few extras about the animation process. The same special features — "The Harryhausen Chronicles" and "This is Dynamation" — appear on all three discs. "The Chronicles," a Richard Schickel-produced documentary from 1998, is a great primer to all things Harryhausen; Schickel has this type of biography down to a science and they are well-researched paeans to the history of film and filmmakers. Although it is not as comprehensive as the book Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life (2004), it covers early stop motion animation, the influence of Willis O'Brien and King Kong to Harryhausen's final film, The Clash of the Titans. This style of animation is becoming more obscure — unless Wallace and Gromit are involved — as CGI and green screens dominate every level of special effects. The effects and monsters in the Gift Set are sometimes awkward and, quite frankly, look fake. Yet they are extraordinary when you consider they were made by one man, not a team of animators. Harryhausen's world is more dream-like and more personal than anything ILM's wizards might imagine. His films represent fantasy, through and through. (Warner)