Harryhausen, O’Brien Favorites on DVD

The DVD debut of the Indiana Jones trilogy may be the day’s big home video news, but fans of visual effects and stop-motion animation will enjoy three long-awaited releases of films by legendary EFX masters Ray Harryhausen and his mentor, Willis O’Brien. The 1981 fantasy epic Dragonsalyer and the first season of SpongeBob also highlight the day’s releases.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms 50th Anniversary Edition offers a special look at the 1953 atomic monster classic conceived by sci-fi author Ray Bradbury and brought to life by Harryhausen’s genius. Directed by Paul Hubschmid, the film stars Kenneth Tobey, Donald Woods, Lee Van Cleef and Paula Raymond. The extras menu includes a featurette in which Harryhausen and Bradbury discuss the film’s climatic sequence involving the title Rhedosauras and a rollercoaster. There’s also a featurette titled Harryhausen and Bradbury: An Unfathomable Friendship, as well as previews for other Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen creature favorites. The Warner Home Video release lists for $19.98.

Warner Home Video today also unleashes a DVD version of what is arguably one of the best dinosaur movies of all time. The Valley of Gwangi (1969) stars James Franciscus, Gila Golan and Richard Carlson but Harryhausen’s animation (and a ton of it) takes center stage in this yarn about cowboys and prehistoric beasts. Extras include the Harryhausen-hosted featurette Return to the Valley, as well as footage from a dinosaur sequence Harryhausen animated for Irwin Allen’s 1956 film The Animal World and previews of other Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen creature features. It carries a suggested retail price of $19.98.

Harryhausen also shows up to discuss the work of his mentor on Warner’s DVD release of The Black Scorpion (1957). The film has Richard Denning and Mara fighting off a giant scorpion brought to life by legendary King Kong animator Willis O’Brien and fellow technician Pete Peterson. In addition to the show-and-tell featurette with Harryhausen, the disc features vintage scorpion animation test footage, a featurette titled Stop Motion Masters, Irwin Allen’s The Animal World, Peterson’s rarely seen Las Vegas Monster and Beetlemen animation test footage and previews to other Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen creature favorites. It lists for $19.98.

In a long-overdue move, Paramount today releases Dragonslayer for the first time on DVD. Ralph Richardson and a young Peter MacNicol (Ally McBeal) star in this genre favorite about a budding sorcerer who goes up against a fire-breathing dragon. Phil Tippett, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston and Brian Johnson created the definitive screen dragon through a combination of stop-motion and go-motion animation, and earned the film a 1981 Academy Award nomination for special effects (it lost to Raiders of the Lost Ark). It would be nice to get some making-of info here, but it looks like we’ll have to wait for the Special Edition as no extras are listed. The disc carries a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Also from Paramount comes SpongeBob SquarePants: Wave 1 — The Complete First Season. The three-disc set contains a whopping 40 episodes from the hit Nickelodeon series. For $49.99, you also get 90 minutes of bonus material including four featurettes, three music videos, a karaoke feature, an interactive tour of Bikini Bottom and commentary on select episodes.

Last but not least is Universal’s six-disc release of Battlestar Galactica: Complete Epic Series. Included are all 24 episodes of the 1978 TV series featuring quality work by Star Wars EFX wizard John Dykstra. There is also never-before-seen footage and interviews with series creator Glen A. Larson and stars Richard Hatch, Terry Carter and Anne Lockhart. The whole set can be had for $119.98.