During my years of writing for Black Gate, I’ve repeatedly pointed out certain films aren’t available on Blu-ray or DVD … only to discover after I post the article that said films are already scheduled for a release. This happened again three weeks ago when I mentioned that the only Ray Harryhausen film still unreleased on the Hi-Def format was The Valley of Gwangi. I dug myself in deeper by predicting we wouldn’t see one for years because of how slowly Warner Bros. moves with its catalogue titles.
Yet here I am in possession of a Blu-ray from Warner Archive of The Valley of Gwangi and writing about it. Maybe I should start making gloomy declarations about the Blu-ray chances of other favorite movies, just to invoke the intervention of the muse who controls home video releases. (Melpomene, I believe.)
Everyone who loves movies probably has a specific film that seems as if it were made just for them. A Ray Harryhausen stop-motion giant monster in a Western? That’s what I call Ryan Harvey Niche Marketing. The only way The Valley of Gwangi could be more targeted to me is if 1) the monster was Godzilla, 2) Peter Cushing was one of the stars, and 3) Sergio Leone directed it. However, if such an event actually occurred, the shockwaves would’ve knocked Earth from its axial tilt and annihilated civilization. Perhaps it’s for the best we stopped at “Ray Harryhausen giant monster Western.”
Although The Valley of Gwangi has some of the flaws found in other Ray Harryhausen-Charles H. Schneer films (workmanlike direction, some stilted performances), it’s still one of the greatest dinosaur movies ever made, in the same league as One Million Years B.C. and Jurassic Park. Is Jurassic Park overall a superior movie? Yes, but in terms of creative dinosaur action, The Valley of Gwangi competes. The only dinosaur movie that ranks higher than these is the original King Kong.
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One Million Years B.C. was released this week on Region A (North America) Blu-ray for the first time, drawing us one step closer to a complete set of Ray Harryhausen movies on Hi-Def. We still need The Valley of Gwangi, which Warner Bros. owns — and they’re stingy about catalogue titles, especially if they’ve already released them as part of the Warner Archive MOD series. (Edit: Warner Archive is releasing a Blu-ray that will be out in a few weeks! So never mind. Thanks to Joe H. in the comments for pointing this out. Yes, there will be a review on March 18.)
But no more of that. I’m here to celebrate the stop-motion dinosaurs of 1966’s One Million Years B.C., which is a crossover of two of my main movie loves: special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen and Britain’s Hammer Film Productions.
Hammer and Harryhausen
I once read a customer review on Amazon for the One Million Years B.C. DVD that remarked at the end, “If you’re buying this, you’re buying it for Raquel.” I wonder if the reviewer nodded off during stretches of the film and somehow failed to notice that there are dinosaurs all over it? Dinosaurs created by special effects legend Ray Harryhausen!
I’m not casting aspersions on the appeal of Raquel Welch; she has a enough screen presence to fill in a rock quarry and was a massive part of the movie’s marketing and initial global success. She adds a tremendous amount to the film and helps hold up the human action between stop-motion sequences. Yes, she is stunningly gorgeous on screen to the point that she almost seems unreal. But Raquel Welch has never been as popular as dinosaurs. Sorry, there’s no contest.
Let’s be honest: if One Million Years B.C. had no stop-motion Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs, it would be remembered today for the famous Raquel Welch image and that’s it. People wouldn’t still be watching the film or buying new releases of it more than fifty years later. The film itself would be a side-note, something discussed in terms of Welch’s career and popular 1960s sex symbols, but not anything viewers today would sit down to enjoy in full. Harryhausen’s effects make One Million Years B.C. a perennial.
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Mysterious Island (1961)
Directed by Cy Enfield. Starring Michael Craig, Herbert Lom, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, Percy Herbert, Dan Jackson, Beth Rogan.
I have no qualms admitting that I enjoyed the 2007 Walden Media adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth. It surprised me how much of Verne’s novel made it onto the screen in a contemporary setting. However, the prospect of a sequel, riffing slightly (at least from what I can detect from the first trailer) on Verne’s 1874 classic The Mysterious Island, does nothing for me other than as a reminder to read that recent translation of the novel from the Modern Library that has stared at me from my “to read” stack for over a year. The new film is called Journey 2: Mysterious Island, which explains exactly what the filmmakers intend: the same thing as the last film. Maybe some younger viewers will go find the book after watching the movie, although the novel is less child-appealing than some of Verne’s other works, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, which children should read first anyway because Mysterious Island is a sequel to it. Will Captain Nemo show up in the new film? Who cares.
However, the marketing for Journey 2 coincides with the Blu-ray release of an earlier adaptation, the Ray Harryhausen-Charles H. Schneer Mysterious Island released in 1961. A number of Harryhausen’s classics have reached Blu-ray already, but Mysterious Island makes its high definition debut in a limited edition from a small direct distributor, Twilight Time, that specializes in film soundtrack albums. This concerns me for the release of other of Harryhausen titles. Mysterious Island is a Columbia film, and Sony Home Video released The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts on Blu-ray. Apparently, they preferred to farm out Mysterious Island to an independent—and on the film’s fiftieth anniversary! I may never have learned about the Mysterious Island Blu-ray if I wasn’t a soundtrack collector on mailing lists for small labels. (If you want to buy the Mysterious Island Blu-ray, go here. It’s limited to 3,000 unit, and I have no idea how fast they will sell.) …
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