Sunday, 9 June 2013

Jason and the Argonauts (US/UK, 1963)

The classic mythological Greek tale of Jason, the good ship Argo and its brave Argonauts, sailors of the Argo. This is most probably Harryhausen's greatest accomplishment in film, probably his most well known film and most probably his best film alongside the other Greek classic 'Clash of the Titans'.

The plot? surely we all know it by now, Jason and his warrior sailors venture off to find the legendary Golden Fleece of Colchis battling various obstacles on the way. Like most films the plot has been altered somewhat obviously for dramatic effect and simply because Greek mythology is quite complex offering many problems for film makers of the time. In no way does this deter from the films excellence at any point, you can easily enjoy the adventure knowing nothing of Greek mythology.

Without trying to cast a shadow over the films director or the decent cast throughout the film, but this is pretty much the Harryhausen arts n crafts show. All the cast put in sterling performances, as you would expect of the era, with director Chaffey clearly doing something right. I must admit to always feeling a tad sorry for the cast and crews in films like this as they do tend to be known as Harryhausen flicks and nothing else.

For me the Nigel Green as some bloke called Hercules stood head and shoulders above the rest. Now not only was his performance quite amusing and gloriously tongue n cheek in that stout old fashioned way, but his thick curly hairstyle was quite impressive too. His whole look was burly gruff jolly and fun, yet not bulging with muscles. I also liked how the Argonauts in general weren't all big muscle bound meatheads, and the hero Jason (Todd Armstrong) was quite a regular looking guy, not some pretty boy. It gives the film a little sense of reality amongst all the fantasy. You know in this day and age the entire crew would be more pumped than the Michelin Man.

Of course the real interest kicks in when we see the mighty Talos come to life and surge across the beach attempting to stomp the Argonauts. Is this the best sequence in the film? hmmmm it comes damn close despite nothing much happening. The entire sequence just looks so damn good and intimidating you can't fail to love it, how fudging cool is Talos!!.

After this its a virtual onslaught of awesomeness as Harryhausen moves into fifth gear. The Harpies were probably the weakest of the creature creations in the film, they don't look quite as sharp as the rest really. But rest assured the Hydra's brief moment in the spotlight gets things right back on track. A shame that no sooner does this classic creature appear Jason kills it off pretty quickly...and easily really. But even then when you think you'd seen the best the film has to offer in terms of shadow fighting monsters we get the greatest sequence by Harryhausen ever!.

Yeah you all know what I'm talking about, the famous battle between the skeleton warriors and the Argonauts must be one of the most influentially inspiring sequences of all time. It wowed me as a youngster and it still does today, the film has become known for that sequence alone really but its understandable. I loved how the Hydra sequence leads into this epic undead sequence via the Hydra's teeth being sown. I love how one scene gives meaning to the other without resorting to crowbarring in random monsters just for the sake of it.

Again a small sequence involving live action is used here like 'One Million Years B.C.' only this time it looks much much better. I'm glad they didn't use this option too much as it is a bit dubious looking against the obvious models and out of scale water but they just about get away with it. Would have been interesting to see a full stop motion Triton though, much like the Kraken, I guess cost came into it.

Creatures aside the film in general is fine, a steady pace, not overly exciting but not dull either. The Mount Olympus sequences are cheesy as hell, the Argonauts battle armour costumes are superb and appropriately heroic looking (love those outfits) and location work is truly stunning in the film. Rough mountainous terrain and pure blue seas under a clear blue sky, it looked hot. After all these thrills the film does end rather abruptly like many of these oldies tend to. Not too much of a problem though, after seeing some of the greatest stop motion sequences ever committed to film.