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                        Celebrating the Art of Cinema, ... and Cinema as Art


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On The Downbeat
  December 2011 / January 2012
(revised 2/9/19)

On The Downbeat - Profiles:
* (April / May 2012) Jerry Goldsmith & The Films Of Michael Crichton

* (Dec. 2011 / Jan. 2012) Scoring The Films Of Ray Harryhausen
* (Sept ./ Oct.. 2011) Maurice Jarre

* (July 2011) Michael Kamen
* (May 2011) Basil Poledouris


by CEJ

     To catalog the influence of cinema multi-hyphenate Ray Harryhausen (stop motion special effects master, artist, sculptor, writer and producer) on the modern motion picture is … well, a mathematical impossibility, like trying to count to the last number in existence.  Not that we won’t try, mind you.  We have plans to attempt just a mad feat in a future article. For now consider this a musical precursor / overture of sorts.

     For those not as familiar with the name “Harryhausen” (though it does pop up in the films MONSTERS, INC. and THE CORPSE BRIDE … more on that in a bit) you certainly are familiar with his “stamp“ on cinema, as some of the most popular science fiction and fantasy films of recent years have either contained some sort of homage to, or the films themselves have been out and lifts of his legendary work.  If you’ve seen Sam Raimi’s ARMY OF DARKNESS-1992 or Stephen Sommer’s THE MUMMY-1999, realize their climactic “skeleton / ghoul” battles were an homage to one of the most famous scenes in Harryhausen’s JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS-1963.  Recall Obi Wan’s duel with the multi-light saber wielding General Grevious in STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH-2005, and understand the Kaleesh cyborg’s training did not come from Count Dooku as claimed, but was rather inspired by the multi-sword brandishing Kali in Harryhausen’s THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD-1973.  And as for dinosaurs and dragons, well, … you can’t read or listen to any interview or audio commentary from the technicians who worked on the JURRASIC PARK, LORD OF THE RINGS or HARRY POTTER films without hearing how Mr. Harryhausen’s THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD-1958, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.-1966 and THE VALLEY OF GWANGI-1969 spurred them into their life’s work.  Oh yeah, and that little movie a year or so back, CLASH OF THE TITANS-2010 was of course a remake (not great, but not as horrible as everyone claims) of Harryhausen’s 1981 original - the final film he made before retirement.

Site Search Index:
     "Ray has been a great inspiration to us in the special visual industry. The art of his earlier films, which most of us grew up on, inspired us so much."


      "The LORD OF THE RINGS is my ‘Ray Harryhausen movie.’ Without that lifelong love of his wondrous images and storytelling, it would never have been made–not by me at least."


      "One of the world’s greatest manipulators"



     In the case of Mr. Harryhausen, “retirement” is a relative word as he (now in his 90s) has continued to remain busy restoring and remastering not only his own films for theatrical, DVD and Blu-ray re-release (among them MIGHTY JOE YOUNG-1949, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS-1953, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA-1955 and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS-1956) but other classics as well - in 2006 supervising the restoration of Merian C. Cooper’s 1935 lost world adventure epic SHE.  

     He’s also released three massive collectible volumes of his magnificent concept art; there are more on the way.  And somehow, somewhere in there he manages to bend the time/space continuum by turning up at darned near every sci fi convention on the planet.  We think he’s like Michael Keaton’s character in MULTIPLICITY.

     Those who have been fortunate enough to spend time with him know one topic which makes his eyes light up is MUSIC.  He LOVES!!!! music.  Long before the advent of the music video, his films were carefully choreographed ballets of sight and orchestral sound.  Many have commented on how because of various film union stipulations over the years he was never able to receive director’s credits - though he did in essence co-direct his movies.  But we feel it may be an even greater travesty that none of his films were ever cited by the Motion Picture Academy for their incredible editing.  Michael Bay and James Cameron didn’t invent the carefully shot, edited and scored action sequence … they learned it from Ray Harryhausen and his cadre of legendary film composers.  At any rate …

     In “On The Downbeat” we’d like to pay our “two cents worth” of tribute.  No fantasy film can exists without the soul of it’s musical score.  And over the years the films of Ray Harryhausen have given us some of the best.   Here we examine and enjoy:

* JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS - 1963 (Bernard Herrmann)

* THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD - 1973 (Miklos Rozsa)
* CLASH OF THE TITANS - 1981 (Laurence Rosenthal)

* THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS  - 1953 (David Buttolph)
* IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA - 1955 (Mischa Bakaleinikoff)
* THE VALLEY OF GWANGI - 1969 (Jerome Moross)
* THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD - 1958 (Bernard Herrmann)
* MYSTERIOUS ISLAND - 1961 (Bernard Herrmann) 

     BTW - Those “Harryhausen” references?  In MONSTERS, INC., the name of the restaurant to which Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) takes his date Celia (Jennifer Tilly) is “Harryhausen’s”.  And in THE CORPSE BRIDE, the grand piano played by Victor Von Dort (Johnny Depp) is (uh, huh!) ... a “Harryhausen”. 

     Mr. Harryhausen himself also had brief cameo's in the 1998 remake of MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, as well as in director John Landis' SPIES LIKE US-'85 (as a doctor) and BEVERLY HILLS COP III-'94  - as a bar patron.  He can also be heard as the voice of one of the polar bear cubs in Jon Favreau's Christmas comedy / fantasy film ELF-'03.

