Harryhausen Holiday Fare
For the 1960 Christmastide, three distinctive offerings were offered to the moviegoing family trade in search of respite and distraction from the holiday hubbub, all adaptations of classic tales. For goofy slapstick with a gender-bending angle and three songs in the mix, one could try Jerry Lewis’s CinderFella, which had the bonus of Ed Wynn as his Fairy Godfather. Fans of scenic island adventure with family reinforcement and a precision balance of larkishness and peril, Walt Disney provided his marvelously cast production of Johann Wyss’ Swiss Family Robinson, directed by the capable Ken Annikin. The third alternative makes its hi-def debut in time for Christmas 2016, and it too offered comedy and action, plus the bonus of visual magic courtesy of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen and aural enchantment supplied by a mischievous and moody score from sonic sorcerer Bernard Herrmann: The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960). While far from a detailed adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s biting 1726 Gulliver’s Travels that satirically covered the breadth of the author’s merciless lampooning of national rivalries and geopolitical puffery, it would give Harryhausen, Herrmann and cinematographer Wilkie Cooper ample opportunity to innovate and reverberate in the fantasy realm. While the stop-motion bedazzlement that made audiences cheer two years earlier in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was focused on two studiously and remarkably constructed versions of a menacing squirrel and alligator, recently engineered new matte processes enabled Harryhausen to bring to nearly seamless photographic perfection the tiny world of Lilliput, which shipwrecked Dr. Lemuel Gulliver (Kerwin Matthews) dominated as a giant, and the colossal setting of Brobdingnag, where the wily wayfarer was punily pint-sized. The charismatic and effects-experienced 7th Voyage star proved gamely heroic and resourceful in all three environments (which included the third world of the 1699 English village of Wapping), and was well matched by beautiful tom thumb alumna June Thorburn as Gulliver’s fiancée. In his BlackGate.com piece on the this unique Harryhausen project that’s not always carried pride of place among the master’s more assertive “creature features,” essayist Ryan Harvey notes: “The film is gorged with special effects that kept Harryhausen so busy and stressed during the shooting in Spain that he developed dysentery. To create the illusion of the huge differences in height that are the core of the film required extensive optical and miniature work, all of which stand up well today in the digital world. Harryhausen avoided the standard rear-screen projection technique and instead used Rank Laboratories’ traveling matte process, and the results look impressive. The miniature sets for Gulliver blend well with the footage of the Lilliputians and the Brobdingnagians. One of the most impressive uses of a traveling matte and a miniature set is when Gulliver 'sits in' on an outdoor court of the King of Lilliput. The combination between the two sets of footage combined in the traveling matte is seamless here. Also excellent are the oversized sets of Brobdingnag, such as the enormous chessboard where Gulliver gets to play the ultimate version of human-sized chess against the King.” As is the case with the cinematic forays blessed by the Harryhausen imagination, you get several worlds for the price of one, and considering the costs associated with bringing a family brood to the movies (not too bad in 1960 but brutal in 2016), it’s quite the magical bargain. Directed by Jack Sher, who co-wrote the screenplay with Arthur Ross, and also featuring Jo Morrow, Gregoire Aslan, Basil Sydney, Peter Bull and Martin Benson, The 3 Worlds of Gulliver on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray offers the movie first the first time in home video in its original 1.66 theatrical exhibition format, along with an alternate modified 1.78 version, plus the thrilling Herrmann score on an Isolated Track, a new Audio Commentary analysis/appreciation by Film Historians Randall Cook, C. Courtney Joyner, and Steven C. Smith, and The Making of The 3 Worlds of Gulliver and The Harryhausen Chronicles featurettes. Be Jonathan Swift in seeking out this charmingly delightful December 13 arrival. Preorders open this Wednesday, November 30.