Interview: Arnold Kunert Talks Ray Harryhausen on Blu-ray

Sometimes, jobs come with perks. Obviously, writing about Blu-ray brings with it free Blu-rays. However, there is more to it than that. After writing a review for the recent release of the Jason and the Argonauts Blu-ray, a small comment, rather insignificant to most, was left on the post. However, I recognized the name: Arnold Kunert.

Being a self-admitted Ray Harryhausen fanboy, I knew who Kunert was immediately. I got that “giddy in a nerdy way” feeling, and Kunert replied to my e-mail confirming it was him with some very cool personal pictures he had taken with Ray back when back when Ray received his honorary Oscar. Surely there are those of you still asking who Kunert is exactly, so let’s let him put it out there in his own words:

“I am a producer, writer, director of documentaries (voice actor Daws Butler, writer-director Budd Boetticher, e.g.) and DVD special features, but my most recent work has been almost exclusively as producer. When Ray Harryhausen was able to visit the United States, between his early 1980s retirement and February 2008, I acted as his agent, setting up panels, book signings, interviews, special appearances, etc. In both 2004 and 2006, I handled his nationwide book tours to promote “Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life” (2004) and “The Art of Ray Harryhausen” (2006). I take pride in the fact that I gave Ray and his co-author both the idea and title for the second book, but I am not acknowledged in the book’s credits. Such is life!

“I can console myself by remembering that I was responsible for a number of other projects for which Ray Harryhausen is most grateful: A Lifetime Achievement Oscar; a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; honorary awards from such diverse organizations as the American Film Institute, The Visual Effects Society, The Art Directors Guild, and others.”

Sadly, as it turns out, Ray does not come to the US anymore, and Kunert is no longer his agent because of this. What is Ray up to these days?

“He tends to stay within driving distance of his London home and only ventures farther to visit his daughter and her husband in Scotland.”

With pleasantries out of the way, I decided to dig a little bit into the Jason and the Argonauts Blu-ray release. Kunert had little to do with it, but had plenty to say on the subject, while providing quite a bit of history:

“In 2007 and 2008, when I was producing the DVD special features and collaborating on the commentary tracks for Ray’s three colorized features (IT Came from Beneath the Sea, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles to Earth) and the 50th anniversary special edition DVD of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, I met with Sony Home Video president David Bishop to discuss a Blu-ray special edition of Jason and the Argonauts. As I had been able to do with the aforementioned DVDs, I wanted the Jason Blu-ray to consist of almost exclusively new special features. The Richard Schickel documentary, The Harryhausen Chronicles, had been originally intended to be sold as a separate unit via Rhino Video, so when it began appearing on Sony’s Harryhausen DVDs in the early 2000s along with other not-so-special features that had already been seen on laserdiscs, Ray was not very happy. Luckily, with the four DVDs from 2007 and 2008, I was able to keep the Richard Schickel documentary, a fine program to be sure, off the special features discs.

“The Jason Blu-ray was another matter entirely. Because of some conflicting projects to which I had been committed for some time, I wasn’t able to become as involved with the Jason Blu-ray as I had originally hoped. I did provide some input, but, sadly, virtually all of the special features other than the Jackson/Cook and Harryhausen/Dalton commentaries are NOT new. In fact, the footage from The Harryhausen Legacy segment was originally shot in 2004 for my 2005 two-disc DVD, Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection.

“If any of Ray’s films should have had entirely new special features, Jason was the one. I am very sorry that this turned out not to be the case.”

Even after all of that, there was still a lingering question, brought up by a member on AVS Forum concerning the Harpy sequence in Jason. On the Criterion Laserdisc, which was supervised by Harryhausen, this sequence appears at night, color corrected from the day for night shoot. Why would the Sony Blu-ray not use the same master? Does Criterion own the rights to that specific master somehow?

“According to Ray, the Criterion print is the only one that has come close to his original intentions with the harpy sequence. Criterion cannot hold the rights to it because it has always been a Columbia Pictures product. Again, according to Ray, the harpy sequence and, I believe, the hydra sequence, were both planned as day for night sequences and were first seen that way in the 1963 release. No one, including Ray, seems to know how both sequences eventually became brighter over the years. I think the first indication that something was wrong occurred with the first VHS release.”

While seemingly knowledgeable, Kunert did want to note that statement is heresay, so it should be taken as such. I debated even putting it in here, but since it’s the only explanation at this time, at least it offers some idea as to what happened. Don’t take that as fact.

Kunert also wanted to talk about another one his accomplishments, this one regarding Earth vs. The Flying Saucers:

“One of the things of which I am most proud is that I was able to get screenwriter Bernard Gordon’s name on the front credits of the 2008 DVD (and Blu-ray) of Harryhausen’s 1956 Earth vs. the Flying Saucers after more than 50 years of neglect. Bernie was blacklisted during the middle 1950s, so his real name could not be put on the credits for anything he wrote and sold during that time. Although Charles Schneer was interested in hiring Bernie, he was not allowed to use the names of any blacklisted writers on his films. So, Bernie used his pseudonym. Ironically, Bernie also wrote the screenplay for Hellcats of the Navy, also produced by Charlie Schneer, and the only film in which both Ronald and Nancy Reagan ever appeared together on screen. Bernie always got a kick out of telling people that he was responsible for the Hellcats screenplay. Bernie didn’t live long enough to see his name on the credits, having died only a few months before the final decision was approved by Sony, but I was able to show the corrected credits to his daughter Ellen prior to the DVD’s release.”

Thanks Arnold!