BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review
- Published Date
- by Loron Hays
Ray Harryhausen’s work doesn’t age. That statement is best understood after viewing Warner Bros Archive’s blu-ray release of The Valley of Gwangi. In the years since it’s release, many have seen and appreciated it for the wild adventure that is. That was not; however, always the case. Finally finished after a figurative sea change in Hollywood when it came to style and substance had occurred, for far too long the movie was casually dismissed and tossed aside.
Its arrival on blu-ray is long past due.
Directed by Jim O'Connolly and written by William Bast, there are few films as influential as The Valley of Gwanji when it comes to thrilling anti-hero antics and special effects. The filmmaking community – for an entire generation – was dazzled by the visual thrill of cowboys lassoing dinosaurs and the film’s influence can be seen in everything from Jurassic Park to Cowboys & Aliens and the artists who worked on these films studied each and every frame to understand the what and the how in Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations.
The Valley of Gwangi is based on an original idea from a scrapped project by Harryhausen’s mentor, Willis O'Brien. He is, of course, the man behind the stop-motion effects in King Kong itself. Harryhausen, who perfected what O’Brien began, was a certifiable star himself by the time this film began life. He was acting through the amazing creations he brought to life; each possessing a character all its own. Audiences loved it, especially the kids. The intricacy in his work was often taken for granted, though, and that didn’t change with the arrival of this movie in 1969.
Sadly, by this time, few still cared about Dynamation in Hollywood and, yes, this was the final in his dinosaur-themed pictures.
Aping King Kong a bit, The Valley of Gwangi focuses on the discovery, theft, and repercussions of introducing an unusual creature into modern society and daring to go into its territory of really big creatures to feature it in a circus. This time, though, everything starts because of something really tiny. It is a miniature horse named El Diablo. This creature - a prehistoric Eohippus as revealed by a British paleontologist – was originally stolen from a treacherous valley in Mexico that local gypsies warn outsiders of with tall tales of weird, scaly creatures. Turns out, their tales are facts and the members of a struggling rodeo are about to ride straight into the adventure of a lifetime.
The film stars James Franciscus as Tuck, Gila Golan as T.J., Richard Carlson as Champ, Laurence Naismith as Professor Bromley, and Curtis Arden as Lope, the orphaned boy who gets carried away by a pteranodon once the group invades the Forbidden Valley. You want to talk about the Wild West? No place is any wilder than that valley.
Full of all sorts of jaw-snapping dinosaurs, the show-stopping cowboys at the center of this rodeo are about to get one hell of a big top; it’s not everyday that an Allosaurus gets roped. And it is this scene – in which Harryhausen combines live-action with intricate animation skills – and creates a truly unforgettable cinematic wonder, that has grown in influence to become the benchmark of important and lasting visual effects. Many visual artists have studied this scene to help with their own understanding of the articulation their own work must have and Harryhausen, who honestly creates one of his most fully realized monsters with Gwangi, does not disappoint.
Unfortunately, The Valley of Gwangi was dead upon arrival at the theaters across the nation. Warner Bros – already bored by genre movies – had moved on. They didn’t spend money to advertise its release. Even the director, as eventually reported by those who were there, checked out half way through the shoot and was content to let Harryhausen direct.
Somehow, though, the movie rose above the obstacles. It gained respect in the years that followed its abysmal rollout. Whether through word of mouth or repeated television viewings, the movie found an appreciative audience and all of that is due to the wondrous creations that Harryhausen brought to life.
With this release from Warner Bros Archive Collection, Gwangi the Great returns!!!
MPAA Rating: G.
Runtime: 96 mins
Director: Jim O'Connolly
Writer: William Bast
Cast: James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson
Genre: Action | Sci-fi
Tagline: Cowboys Battle Monsters in the Lost World of Forbidden Valley.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Professor, there's a big lizard back there and he's heading this way. Now get aboard!"
Theatrical Distributor: Warner Brothers/Seven Arts
Release Date: September 3, 1969
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: March 14, 2017
Synopsis: Cowboy James Franciscus seeks fame and fortune by capturing a Tyrannosaurus Rex living in the Forbidden Valley and putting it in a Mexican circus. His victim, called the Gwangi, turns out to have an aversion to being shown in public. Another film featuring the stop-action special effects talents of Ray Harryhausen.
Home Video Distributor: Warner Archive Collection
Available on Blu-ray - March 17, 2017
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc
Region Encoding: Region A
The detailed-rich beauty of Harryhausen’s dinosaurs and elephants looks great in 1080p and is reason enough to celebrate this release from Warner’s Archive Collection. This is a dual-layered treatment with a highly charged bitrate and, hands down, is easily as good as the film has ever looked. There is a tightness and depth - skin tones and colors look balanced – and those hoping for a closer look at Harryhausen’s creations will appreciate the transfer’s attention to detail. The only real issue is that the high resolution further isolates opticals that already dated the release. Contrast is layered with no noise or damage and overall the video is quite solid. The linear 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix does a competent job of exporting the film's sound and score without being weak.
- Included in this release is a ported over is an 8-minute featurette that covers the making of the movie. Harryhausen, via an archival interview, talks about the movie and its creations. A trailer is also included.
- Return to the Valley (8 min)
- Theatrical Trailer