Tag Archives: Ray Harryhausen

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KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS: OF SAMURAIS AND SKELETONS

avatar-scottwoodardKUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS is a sweeping, cinematic adventure that skillfully blends a few bits of biographical inspiration from creator Shannon Tindle (FOSTER’S HOME FOR IMAGINARY FRIENDS, THE CROODS) with a few lesser-known tales from Japanese mythology, gifting it to audiences through the almost mystical art of stop-motion animation.

An absolute feast for the eyes, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS presents us with sweeping colorful vistas, beautifully designed characters, and one of the largest, if not the largest, stop-motion animated creatures ever devised – a colossal and truly terrifying 16-foot tall skeleton! It also clearly and unapologetically draws upon the work of legendary animator and director Ray Harryhausen. For those unaware, Harryhausen was the artist who populated such films as THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, and CLASH OF THE TITANS with a variety of fantastic beasts never before seen on the silver screen…and never better-presented since, at least in this author’s opinion.

Not only does KUBO lovingly and respectfully present us with homages to that late animator’s work, it also draws inspiration from the structure of some of those classic sword-and-sorcery adventures, framing a series of high-energy set pieces with a lofty quest that also finds plenty of time to remind us that behind the sword fights, the eerie opponents, and the rising threat, it is the bond between our leads that keeps us going and desperately hoping for a triumphant conclusion. As others have already pointed out elsewhere, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS also tugs at the heart strings, so prepare to shed a tear or two during the course of the film.

Returning to the film’s admirable structure, like those classic fantasy films of old, KUBO takes its time with character development, giving us enough back-story to understand motivations yet deliberately leaving a few gaps here and there that we know from the outset will be filled in as the story goes on. Before Kubo even sets off on his quest, the movie pauses to inform us that this is no normal, one-eyed kid. Kubo is a traditional bard in the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS mold, manipulating reality through a combination of tale-telling and music. He is also not just another whiny, cookie-cutter, entitled kid seen in so many other contemporary films. Kubo is brave, bright, and compassionate – three truly admirable traits for a hero.

Once the journey begins, the Harryhausen influence rears its head as the quest takes us from one encounter to another. Kubo and his anthropomorphic allies – a well-meaning samurai bug (Matthew McConaughey) and a wise, but stubborn monkey (Charlize Theron) – face sorcerous sisters, sea monsters, ghosts, and the aforementioned skeletal guardian. Each set piece is exquisitely presented and edge-of-your-seat exciting in much the same way as the battle with the giant Talos on the Isle of Bronze or the skeletal hordes spawned from Hydra’s teeth, both from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.

Kubo-and-the-Two-Strings-New-Poster-movie-2016-1While I will stop short of offering an over-all review of the film due to the fact that my wife, TaMara Carlson-Woodard, was on the puppet fabrication crew for two years (mainly on the crew responsible for Monkey), I will say that despite my personal connection to the movie – which provided me with the chance to enjoy a crew screening a few weeks ago – I was blown away by the spectacle of KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, and I hope that you will be as well!

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS is now playing in theaters. To learn more about the fantastic films of Ray Harryhausen, check out CINEMA AND SORCERY: THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO FANTASY FILM written by Arnold T. Blumberg and yours truly! Also check out the movie’s companion volume below:

STUFF: Why Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger is Actually a Doctor Who Story

meavatarjessIt was to be the final Sinbad adventure produced by Charles Schneer and Ray Harryhausen, an epic journey that would take the Arabian sailor to the farthest reaches of his world and to the threshold of a new era that seemed to be bidding farewell to magic in favor of technology. He would save a prince, find love, and battle all manner of fantastical beasts. This was a blockbuster film that would surely dominate its release year in 1977 on this very date… SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER!

OK, so there was that STAR WARS thing too, but never mind. Although some find this last Harryhausen Sinbad movie lacking, I still love it. True, I do feel Patrick Wayne is not nearly as good in the lead role as John Phillip Law was in the previous installment, 1974’s GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD – in fact, I’ve always said this movie would be as close to perfect as it could be if only Law had returned as originally planned.

Wayne’s somewhat flat delivery isn’t really much of a problem, however, and there are so many other reasons to enjoy this sterling example of sword and sorcery excitement. Harryhausen was soon to retire himself, and here he’s working at the peak of his powers just prior to his final film, 1981’s CLASH OF THE TITANS. He gives us such wonderful creations as the Trog (one of his personal favorites), the robotic Minoton, and in one of his most nuanced stop-motion performances, the baboon form of Prince Kassim.

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And then there’s Patrick Troughton as Melanthius, an aging magician-scientist with a young female companion, a knowledge beyond even his advanced years, and a boyish delight in the discovery of new and amazing things. Sound familiar? That’s because for many of us, Troughton will always be remembered best as the Second Doctor, the incarnation of the titular Time Lord that appeared on the long-running BBC sci-fi series DOCTOR WHO from 1966-1969 and in a few appearances afterward. And here he seems to be doing little more than playing a slightly older version of his Doctor.

This is why I’ve always loved the idea that at some point in his future, during a murky period of time that is well mined in DOCTOR WHO lore but would take some explaining here (just trust me on this one; for WHO fans, all I need to say is “Season 6B”), an older Second Doctor retired to ancient Earth to live out his final years as Melanthius. Considering his knowledge of lasers, “telepathia,” and more, it works well. And it’s fun!

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SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER is a rousing finale to the series that incorporates timely science-fiction elements into Sinbad’s otherwise pseudo-historical, magical world. It also showcases some of the most emotionally moving performances by stop-motion creatures in Harryhausen’s career, bidding farewell to the world of Sinbad in style.

