Listen to Austin 360 Radio

New discs pay tribute to original 'Titans'

John DeFore

Later this month, Hollywood's CGI-remake virus will infect its latest victim, the Greek mytho-adventure "Clash of the Titans." Naturally, the remake's arrival means a new chance to sell the original: DVD and Blu-ray editions of the 1981 "Clash" landed in stores this week, letting sword-and-sandal fans revel in old-school special effects one last time before seeing what Louis Leterrier, director of the amped-up "Transporter" and "Hulk" sequels, does in his revision.

"Clash" is to some fans the finest showcase for the genius of Ray Harryhausen, the animator who made Medusa's snake-hair writhe and gave Perseus a winged Pegasus to ride. But it's just one look at an artist-technician whose work is well represented on disc.

Most of Harryhausen's oeuvre can be found in two sibling box sets, called "The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen," released by Sony in 2004.

Neatly dividing his creative prime into two halves, one box offers fantasies based mostly on mythology while the other contains classic sci-fi yarns with thrilling names like "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers."

A company called Sparkhill has put out a disc of very early shorts Harryhausen made in the '40s and '50s, based on such stories as "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Rapunzel," but the Sony sets are the main event, showing how Ray's invention of a technique called Dynamation helped him put humans and stop-motion puppets into action together without exceeding his low budgets.

From a giant, tentacled beast attacking the Golden Gate Bridge to those iconic armies of sword-wielding skeletons, the movies here are must-sees even when the acting is laughably dated.

Given their age, it's surprising how many of Harryhausen's films are already on Blu-ray. (Maybe that's not so surprising, because the rights are controlled by Sony, the format's key backer.) Four of the best-known titles were boxed up together in 2008 for a "Ray Harryhausen Collection" offering a bit of Sinbad with the sci-fi. The movies look great, and if increased resolution makes it easier to see how the effects magic was made, that only adds to their charm.

Harryhausen's mentor and most important predecessor, Wills O'Brien, is also easy to find in video stores, thanks to his involvement in a little movie called "King Kong."

Giant monkeys overshadow all else in O'Brien's career, and they're all on hand in a "King Kong Collection" box (Warner) containing the original film, "Son of Kong," and kissing cousin "Mighty Joe Young." (The boxed release might be hard to find these days, but each title is sold individually.)

O'Brien made one great monster-rampage film before "Kong," the 1925 "Jurassic Park" ancestor "The Lost World." Image Entertainment released an edition of this entertaining adventure back in 2001, but it's also on disc as a Fox double-feature with the 1960 remake by Irwin Allen.

Finally, lest anyone suggest that the moving-puppet magic of O'Brien and Harryhausen is a dead language in the age of "Mummy" remakes and CGI battlefields, at least one 2009 film would beg to differ: Wes Anderson's thoroughly delightful, happily old-tech "Fantastic Mr. Fox" should be in stores before the dust settles from all those titans' battles.