A visit to the Ray Harryhausen: Mythical Menagerie exhibit in Oklahoma City
I recently took a driving tour of the American Midwest and southwest, seeking out key points of interest along the way. One of the primary reasons for this excursion was to see a special, temporary exhibit currently housed in the “smART space” gallery at the Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. This exhibit is called “Ray Harryhausen – Mythical Menagerie.”
First, a word about the museum itself. It is a veritable wonderland and it is huge. Don’t go unless you plan to spend the day there. There is too much to see and do. Even though many of the exhibits and activities are geared towards children, my lovely better half and I, who don’t have any ankle-biters of our own and didn’t bring any with us, ended up having to rush towards closing time just to see everything on display there. It is as fine an attraction as I have ever visited, and I’ve been to a lot of museums.
Even with all the cool things to see and do, such as a planetarium, a display of human remains (not at all ghoulish or even disturbing, but presented in an educational, respectful manner), a collection of airplanes (housed inside!), and botanical gardens, the real attraction for me, the reason for my discovering the museum in the first place, was Harry.
Surely I don’t need to explain to anyone who Ray Harryhausen was, do I? Or just how important was the role he played in shaping cinema and popular culture? Even today, when CGI has largely replaced stop-motion animatronics, Harryhausen is rightfully credited as a pioneer and a trailblazer. I’ll go one better: the man is a legend. And for someone like me, who grew up watching Harryhausen movies, to be able to see, in person and up close, many of the actual models ray created and used in those films was nothing less than breathtaking. It was magical. It was almost a religious experience.
Only a small percentage of Ray’s models were present (and by “small percentage” I mean about 150 pieces, including many of Ray’s original storyboards for his films) but the exhibit featured some true “superstars.” Bubo the Owl from Clash of the Titans was there, both the full-sized and the miniature models, as were Medusa (perhaps my favorite piece overall), Pegasus, Calibos, and the Kraken. The Skeleton Warriors from Jason and the Argonauts (one of which actually made its appearance in the earlier film The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) were there, along with the Hydra (okay, maybe that one was my favorite) and one of the Furies.
Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts are my favorites from the Harryhausen filmography, but I also have much love for the Sinbad movies, and there were models aplenty from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Representing the former were the Troglodyte, the Minoton, the Three Ghouls, and the Saber-toothed Tiger, while the Centaur, The Roc (minus its skin and feathers!), the Dragon, the Cyclops, and the Griffin, among others, were there courtesy of the latter two.
Say what you will about the acting, or lack thereof, in these movies, or Harry Hamlin’s hair in Clash of the Titans. The real stars of a Ray Harryhausen picture are the creatures and monsters. The human players are just there as set dressing.
There were a few pieces I would have loved to have seen but they were missing, like the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth. Alas, that particular model was cannibalized to make Sinbad‘s Cyclops! (In a sense, then, the Ymir was there.) None of the spacecraft from Earth vs. The Flying Saucers were there, either, but it was the creatures I most wanted to see. All the pieces are on loan from the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, and the museum exhibit is the first in the United States since The Master’s death in 2013. I would drive halfway across the country to have seen it, and in fact I did just that. If you, also, would like to experience this amazing opportunity, though, you’d better hurry. The exhibit is only open through early December!
If you would like more information regarding the Ray Harryhausen: Mythical Menagerie exhibit, visit the official site here.
Image credits The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation.