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The Ray Harryhausen Double Feature(1935-1936)
Includes She (1935) Things to Come (1936) on BD, plus The Most Dangerous Game (1932) as a DVD extra.
For more about The Ray Harryhausen Double Feature and the The Ray Harryhausen Double Feature Blu-ray release, see the The Ray Harryhausen Double Feature Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 28, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Helen Gahagan, Randolph Scott, Nigel Bruce, Helen Mack, Gustav von Seyffertitz
Director: Irving Pichel
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
The Ray Harryhausen Double Feature Blu-ray Review
Well, maybe non-Harryhausen triple feature is more like it.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 28, 2011
Note: the scores above are averages spread over the three films in this set. See below for more detailed information on each individual title.
Aside from the fact that this new Legend Films release has only the most tangential connection to Ray Harryhausen, and the fact that it actually contains three films (two on the Blu-ray and one on the "bonus" DVD), the title Ray Harryhausen Double Feature is completely appropriate. Ahem. Harryhausen is of course the special effects wizard who raised stop motion animation to an art form in everything from Mighty Joe Young to the original Clash of the Titans. Younger audience members who have been raised only on the picture perfect, smooth and shiny world of CGI may look at Harryhausen's achievements as the quaint relics of a bygone age, but those who are old enough to have either seen a Harryhausen film theatrically or, perhaps more likely, broadcast on Saturday afternoons on their local television stations, can attest to the real magic that was felt by young eyes witnessing unbelievable sights like a coterie of human skeletons come to life or the thrilling exploits of adventurers battling a mammoth sea crab. Harryhausen's achievements rank with the very finest special effects accomplishments of the twentieth (and dare I say, twenty-first) century, and he is a one of a kind artist who remains down to earth and accessible despite his enormous (and deserved reputation). So what exactly is this Ray Harryhausen Double Feature? It's two films on Blu-ray which Harryhausen supervised the colorization of (you Harryhausen fans will recall that some of Harryhausen's own black and white films underwent colorizing on Blu-ray, with Harryhausen's full approval and even input), those two being She (1935) and Things to Come (1936). 1932's The Most Dangerous Game is included on standard definition on the accompanying DVD. All three films are offered in their original black and white presentations, as well as colorized versions using Legend Films' proprietary colorization technology. Controversy of course still rages over whether anyone should consider colorizing old black and white films to begin with, but it needs to be stated clearly that Harryhausen himself is obviously very much approving of the process, and evidently specifically approached Legend to colorize She in particular, and also apparently Things to Come as well. It should also be stated that it's quite clear that (for better or worse) Legend takes its colorizing very seriously, as evidenced by comments by Legend's President Dr. Barry Sandrew on a couple of included featurettes as well as copious public statements Sandrew has made over the years. As much as some may dislike colorizing (and truth be told, I'm not especially fond of it myself), Legend's approach tends to be a bit less hyperbolic than some other colorizing entities, and in fact many of their colorized properties don't have the slathered-on, overly bright look that a lot of colorized films do. While the packaging of this set states that all three films were sourced from 35mm elements, Sandrew has stated that for the DVD release of Things to Come a 16mm print was utilized, and that certainly seems to be the case here (though I am in contact with Legend about this issue and will update the review if I find out otherwise).
Aside from the colorizing aspect, two of the three films here have another connection to Harryhausen. She and The Most Dangerous Game were both either produced, co-produced or co-directed by Merian C. Cooper, one of Harryhausen's chief mentors and the man who helped launch Harryhausen's career with such films as Mighty Joe Young. The odd film out, as it were, is Things to Come, a 1936 Alexander Korda production directed by the legendary William Cameron Menzies. All three films have spotty home video histories, all having lapsed into public domain at one point or another (revisions of copyright laws meant some actually reentered copyright protection along the way). She has probably been the most neglected of the three titles in terms of home video releases, and the good news is it's by far the best looking of the three transfers offered on this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.
She tells the story of two intrepid explorers played by Randolph Scott and Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films) who set out to discover a mysterious lost land. The film rather radically reinvents author H. Rider Haggard's original source novel, changing the locale from Africa to the Arctic, and introducing several characters and/or relationships which weren't in the book. This rather bizarre fantasy combines elements of Lost Horizon and (of all things) The Mummy, positing an enchanted land where people can live forever but working in a potent subplot dealing with reincarnation. The explorers are ushered into a cavernous realm which is overseen by an enigmatic goddess figure named Ayesha (Helen Gahagan), a goddess who believes that the Scott character is her reincarnated lover for whom she's been waiting—well, let's just say for a good, long while. The film is patently silly, but actually rather enjoyable, and it boasts impressive production design and special effects for its day. Trivia lovers should note this is the only film appearance of Helen Gahagan, a woman who married actor Melvyn Douglas, renamed herself Helen Gahagan Douglas and became one of the first women elected to the United States House of Representatives. Gahagan Douglas became infamous in the 1950s when Richard Nixon, who was running against her for a California Senate seat, branded her a "fellow traveler" with Communists. Gahagan Douglas' promising political career was cut short and she largely retired, occasionally working on television. Another fascinating trivia note about She is that Gahagan Douglas' character provided the inspiration for the character design of the Evil Queen in Disney's Snow White.
