Release Date(s)1969 (March 14, 2017)
Studio(s)Warner Bros. - Seven Arts (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C-
The most important aspect about 1969’s The Valley of Gwangi is that it’s Ray Harryhausen firing on all cylinders, doing some of his most creative work. A leftover project that King Kong stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien was never able to realize, Harryhausen felt great honor in finally being able to complete it. Essentially a western with prehistoric creatures thrown in, eventually threatening to terrorize a small Mexican village, The Valley of Gwangi was also Harryhausen’s last swing at animating dinosaurs, doing some of the finest work of his career.
Producer Charles H. Schneer, who worked with Ray Harryhausen on a number of other projects, put the production together with director Jim O’Connolly, who also directed films like Berserk! and Tower of Evil. Although the similarly-premised The Beast of Hollow Mountain was made 13 years earlier, The Valley of Gwangi was a far superior film in nearly every way. Besides Harryhausen’s efforts, the story and the performances, including those from James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson, and Laurence Naismith, were much better. The most talked-about sequence in the film involves the roping of a tyrannosaurus by cowboys on horseback, which was a multi-layered effect that’s still impressive to this day. It’s one of many moments that makes The Valley of Gwangi less of a stop-motion institution, and more of a pioneering piece of work.
Warner Archive debuts The Valley of Gwangi on Blu-ray with a beautiful and stable transfer with high levels of detail. The stop-motion and rear screen projected sequences are obviously softer than the rest of film, but regardless, this is a much sharper presentation. Mild flicker is apparent throughout, but is relatively mild in the scheme of things. Color reproduction is often lush with deep black levels, revealing abundant shadow detail, while skin tones are well-represented. Overall brightness and contrast levels are practically perfect and the presentation itself is quite clean with only mild speckling leftover. By comparison, it’s also much brighter and crisper than its DVD-R counterpart. I’m also aware of the controversial color grading issues, specifically the day for night sequences which are different than previous home video versions. Which version is accurate, I really don’t know, so I’m going to choose to overlook it and appreciate Warner Archive’s efforts for what they are. The audio is presented via an English 2.0 mono DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a fairly narrow presentation with dated tendencies, but there’s plenty of good separation without distortion, dropouts, hiss, or crackle. Dialogue is clean and clear while sound effects and score have an ample amount of breathing room. No real complaints here either.
The extras are brief, but you do get what was included on Warner Archive’s previous DVD-R release. This includes the 8-minute featurette Return to the Valley, which features Harryhausen speaking about making the film, as well as several other folks from Industrial Light and Magic who were inspired by both him and the film; Gwangi & Vanessa, which was previously an Easter egg in which Harryhausen recounts an amusing incident involving one of his stop-motion models and his young daughter; and finally, the original theatrical trailer, presented in HD.
For Ray Harryhausen fans, finally having The Valley of Gwangi in such high quality is reason enough to celebrate. In an age when most of his films are currently getting large, deluxe Blu-ray releases through overseas companies like Indicator/Powerhouse Films, the U.S. has been a bit lackadaisical about releasing anything here. Thankfully that will change in the months and years to come. I count myself amongst the stop-motion fan base, old and new, and seeing The Valley of Gwangi in high definition makes for a wonderful experience.
- Tim Salmons