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Jason and the Argonauts

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 16-04-2010


Arguably the most intelligently written film to feature the masterful stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen, Jason and the Argonauts is a colorful adventure that takes full advantage of Harryhausen’s “Dynarama” process. Inspired by the Greek myth, the story begins when the fearless explorer Jason (Todd Armstrong) returns to the kingdom of Thessaly to make his rightful claim to the throne, but the gods proclaim that he must first find the magical Golden Fleece. Consulting … More >>

Jason and the Argonauts

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I’ve reviewed quite a few films featuring the work of special effects artist Ray Harryhausen and found reasons to like them all, but Jason and the Argonauts (1963) features some of his most fantastic effects, and is considered to be one of the greatest fantasy pictures ever made. Would I say it’s the greatest? No, but in terms of influencing many, including a majority of special effects artists in the business today, this film is a cinematic landmark, and deserves to be treated as such. Produced by long time Harryhausen collaborator Charles Schneer (The Valley of Gwangi, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans) and directed by Don Chaffey (One Million Years B.C., Pete’s Dragon), the film stars Todd Armstrong in his biggest role, but not his voice, as that was dubbed over by Tim Turner, a British actor who did a lot of voice over work on film trailers, including the trailer for this film. Also appearing is Nancy Kovack (The Silencers), and a whole bunch of British actors including Gary Raymond (El Cid), Laurence Naismith (The Valley of Gwangi), Niall MacGinnis (Night of the Demon), Jack Gwillim (Patton), Nigel Green (Countess Dracula), and Honor Blackman (Goldfinger), to name a few.

As this fantasy epic begins, we see the plight of Jason as an infant, his father slain and kingdom usurped, as so the seemingly fickle Gods have decided. Jason grows up, returns to re-take the land and peoples that are rightfully his, only to be sent on a quest, by the Gods (geez, who died and made them Gods? Oh yeah…they ARE Gods), to recover a golden fleece, one that would bring peace and prosperity to the troubled land. Only problem is the fleece is across the world, to where no one has sailed before. To meet this goal, Jason has the finest ship built, and gathers the greatest athletes Greece has to offer, and sets out on a perilous journey that involves dangerous waters, mighty bronze titans, a deadly, multi-headed Hydra, an army of skeleton warriors (can seven really be considered an army? Maybe more like a task force…), and treachery within his own ranks, among other things (as if that wasn’t enough). The quest seems an impossible one, but with Jason’s determination, the loyalty of his men (the non-treasonous ones, of course), and even a little help from the Gods themselves, he just may be able to survive and return with the treasure to reclaim what is rightfully his, and bring and end to the tyrant reign that has plagued his lands for the past twenty odd years.

Alright, I will say some of the acting isn’t all that great (actress Kovack seems to be on some kind of depressant, as her performance is about as deadpan as I’ve seen), and some of the non-Harryhausen special effects are extremely noticeable (the matte usage in some scenes stands out a lot more than they probably would have liked), but despite these points, this is really a fun and exciting movie. There are elements of the story missing (the 2000 television CGI-laden version starring Jason London was a bit more inclusive in this respect, but lacked the charm, for me at least, of this one), but the makers of this film did manage to cram a lot into its’ 104 minute running time, and the capable direction kept the story moving along at a rousing pace, rarely slowing down, and keeping my interest. I did enjoy the sets (especially those on Mount Olympus, and I have to say, Honor Blackman makes for one sexy Goddess, playing Hera, Zeus’ wife…hotchie momma!) and the location shots where wonderful, adding a lot to the story. The Argo (the boat that carried Jason and his crew, hence the term `Argonauts’) was suitable, although that figurehead of Hera (she was one of the Gods assisting Jason) freaked me out, especially with the opening an closing of its’ eyelids. And I can’t review this film without mentioning the work of legendary Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Psycho, Taxi Driver)…well, I mentioned him…but seriously, it’s pretty rare to find a composer as `in tune’ with the material he’s working with as Herrmann (think how different Psycho would be without its’ frightening score). The best parts of the film, by far, are the stop-motion effects by Harryhausen. What makes his work so good, in my opinion, is not only his eye for meticulous detail (it would often take months to produce a 3 or 4 minute on screen segment of stop-motion work), but also his ability to create the appropriate movements for the characters he was presenting. An example within the context of the film is Talos, the bronze titan, compared to, say, the winged harpies. The character of Talos moved exactly how you would expect a giant made of bronze to move, rigid, lumbering, and generally slow, compared to the very fluid and animated movements of the winged harpies, or even the multi-headed Hydra creature. It’s the supposition of how the creatures would move, infused with the created models that set Harryhausen apart from his peers, and made him a legend in his own time, influencing so many others that came after him. It’s pretty rare to see stop-motion work in major films nowadays, as it’s been replaced with computer generated images (which is probably cheaper and less time consuming, but can often appear just as unrealistic as lesser stop-motion work).

