Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

[Image: (c) Columbia Pictures, Fair Use - low-resolution version to provide critical commentary]

I can't exactly remember if I've ever watched Jason and the Argonauts before... I'm pretty sure I watched at least some of it, because I remember the monsters. But then, I suppose these vague and foggy memories of awesome monster fights could have come from "top 100" clip-shows I watched about classic movies. At any rate, in my never-ending quest to dig up the cultural roots of Europe and sniff them, I recently decided I'd watch (or re-watch?) this classic Hollywood epic based on the Greek myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece.

Ray Harryhausen is apparently the name in stop-motion monster effects, and it was he who provided the effects for Jason and the Argonauts. Harryhausen himself regards it as his "most complete" film. I actually watched another of his movies recently, Clash of the Titans, which was originally released in the 1980s. I did enjoy it... but found it a bit cutesy.

At least in Jason and the Argonauts the main character displays a bit of arrogance and ambition. One of the things which irked me most about Clash of the Titans was the fact that Perseus was so bloody nice. From what I know of him, the original Greek character of Jason was untrustworthy, power-hungry and manipulative. Jason and the Argonauts shows some of Jason's ambition, but it ends the story at the point when Jason finds the Golden Fleece. It doesn't show his return journey and his tragic fall. The story of Medea, the mother of Jason's children, betrayed by Jason for his own selfish political gain, isn't even hinted at in Jason and the Argonauts.

Apart from this squeeky-clean remixing of tragic Greek themes and plotlines, there were one or two other things which rankled. The costumes and props seemed a bit mixed up at times. At one point, King Pelias was entertaining Jason in what appeared to be a medieval fairground. I'm no expert, of course.

And yet... there was this one scene where a ruddy great bronze man stomps on people! And another bit when loads of skeletons come to life and fight with Jason! Just when your attention is flagging, the Harryhausen effects come along and redeem things. And just like in Clash of the Titans, I was disappointed... but not completely.

Rating - 6 out of 12

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