The Thunder Child

Science Fiction and Fantasy
Web Magazine and Sourcebooks

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

The Thunder Child: Book Reviews
The Dinosaur Films of Ray Harryhausen, by Roy P. Webber
Review by Peter Shimako

The Dinosaur Films of Ray Harryhausen: Features, Early 16mm Experiments and Unrealized Projects
Roy P. Webber
McFarland. 2004
Hardback. Filmography and index

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Ray Harryhausen is most well-known for his mythical movies featuring heroic men: Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, Perseus. In fact, he only made 4 'dinosaur' movies - Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The Animal World, One Million Years B. C., and The Valley of Gwangi. Nevertheless, author Webber has enough information here to pack over 200 pages. That's because he also focuses on 'dinosaur' films from other makers as well, making this book invaluable to any 'dinosaur on film' enthusiast.

There's good and not-so-good about The Dinosaur Films of Ray Harryhausen. For the average fan, your best course might be to request your local library purchase the book. It does deserve to be on every library's bookshelf.

But, does it need to be on your bookshelf?

Well, if you love dinosaur movies and Ray Harryhausen, then yes. If you are mainly interested in Ray Harryhausen, and you've got the money to spare, go ahead and get it. (It's a McFarland book, which means its pricey.)

Webber divides his book into six parts:

1. Early experiments
2. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
3. The Animal World
4. One Million Years B.C.
5. The Valley of Gwangi
6. The 1970s and Beyond

Chapter one provides a biography of Harryhausen, up until he begins work on The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. In addition to discussing and describing Harryhausen's early film experiments in detail, he provides detailed synopses of The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933), relevant because the special effects - i.e., the dinosaurs, were created by Harryhausen's mentor, Willis O'Brien.

The Animal World was an Irwin Allen documentary, and Harryhausen provided only about 15 minutes worth of dinosaur footage (which took him 6-8 weeks to create). Webber gives a lot of space to Irwin Allen, and why should he not? One Million Years B.C. is also described in depth, as is The Valley of Gwangi.

There's plenty of information here on Harryhausen's techniqes for Dynamation, including illustrations of such techniques as static mattes and front and rear projection. Webber also gives background on the various actors, for example Raquel Welch in the film One Million Years B.C.

It's all fascinating stuff.

Flaws? Well, it's a book about only the dinosaur films. Harryhausen's other movies are given short shrift (except when something vaguely 'dinosaurish' appears, such as the troglodyte in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger). Harryhausen's biography is also not as detailed as one would have liked.

Harryhausen based many of his early dinosaur models on the painting of Charles Knight. It would have been nice to have had a few of those paintings reproduced here. Their lack, however, can not be viewed as a fault of the author, who perhaps could not get the necessary copyright permissions. Or perhaps it is a lack only in the eyes of this reviewer!

The book is profusely illustrated, with pre-production sketches, armatures, models and film stills.

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