Radio Drama
Science Faction

Volume #1, Issue #3
"Stand By For Mars!"
March 2006

The Thunder Child: Review: The Harryhausen Chronicles written by Roy P. Webber

The Harryhausen Chronicles
Produced by Richard Schickel
Co produced by Tony Dalton
Program consultant Tony Dalton
Written and directed by Richard Schickel

Available on VHS and DVD

There has been no shortage of programming since 1991's Aliens, Dragons, Monsters & Me focusing on Ray Harryhausen, which include episodes of Movie Magic, Opening Shot ( Bravo ) and Masters of Fantasy( Sci-Fi Channel ). None of these go into the depth that the subject rightfully deserves-until now.

Shown as a segment of their "Hollywood Real to Reel" series, American Movie Classics ( AMC ) broadcast a spectacular, brand-new retrospective on the special effects genius. Taped in London and Berlin ( at an ongoing exhibition of his miniatures and related memorabilia ) a couple of years ago, The Harryhausen Chronicles was originally to be a Disney/TriStar production but fortunately ended up on this purveyor of vintage motion pictures.

It aired January 27 at 9 P.M. EST, and this one-hour presentation was immediately followed with a showing of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Narrated by Leonard Nimoy and featuring interviews with Ray Bradbury, George Lucas, Dennis Muren, Charles Schneer and Henry Selick, the briskly paced Chronicles recounts Harryhausen's life and achievements in an entertaining style. Though the neophyte will definitely find it to be very educational, the consummate fan should be awestruck by the close up model shots, rare conceptual art and heretofore unseen 16mm color film projects (Evolution, The Tortoise and the Hare, Baron Munchausen and War of the Worlds) from the stop-motion animator's personal archives. Richard Schickel (of TIME magazine fame) masterfully concocts a fascinating portrait of the man, keeping the proceedings on track but still allowing time for Ray to anecdotally reminisce and impart some wisdom of his own perception of what "fantasy" should represent.

Although they should be perceived as relatively minor, a few flaws can be detected. Some gaps in the material are observable; the first year or so of Ray's early experiments is ignored (i.e. Cave Bear tests) and no mention is made of The Animal World. Popular Science is incorrectly cited for being his first public recognition in a profile; the article appeared in the April 1941 issue of Popular Mechanics.

In addition, the inherent familiarity of Harryhausen's feature films obligates the format to roughly parallel that of Monsters & Me.

In spite of this, Chronicles not only distinguishes itself but is actually the best offering ever made about the pioneering filmmaker; capped by the 1992 Gordon E. Sawyer Oscar presentation, it is highly recommended fare not only for fans but indeed anyone with interest in science fiction/fantasy or cinematic special effects.

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