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Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
by Kevin Conner
IMDB Entry: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057197/
Wikipedia credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_and_the_Argonauts_(1963_film)
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“Jason and the Argonauts” is based on the only surviving Hellenistic epic of King Jason and his rise to power. I say based, because liberties were taken. However, these liberties retained the overall feel of the epic with good intentions and spirit. Because this spirit was retained, this movie has dominated the imaginations of all those who had ever heard of the epic tales from antiquity, and seen this movie.
The basic tale is there, Pelias (Douglas Wilmer) conquers the kingdom of Jason’s father, brutally killing everyone in Thessaly, while defying Zeus’ (Niall MacGinnis) will to accept Jason’s (Todd Armstrong) rise to power in 20 years. Told by Hera (Honor Blackman) that killing Jason would end his own life, Pelias knows he must spare Jason when they meet. 20 years pass, with Pelias guarding his shores against the man with one sandal, until Hera orchestrates his near death by drowning so Jason may save him (losing a sandal in the process). Jason proclaims his intentions to overthrow Pelias to Pelias without realizing the man he saved is Pelias. Pelias instructs his son, Acastus (Gary Raymond), to follow Jason, while attempting to sabotage his journey at every opportunity. Jason knows not of this vile plot, as he assembles his crew to take on a quest of the gods…. a quest which shall prove him worthy to the throne of Thessaly…. THE QUEST FOR THE GOLDEN FLEECE!
With Ray Harryhausen commanding the production, you would think that every aspect of this movie would be outstanding. While this isn’t true, what is true is the production remains top notch, while inspiring so many to read the story of Jason. The biggest problem the critics had of this movie is the white elephant in most discussions of this movie – the “Jerky” and “Unprofessional” movements of Talos when it comes to life. Harryhausen, and many others, have defended this jerky movement, because he was attempting to display a stiffened statue who has not moved in decades. I agree. Before I even read Harryhausen’s quote, I got that exact image in my mind – a statue long abandoned trying to move in order to fulfill its guardianship duties. It is stiff, clunky, unwieldy, as an old and patina covered bronze creation may be if it had been sitting in the weather for decades, if not centuries. However, I do feel that some aspects of costuming, hair styling, and overall design were a little too “perfect”. For any drive-in movie, I would give a pass, but this was a big named feature. Thankfully, these small stumbles are just that, small. The Greeks did love to paint their statues, their faces, wear beautiful clothing, and did NOT live in ruins (except for a blind and punished soothsayer). The vivid colors are wonderful, the set design fantastic, and even with my small quibbles, the overall layout was great. I don’t think I need to mention the stop motion, it’s Ray Harryhausen, the real star of this film!
The direction, however, managed to turn some of the greatest actors of the time into stilted performances… it’s not bad, and the actors are still wonderful, but there are most definitely some issues with how the director handled the men and women under his hand. I must take off a half point for this. It is also unfortunate I must apply the same penalty to the acting, for the very same reason. The script is enjoyable, but suffers from similar issues, so that, too, will suffer the same penalty.
The editing and sound are fantastic, and even with the ever present flutes, I find it very enjoyable.
For those who enjoy fantastic and epic voyagers of men who dare to defy and serve the gods, this movie is almost always at the top of the list. This movie helped to spawn so many that followed, some trying to copy scenes outright (the godly presence on Mount Olympus, the groundbreaking fight with the skeleton warriors, etc….). There is a reason why this movie has survived the test of time, even with some of the dated elements. If you are a person who would enjoy such a fantasy epic, and you have not yet seen this movie, then I dare say you are defying the will of all on Olympus. The only way to make amends is to watch it at your earliest convenience, and in the right state of mind.
Direction: 3 1/2
Script: 3 1/2
Acting: 3 1/2
Overall (rounded up) 4 out of 4
Cast and Production Information
(with many more)
Based on the classic Greek poem “The Argonautica” by:
Columbia Pictures Corporation (presents)
Morningside Productions (uncredited)