Sunday, October 7, 2012

#783. Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Directed By: Don Chaffey

Starring: Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond

Tag line: "Greatest Odyssey Of The Ages - for the first time on the screen"

Trivia: In April 2004, Empire magazine ranked Talos as the second best film monster of all time, after King Kong

Ray Harryhausen, that master of stop-motion animation, was a man of unlimited patience. 

Take, for instance, the most famous scene in 1963's Jason and the Argonauts, where a small army of skeletons attacks Jason and his crew as they attempt to escape with the Golden Fleece. This sequence, which lasts less than five minutes, took Harryhausen four and a half months to complete, an average of roughly 2-3 seconds worth of animation per day. This is the level of dedication that Harryhausen brought to his work on a regular basis, and his commitment to his craft is on display throughout Jason and the Argonauts.

The kingdom of Thessaly has been conquered by the evil Pelias (Douglas Wilmer), and, according to a prophecy handed down by the Gods, the only mortal capable of removing him from power is Jason (Todd Armstrong), the heir to Thessaly’s throne. 

To strengthen his position by winning favor with the Gods, Jason decides to lead an expedition to locate the Golden Fleece, a magical item that is rumored to be hidden at the end of the world. 

For the journey, Jason orders the finest ship be built, which he names the Argo, then assembles a mighty crew to sail her, including heroes like Polydeuces (John Crawford) and Hercules (Nigel Green). Watched over by the Goddess Hera (Honor Blackman), Jason travels the high seas, battling ferocious creatures in an attempt to prove himself worthy of what is rightfully his.

Jason and the Argonauts is a tremendous fantasy film, opening with King Pelias’ conquest of Thessaly, a thrilling, well-staged battle that sets the tone for the entire movie. Also, to add some authenticity to the tale, many key scenes were shot among actual ruins in Paestum and Palinnuro, Italy; a scene in which several harpies attack the blind soothsayer Phinneas (Patrick Troughton) makes especially good use of these ancient locales. 

Take all of this, and then throw Ray Harryhausen’s animation into the mix, and you have one hell of a great movie. Along with the skeleton army and the marauding harpies, Harryhausen introduces a few other classic characters in Jason and the Argonauts, like Talos, the huge metallic statue that attacks Jason on the isle of Bronze. Even with its grand spectacle and impressive sets, Jason and the Argonauts is proof positive (as if any was needed) that Ray Harryhausen's creations were always the highlight of any film.

Of the dozen or so movies to feature Harryhausen’s life-like creations, Jason and the Argonauts is considered by many to be the best of the bunch. It’s an opinion Harryhausen himself shared, once saying the work he did on this film, above all others, “pleased” him.

Jason and the Argonauts is a thrilling adventure, a movie bursting at the seams with imagination, and I, for one, love it!


Robert M. Lindsey said...

I love this one! I only first saw it a few years ago. I wrote a review of it at the time:

Charlie Accetta said...

My father took me to see this at the Interboro Theater on Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. Harryhuasen's fighting skeletons scared the crap out of me (I was 7 at the time). The Golden Fleece, on the other hand, had a calming effect.

DVD Infatuation said...

Thanks for the comments, guys, and sorry for the late reply!

@Robert: I love it, too, and thanks for sharing your link to your review. I enjoy reading your take on movies.

@Charlie: very cool! I'm definitely jealous: I'd have LOVED to see this one in the theater (and I can imagine that scene scaring you, especially at that age)

David said...

This is one that we definitely agree on Doc!

I adore this movie, in fact it's probably up there in my top 20 of all time. It was a staple of rainy Sunday afternoons watching TV with my dad when I was little and I distinctly remember being mesmerised by the variety of imaginative creatures and creations on display.

I can say with all sincerity that I think Harryhausens work here holds up and looks superior to today's CGI equivalent. Sure CGI may be much more slick and versatile but to me these older effects have a weight and character all of their own. I think my mind finds it easier to accept these objects because they subconsciously register as actual physical elements while to me computer graphics, unless done with great talent and subtlety, always betray their lack of physicality and thus break my suspension of disbelief. Harryhausen's creatures were directly crafted and choreographed by human hands and to me that fact communicates a sense of charm and organic personality that is nearly impossible to replicate through a computer interface.

I find it truly sad that stop motion animation seems to be a dying art. I’d love to see some modern monster movies implement it as I think its creaky otherworldliness could lend a great atmosphere to low budget horror.