-  For comparison we’ve, in many instances, included both music along with it’s corresponding film scene.  The film listings are in no particular order - chronological or otherwise.



(Bernard Herrmann)

     Best known for his full-blooded dramatic scores (the Hitchcock thrillers PSYCHO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST and VERTIGO as well as the films CITIZEN KANE, CAPE FEAR, OBSESSION and TAXI DRIVER), Herrmann’s work in the genre mileau in some respects topped them all for sheer musical audacity and complexity.  Known for unusual “groupings” of instrumentation, the composer’s work on THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR-1947, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL-1951 and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH-1959 consisted of some of his finest.  The influence of his four film collaboration with Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles Schneer at Columbia Pictures (THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD-1958, THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER-1960, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND-1961 and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS-1963) continues to reverberate today as numerous contemporary composers (Danny Elfman in particular - BATMAN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) often cite Herrmann as a primary inspiration.

Bernard Herrmann      

     JASON the score is mad genius! Rising to the occasion of an adventure filled with mythical creatures and a robust hero willing to defy the gods to do what he knows is right, Herrmann jettisons the string section entirely (strings often providing emotional warmth for the audience) then doubles the number of woodwinds and brass.  Topping it off, the main theme motif is carried by a huge battery of percussion (including 2 groups of 5 timpani each!), itself based on the rowing rhythm of our stalwart hero's ship - The Argo.  Orchestral power at it's apex!

  play “Jason Prelude” (B. Herrmann)

  play "Talos" (B. Herrmann) 

  play "Hydra’s Teeth" (B. Herrmann)

  play "Skeleton Fight" (B. Herrmann)


- 1973
(Miklos Rozsa)

     THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD was something of a “comeback” for Ray Harryhausen, not so much in the eyes of his fans (for they’d always enjoyed his films) but with the film industry itself.   In the late 50s and early 60s he was king of the fantasy adventure, his THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD amongst the biggest box office hits of their respective years.  With the changing tide of public (or more accurately in retrospect, corporate Hollywood) tastes, his brand of old school filmmaking had seemed to fall out of favor in the now anti-establishment film groove of EASY RIDER and THE GRADUATE.  Apparently the world was now too serious for his kind of monsters and mayhem, his recent “dinosaurs in the old west” mash-up THE VALLEY OF GWANGI failing to sufficiently ring cash registers.  Returning to their most successful character, the legendary adventurer Sinbad, he and producer Charles Schneer (abetted by writer Brian Clemens of TV’s THE AVENGERS) fashioned a fast moving odyssey which was essentially an “intercontinental contest” wherein two parties (one good; one evil) would race to a lost civilization in search of a mysterious treasure which could alter the course of the world.


     With a cast including John Phillip Law (previously of the Jacqueline Susan adaptation THE LOVE MACHINE-1971) as a robust and virile Sinbad, Tom Baker as the villainous sorcerer Prince Koura (his performance here would lead to his casting as the most popular ever of TV’s DR. WHO Timelords) and Caroline Munroe, THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD became not only one of the most popular films of 1973 (no mean feat in a year packed with movies like ENTER THE DRAGON, WESTWORLD, LIVE AND LET DIE, THE EXORCIST, THE STING and AMERICAN GRAFFITTI), but it’s “intercontinental race” structure would be borrowed for numerous other stories over the years: among them Michael Crichton’s CONGO-1980 (the novel; and not the abysmal film! - ed.) and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES-2011.

Maestro Miklos Rozsa   

     GOLDEN VOYAGE would also contain one of Harryhausen’s personal favorite scores - composed by Hollywood legend Miklos Rozsa.  Best remembered for epic music to biblical/historical dramas like BEN-HUR, KING OF KINGS and QUO VADIS, by the 1970s Rozsa as well had seen his brand of art-craft fallen out of favor as many studios now sought “song scores” designed to sell albums as well as films.  Harryhausen (a big fan of Rozsa’s 1940 THE THIEF OF BAGDAD) had always wanted to work with the composer, even as far back as THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD in ‘58, but Rozsa’s then contract with M-G-M had precluded it.  Now in the early 1970s (a slow time for Rozsa, his only previous film had been Billy Wilder’s THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES three years prior) the maestro had been “out of the game” long enough to devote an unprecedented amount of attention to GOLDEN VOYAGE.  It would emerge as one of the most colorful, complex, energetic and downright enjoyable scores of his entire career. 

play "Prelude - Main Title" (M. Rozsa)

play "Kali Dance" (M. Rozsa)

play "Koura Challenges Sinbad - Kali Fight"
(M. Rozsa)

     It would also revitalize that career.  The first of Rozsa's “later day” scores, GOLDEN VOYAGE would be followed by (among others) Nicholas Meyer’s H.G. Welles / Jack The Ripper time travel adventure TIME AFTER TIME-1979,  Jonathan Demme’s energetic Hitchcock homage THE LAST EMBRACE-1979, and Richard Marquand’s dark WW2 thriller EYE OF THE NEEDLE-1981.  

     Harryhausen’s career also revitalized, he would next produce one more Sinbad adventure, SINBAD AND THE EYE OF TIGER-1977, before his magnum opus swan song CLASH OF THE TITANS in ‘81.

pg. 1,2,3
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