Willis O'Brien Special Effects Genius
by Steve Archer. McFarland.
Hardback. 226 pages. £29.95
review by Kip Jenkins
I was really looking forward to this one,
especially as I had obtained it for less than half price in the bargain section of
Zwimmers in London. Unfortunately, what I got fell far below my anticipation, although,
this time it was not due to any inaccuracies or errors, but because Willis O'Brien's pioneering and varied career
is breezed through without much attention given to detail.
O'Brien's earliest animation credits The Dinosaur and the Missing Link
(1915), THE BIRTH OF A FLIVVER (1916), R.F.D. 10,000 B.C. (1917), MORPHEUS
MIKE (1917) and Prehistoric Poultry (1917)
are afforded only the briefest paragraphs which is surprising when you consider that the
author has actually viewed these early works.
The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1919) is treated
with a little more respect, but when we come to two of O'Brien's most acclaimed works, The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933), all the reader is presented with is a long and
involved story synopsis which seems to be very academic considering that anyone with just
a passing interest in O'Brien would already be aware of the plot of these film classics.
Hands up all those who know the story of KING KONG!?!
Briskly we run through Son of Kong (1933) and THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII
(1935) until we reach THE DANCING PIRATE (1936) a romantic musical for which
O'Brien only had a minor participation, but even here Archer has only written that it was
his first colour film. Ironically Archer credits another source and practically puts pay
to his book with one sentence, "Don Shay's excellent biographical article, 'Willis
O'Brien-Creator of the Impossible' which gives a more detailed account than is possible
What is going on? This is supposed to be a book length study of Willis O'Brien.
The majority of this book is devoted to
chronicling O'Brien's unrealised film projects and his storyboard ideas for television
which were mainly for sports programmes. The last chapter is perhaps the most concise with
a list of producers, directors and fellow technicians of which Archer indulgently includes
himself, raising even more questions as to the lack of detail.
My main grievance is that I expected more
than I got. Maybe this is my own fault, but I found Archer's work, even as a source of
reference, deeply unsatisfying.
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