Celebrating Ray Harryhausen and lifelong journeys to ‘Mysterious Island’

It was that giant crab that started it.

The fact that it was followed by a prehistoric chicken-bird, a human-sized bee with a honeycomb so large it could trap two people in one of its cells, and a deadly giant cephalopod all in the same film was almost too good to be true.

Of course, none of what happened in the 1961 film “Mysterious Island” was true, but it was riveting to watch nonetheless. Those fantastic beasts didn’t even come from the Jules Verne novel that was the source material for the film.

Michael Callan and Beth Rogan are trapped in a honeycomb by a giant bee in “Mysterious Island.”

Instead, they were from the fertile imagination of Ray Harryhausen who magically brought them to life as a way to improve on the novel’s basic idea of “how to survive on an island” by “incorporating strange creatures” in the movie, as he explained in an interview on the movie’s DVD.

I can’t imagine the film without them.

In celebration of the centennial of his birth (June 29, 1920), it’s fitting to honor Ray Harryhausen, a filmmaker and artist who has inspired me, entertained me and given me giant reasons to return to “Mysterious Island.”

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Although I didn’t know it at the time, “Mysterious Island” was my introduction to Harryhausen. Later, when I understood that Harryhausen was the connection between those creatures and others in films like “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (1953) and “Mighty Joe Young” (1949), I sought out more of his films. (Didn’t we all?)

The giant octopus from “It Came From Beneath the Sea” was awesome.

“It Came from Beneath the Sea” (1955) and the very cool giant octopus; “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958) and its Cyclops; “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963) with such wonders as the Hydra and the living skeletons; “20 Million Miles to Earth” (1957) and the Ymir; “Clash of the Titans” (1981) with the triple hit of Pegasus, Medusa and the Kraken; and the dinosaur films like “One Million Years B.C.” (1966) and “Valley of Gwangi” (1969).

Honestly, I love them all. But if there is only one Harryhausen film I can choose, it is and always will be “Mysterious Island” for a personal reason – it’s our family film.

Dad introduced me to “Mysterious Island” as a kid. We watched it over and over and enjoyed it with the same enthusiasm on each viewing. We always did that thing where one of us would look at the other before every key “entrance” (i.e., creature) in the film.

The castaways are attacked by a beast that looks like a giant chicken in “Mysterious Island.” Ray Harryhausen modeled it after the prehistoric flightless bird Phorusrhacos.

Later, when my twin nephews were about the same age as I was when I was introduced to the film (about 8 or so), we all watched it together. Repeatedly. (Clearly, “Mysterious Island” is a film that works best on repeat.)

Multiple generations of our family were swept away to the mysterious island of Harryhausen’s imagination. Dad loved it and so did I. I might have been young, but was still thrilled at turning kids on to a film that I loved, just as dad did for me. Time passed. Great nephews Tyler and Matthew came along. Guess what we watched together? Continue reading “Celebrating Ray Harryhausen and lifelong journeys to ‘Mysterious Island’”