Things to Come is a fascinating relic, but unfortunately the film has been so badly treated by the ravages of time that it's sometimes hard to appreciate what a significant experience it is, at least from a production design standpoint. Written by the iconic H.G. Wells, the film is a look into the then-future, positing events from 1940 to 2036, and not painting a very rosy picture for Mankind's prospects. Wells rather presciently begins the film at Christmastime 1940 with war erupting on his fictional "Everytown" in England (an obvious stand-in for London). In Wells' vision, World War II (as it would become known in "real life") goes on for decades, wreaking havoc and destruction, ushering in a new black plague, and spelling doom for both the well meaning and the more nefariously motivated. The film features Raymond Massey as two generations of the heroic Cabal family, one member circa 1940 and another, his descendant, in the future. Wells doesn't really evoke an Orwellian or Huxleyian future controlled by an omnipresent government, and instead racks up most of Mankind's troubles to its penchant for fighting, though there is an overlord of sorts in the future, delightfully named Boss (Ralph Richardson). Things to Come is a rather potent anti-war screed which has several powerful elements, and it has some of the most commanding production design of its era (no surprise, considering Menzies' involvement). Unfortunately, the film was repeatedly edited after its original screenings, and this version preserves one of the shorter running times of around 92 minutes or so, making some of the film a bit hard to follow.
The Most Dangerous Game was shot simultaneously with King Kong and features two of the ape movie's stars, Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong, in a tale that has become legendary and oft-parodied since, with a group of hapless castaways washing up on an island ruled over by a madman who likes to big game hunt—washed up castaways. (The island-ruling madman became something of a 1930s trope after the huge success of The Most Dangerous Game. For another take on this idea, try to catch the early Technicolor feature Ebb Tide, Paramount's second color film, starring a luminous Frances Farmer, stalwart Ray Milland, just plain weird Oscar Homolka and a rather oddly cast Lloyd Nolan as that film's island bound madman). The Most Dangerous Game is brisk and to the point, and as such doesn't tend to fall into the camptastic heights of She or the more melodramatic aspects of Things to Come. Joel McCrea makes an appealing, if somewhat unlikely, action hero and you can have a rather productive drinking game by taking a swig every time Fay Wray emits a quick, sharp scream in the film. It's silly fun, to be sure, but it remains surprisingly exciting to this day, with a couple of really creepy turns by Leslie Banks and Noble Johnson (who also turns up in She).
The Ray Harryhausen Double Feature Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Ray Harryhausen Double Feature is presented on Blu-ray by Legend Films with AVC encoded 1080p transfers in 1.33:1. Results on this package are a mixed bag, to say the least. The good news is that She really looks quite good, at least most of the time, with a largely damage free print, decent contrast and an acceptably sharp and well detailed image. Some noise filtering has been applied but it hasn't given the film a smeary, waxy look. There is an interpolated reel at around 43 minutes which was obviously sourced from 16mm and that is decidedly softer and grainier than the bulk of this film, which was sourced from 35mm. (Why this reel was cut at one point is a little strange, since it has some salient plot points. You'll notice Harryhausen and Vaz's commentary track also stops abruptly at this point, indicating that this "lost" reel must have been found and reinserted after the commentary had been recorded). Things to Come has never looked very good on any home video release I've seen in the United States, most if not all of which have been sourced from 16mm. (There's evidently a quite nice looking DVD available in the UK which has been sourced from a rare 35mm print of the slightly longer version). Some cleanup has obviously been done to this title by Legend, so I don't want to sound too churlish, but it is still a pretty ragged looking affair, with overblown contrast leading to a considerable loss of detail in many shots. The first reel looks the worst here, and things actually have some decent pop and black levels as we get further into the film. Perhaps a bit surprisingly, The Most Dangerous Game, presented in standard definition on the accompanying DVD, looks pretty darned spry. I did a side by side comparison with my Criterion DVD of this title, and the Legend Films version actually holds up remarkably well in comparison. In fact the first reel or so of the Legend is cleaner and less scratched with fewer missing frames, but it does not sport the lustrous contrast of the Criterion version.
Note: I've included screencaps of both the black and white and color versions of the films for comparison sake. Odd numbered screencaps are from She and even numbered from Things to Come.
The Ray Harryhausen Double Feature Blu-ray, Audio Quality
All three of these films are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono) mixes and for the most part the films sound acceptable if not outstanding. All three of these films are graced with incredible scores, especially She, which features one of the legendary Max Steiner's most iconic works. All of the films suffer from occasional pops and clicks (Things to Come is the worst in this regard), with noticeable drop off in the extreme higher registers. But given the age of the films and prints utilized for source elements, things could be a lot worse. Dialogue is fairly cleanly presented, and though the soundtracks are narrow and thin sounding by today's standards, if these films are listened to with reasonable expectations, no one should be overly disappointed with the audio presentations included here. It obviously would have been great to have heard the BD films with uncompressed audio (especially with regard to She), but these Dolby tracks are fine within their own limitations.
The Ray Harryhausen Double Feature Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Ray Harryhausen Double Feature Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Purists may rant and rave about colorizing, but Sandrew is on record as stating his colorized versions create much more revenue for Legend than the original black and white versions do, so in a way the marketplace has already spoken. This is a bargain priced set which offers a really well above average looking She and The Most Dangerous Game, and a fair to middling Things to Come. One may question the relevance of naming this set The Ray Harryhausen Double Feature, but for this cleaned up She alone, the set is Recommended.
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