It's rare that a movie is known more for its special effects creator than its director or actors, but that's the way it's always been with the work of Ray Harryhausen – whose stop-motion techniques not only thrilled audiences, but inspired many of today's special effects wizards.
The Ray Harryhausen Gift Set is a collection of three of the earliest theatrical movies that Harryhausen worked on: It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955); Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956): and 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957). So while this is far from the definitive Harryhausen collection, it's a good introduction to his work for interested fans who may not already own the films in this set. These are the exact same DVDs that have been released previously by Sony Pictures as individual titles – so if you already own them, there's no need to upgrade to this set.
For those not familiar with the movies (all of which, incidentally, are in black & white – less you be deceived by the color box covers for each title), It Came From Beneath The Sea features a giant octopus attacking the Golden Gate Bridge; Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers has spaceships destroying Washington, D.C.; and 20 Million Miles To Earth features a monster from Venus who winds up fighting off troops on top of the Coliseum in Rome during the movie's climax.
All three of these films can basically be classified as "B-Movie" monster pictures – with the storylines and acting not nearly as interesting as watching Harryhausen's stunning effects (which personally I always felt looked a bit better in his B&W pictures than in his later color ones – where it became more obvious that the creatures were inserted into the films separately from the actors). Yes, by today's standards they look rather cheesy – but as crude as some of the effects look, there's a love and passion put into each of Harryhausen's models that one just doesn't get in today's computer-generated special effects, regardless of how "real" they appear by comparison.
As noted above, all three of the movies are in B&W, and there is some slight film grain and dirt evident on all three of the pictures. However, the transfer is still remarkably sharp for movies that were made in the 50's, and all but the most discerning DVD viewers should be quite happy with the transfers here.
Each movie is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, with a fullscreen option available only on the 20 Million Miles To Earth DVD.
Each movie comes with 2.0 Dolby, and is more than adequate for these pictures. While "purists" may be upset that the original mono tracks are not an option, most shouldn't be disappointed with the audio.
Subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Thai are available on both It Came From Beneath The Sea and Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, while 20 Million Miles To Earth offers only English and French subtitles.
All three of the DVDs in this set contain the wonderful 1997 documentary on Harryhausen entitled The Harryhausen Chronicles. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy and featuring comments from Ray Bradbury, Dennis Muren, George Lucas and Harryhausen himself, this 58-minute pieces covers Harryhausen's career from the beginning all the way up to his last movie, 1981's Clash Of The Titans.
Each DVD also contains the 3 ½ minute short This Is Dynamation which is a promo piece that was created for the release of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
There are various Trailers on each DVD, with some repeated on the various discs. It Came From Beneath The Sea carries the trailer for the film, plus trailers for 20 Million Miles To Earth, Mysterious Island and (for some odd reason) Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers contains its trailer, plus First Men In The Moon and The 3 Worlds Of Gulliver. Finally, 20 Million Miles To Earth has its trailer, plus one for The 3 Worlds Of Gulliver.
The final bonus in this boxed set is a cool 44-page Collectible Scrapbook that contains a lot of neat photographs and excerpts from the 2003 book Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While it's a shame Sony didn't go all-out and include Harryhausen's Sinbad movies (which are available in a separate 3-pack released back in 2000), Jason And The Argonauts and some of other Harryhausen's flicks in this set, this is still a great starter-kit for a collection of Harryhausen's best work and a gift set that shouldn't be passed up by any serious movie collector.