Essays · Movies

‘Harryhausen – The Movie Posters’ is an Invitation to Adventure

An up-close insight into selling the genius and mythology of Ray Harryhausen.
Harryhausen The Movie Posters Pa
By  · Published on September 7th, 2018

Selling is an art. The goal is to offer a taste to your audience without spoiling the full meal that awaits them. “Hey kids, I’ve got the good stuff over here. Check this out.” One eyeful designed to elicit total obsessive compulsion. Once consumed there is no going back, the hooks are in and a lifetime fandom results in a perpetually low bank account.

I grew up teetering on the precipice of commercial illustration’s demise. Just as I was discovering the artistic virtuosity of Drew Struzan and Bob Peak, photoshop stepped behind them and offered an emotionless shove. Splat. From that corpse, an insipid virus spread across movie theater lobbies.

In the nineties, star attraction was enough to lure eyes to the silver screen. Who needs a terrifying collection of brushstrokes to sell Scream when a floating cloud of Hollywood heads gets the job done. The bargain was soulless and unforgiving. Once accepted, the practice raged.

Disgruntled dorks like myself found themselves nostalgic at the ripe age of thirteen. Chuck Norris and his Top Dog could go screw. Give me whatever dreck lurked behind Boris Vallejo’s Deathstalker II VHS art. We demanded some pride in the trash being peddled.

Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans 1981 © Warner Bros.

Of course, there is nothing trashy where Ray Harryhausen is concerned. The man was a master of realizing the impossible. He took dusty schoolbook mythology and revealed the wonder to each adventure. Not to knock the classics, but for a kid struggling to comprehend the hell Perseus pursued in Andromeda’s name, Harryhausen was ten times the educator than poor Mrs. Gardner trapped at the chalkboard. No teacher could compete with a living, breathing hydra.

Recently published by Titan Books, “Harryhausen – The Movie Posters” manages to balance between a celebration of the artist himself and the dozens of folks tasked with selling his cinematic odysseys. Here are all the stop-motion miracles minus the strings, or fingerprint impressions. The book is all awe, no filler.

Compiled by Richard Hollis, in close partnership with the Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, the tome is more opus than textbook. “Harryhausen – The Movie Posters” spans over thirty years with each chapter devoted to a singular work. From Mighty Joe Young to Clash of the Titans, the films are lovingly detailed through a timeline of commercial art.

In some cases, an illustrator would simply use his canvas to present one of Harryhausen’s creatures. One movie ticket grants you entry to a skeleton freakshow. Done and done. Sold. Let the beasts do the talking.

Then you’ve got cats like Roger Soubie. A genius in his own right that brought as much energy and life to the 2D image as Harryhausen expounded in miniature. He made a career out of elevating, and translating for a French audience, the finest moments of Ben-Hur, Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Forbidden Planet, and Lolita. And oh yeah, First Men in the Moon, a rather dull 60s interpretation of H.G. Wells that’s basically only worth catching to marvel at Harryhausen’s devious creations. Soubie slaps the rampaging Selenites front and center, and any kid would be pleased to suffer whatever lackluster relationship drama to get to those critters. Not to mention the creepy-crawly Moon Cows, or the pulsating big brain of Prime Lunar.

Jason and the Argonauts

Jason and the Argonauts 1963 (A Morningside WorldwidePictures S.A.), renewed 1991. All Rights Reserved.

The international posters were always my jam. They had no need or desire to push star power. No offense to Todd Armstrong, but he could barely fill seats in the U.S. let alone Italy. When it comes to the unarguable alure of Jason and the Argonauts, every child on the planet craves the skeleton melee and the towering terror of Talos. You want to guarantee attendance? A grisly depiction of doomed sailors fleeing his omnipresent stomp is worth a thousand glamor shots. Although, M. Copizzi’s heavenly vision of Nancy Kovack doesn’t hurt.

In his forward, filmmaker and monster maniac John Landis champions the publication as an invitation to the work of Ray Harryhausen. Yeah, for sure. I would challenge any curious movie lover to pick up this brick and not come away intrigued by the fantasies they experience. One peep at the Japanese collage interpretation of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad will certainly send cinephiles to the digital download, or gasp, physical blu-ray.

However, this book is a true gift for the fanatics. To flip through its pages is to travel back in time. Not only to the films they’re hawking but to that glorious age when studios put as much art and talent into their advertisements as the final product. Each poster and banner is a slap in the face; a realization that in today’s market, to properly furnish bedroom walls with such fantastical exploits requires a strong line of credit and a whole lot of patience while wading through the limited online sales of Mondo screenprints.

The sky is not falling. The art exists. The films exist. This book exists. Pre-ordering the book here will grant you a trip filled with all manner of gods and monsters. No mythological rock unturned.

If you need further encouragement, click through our exclusive photo gallery below. It is but a brief glimpse at the treasure trove you’ll find within “Harryhausen – The Movie Posters.”

Related Topics: , ,

Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)