The picture looks pretty good on this DVD, and is available in both widescreen (1.85:1) and full screen pan and scan formats. The audio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, is relatively clear throughout. Special features include subtitles (English, French, and Spanish), the original theatrical trailer, short production notes inside the case, and a lengthy interview with Ray Harryhausen conducted by John Landis, featuring clips, still photos, and even a prop or two from the films.


Rating: 5 / 5

I popped in this DVD very wary of how I would feel about an old childhood favorite after years of not seeing it. Well, I was pleasantly surprised that the film is still a lot of fun. Yes, a lot of the effects (blue screen, etc.) are unconvincing and show their age, but geeeez, the movie’s almost 40 years old so what can you expect. This was a real stunner in it’s day and Harryhausen’s stop-motion sequences still outshine any boring CGI effect in today’s cookie-cutter movies (just look at the awful recent TV remake with all those cheesy computer effects — there’s no contest!) The skeleton battle is most well-known, but I have a special fondness for Talos which was the first scene that caught my eye as a young kid on Saturday afternoon TV in the late 60’s. Glad to see that “Jason” still has it’s magic (along with some acceptable campiness) and the DVD is a nice presentation (there are some slight flaws to the print materials and grain in some scenes). The Harryhausen interview (with John Landis) is interesting and the original trailer is also included on the DVD.
Rating: 4 / 5

Don Chaffey was obstensibly the director of this movie but the mark of effects meister Ray Harryhausen is seen in almost every frame. Indeed, Harryhausen designed most of the major effects sequences for the film before a script had even been written, and as such “Jason” is almost pure Harryhausen from start to finish.

A master of drawing character from his latex and steel creations, Harryhausen’s work on this movie transcends most CGI animation work done to date and even rivals the computer character creations seen in “The Phantom Menace”. While maybe not as technically polished as the Star Wars creations are, Harryhausen’s creatures have a real sense of character and life that does much to allow the viewing audience to suspend disbelief.

Due acknowledgement must also be given to composer Bernard Herrman for a stirring score that contributes greatly to creating the “sense of wonder” that is so prevalent in this movie. His trumpeting horns in the giant statue “Talos” sequence does much to lend a sense of massive scale to the sequence.

The skeleton fight near the end of the movie will perhaps be most famous sequence ever made by Harryhausen. The “Pharoh’s undead army” sequence at the end of Universal’s “The Mummy” is a clear tribute to Harryhausen’s “Jason” skeleton sequence, and even with the flawless compositions and fluid, natural movements seen in “The Mummy” somehow don’t quite compare to Harryhausens skeletons.

“Jason and the Argonauts” is a magical, wonderful movie, to be popped into the VCR along with the “Seventh Voyage of Sinbad” for an evening of real family entertainment.
Rating: 5 / 5

One of my fondest childhood memories was to spend Christmas Eve sitting near a warm fire watching the annual screening of “Jason and the Argonauts”. As a teenager I stopped watching the film deciding that I had grown beyond it. A couple of years I rediscovered the film and found that I enjoyed as much as I ever did. All I need is to find a cabin somewhere in the wilds, take my DVD player up there and spend Christmas Eve as it was meant to be – next to a warm fire with “Jason…” playing away.

There is a sense of wonder and imagination to this film seldom echoed in the special fx epics of today, all bogged down with stupid (rather than stupendous) stunt sequences. This is good fun, highly enjoyable and a wonderful story.

This is a good DVD transfer – the picture is excellent (finally, the chance to see it in widescreen) and the sound is good. If you remember this from your childhood and wondeer if it is as good now then let me assure you that it has lost none of its magic.
Rating: 4 / 5

Practically everyone with a passing interest in sci-fi films or mythology knows about “Jason and the Argonauts”, so I won’t go into detail about the film’s plot here. I’ll limit my comments to the quality of the films direction, acting and it’s special effects. If you are one of the few who aren’t familiar with the movie/story, a quick check of this films other reviewers will quickly bring you up to speed.

Until the advent of CGI, it was considered by most to be the epitome of the art of F/X and to many (myself included), it’s still one of the best. Ray Harryhausen pulled out all the stops when making this film and it shows! The movie itself has a tried and true plot, good acting and excellent production values. The special effects by Harryhausen, even using todays computer generated effects, have seldom been equalled, much less surpassed.

If you can only own one Ray Harryhausen film, THIS is the one to get. If you have a choice, buy the DVD. You get a number of special features, such as the Harryhausen Chronicles, and you get to see the film in widescreen (worth it alone). Even if you aren’t a fan of Harryhausen, I’d still get this movie. It’s a classic story told in a way that everyone from 6 to 66 can enjoy. And, there are always those spectacular Harryhausen special effects!!
Rating: 5 / 5

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