To learn a lot more about this film, check out CINEMA AND SORCERY: THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO FANTASY FILM – written by G2V’s very own Scott Woodard and Arnold T. Blumberg (that’s me!) – in either print or e-book!

HELP US BY ORDERING THE MOVIE VIA THIS LINK!

GAMING: CINEMA & SORCERY – THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO FANTASY FILM [UPDATED]

avatar-scottwoodardmeavatarjessScott and Arnold have been hinting at this massive project for years now on social media, but at last the tale can be told – a tale of high adventure and triumph and watching tons and tons of sword and sorcery movies while taking copious notes!

roninlogo_nameboxComing from RPG publisher Green Ronin (Fantasy AGE, Titansgrave, A Song of Ice and Fire) in electronic form and now in print starting today, July 1, 2016, CINEMA & SORCERY: THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO FANTASY FILM is a massive 400+ page tome by Arnold T. Blumberg and Scott Alan Woodard covering the entire history of the sword and sorcery genre from its earliest beginnings to the latest blockbuster releases!

50 films are given in-depth chapters with details on plot, production, soundtrack, and detailed ruminations and reviews, while every other sword and sorcery feature-length film in existence is catalogued in a massive index cross-listed with alternate titles! PLUS: Tips on how to adapt characters, creatures, artifacts and more from your favorite films to YOUR gametable!

The project started many years ago from a simple conversation between the two pop culture experts, and now they’re bringing their love of cinematic high adventure to you!

“For me, the joy of working on these kinds of books is sharing that passion about film with fellow fans,” says Arnold (The “Doctor of the Dead” and co-author of ZOMBIEMANIA: 80 MOVIES TO DIE FOR). “These are movies we all grew up enjoying, and we hope that when you watch them next, you’ll take a look in our book and see what we have to say about them. It’s the next best thing to us sitting there and watching with you!”

“I grew up watching these movies and I grew up a gamer,” says Scott (G2V Producer, THE SIXTH GUN ROLEPLAYING GAME, DOCTOR WHO: THE JUGGERNAUTS). “Not only am I excited to share with other fantasy fans the best and absolute worst the genre has to offer, but also to give them ways to enhance their gaming experience with their favorite fantasy icons the same way I do.”

Read Green Ronin’s original announcement of the release of CINEMA & SORCERY!

Get a preview by learning from Scott how to add some movie magic to your role-playing campaign!

Read Scott and Arnold’s tribute to the late great Ray Harryhausen!

For more information or interviews with Scott and Arnold, write to contact@g2vpodcast.com.

TRIBUTE: RAY HARRYHAUSEN (1920-2013)

avatar-scottwoodardmeavatarjessToday would have been special effects maestro and storyteller extraordinaire Ray Harryhausen’s 96th birthday. For fantasy fans of so many generations including our own, Harryhausen’s groundbreaking, painstaking work in the field of stop motion animation (and let’s not forget, acting, for through every creature he gave an award-winning performance) made him a towering figure in our childhoods. His creations were more than rubber and metal and fur – they breathed, they lived, and they thrilled us in darkened movie theaters, on late-night television broadcasts, and now on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming video.

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In our new book, CINEMA AND SORCERY: THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO FANTASY FILM (coming out July 1, 2016 from Green Ronin Publishing), we naturally devoted many full chapters to Harryhausen’s unforgettable work, from the Sinbad adventures to JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and, of course, CLASH OF THE TITANS. In fact, when the multi-year quest began to write this tome, Arnold revisited those favorite films first in order to write the chapters about their creation. And for Scott, there was the added dimension of having met Ray in person one day while working for the late David Allen in the 1990s. Scott was working on an armature at a table and suddenly heard: “Hey Scott, I’d like you to meet Ray.” And there he was, the man himself, examining the work that Scott was doing! It was a brief but memorable experience.

We had no choice but to dedicate the entirety of CINEMA AND SORCERY to Ray when he passed away during the writing of our book. We’d like to share the Dedication page with you here (click below to enlarge the image), and we hope that if you decide to seek out our work, you’ll be able to share in all the joyous memories of fantastic adventures, horrifying monsters, glorious heroes, and amazing creations that we detail with such admiration and respect in its pages. You can also hear us talk about our memories of Ray in one of our earliest episodes of The G2V Podcast.

Happy birthday, Ray.

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3: Ray Harryhausen

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Ray Harryhausen was a legend long before he died on May 7, 2013, leaving behind a legacy of magical movies filled with extraordinary creatures, amazing adventures, and some of the most memorable moments emblazoned into the hearts and minds of generations of fantasy filmgoers. In this special tribute episode, Scott and Arnold talk about the career of a man that made rubber and metal into living icons of pop culture, from the giant monster invasions of the 1950s to the sorcerous exploits of Sinbad the Sailor and the beasts of classical mythology.

NOTE: We had a few occasional technical hiccups this time, resulting in slightly variable audio quality. It’s all sorted out now, and we’ll be back on track and sounding fantastic next episode!

ALSO: Scott wanted to correct a slip during the episode. ADI is Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc., linked below. We’ve also provided a link to the exciting Kickstarter campaign page for “Harbinger Down,” so check below!

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SHOW LINKS:
Ray Harryhausen: The Official Website

Ray Harryhausen 90th Birthday BAFTA Tribute

TCM Remembers Special Effects Legend Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013)

Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.

HARBINGER DOWN: A Practical Creature FX Film by Alec Gillis/ADI