Monday, October 11, 2021

Jason and the Argonauts


Based on the epic poem The Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius, Jason and the Argonauts is the story of an explorer who returns home to claim his throne only to embark on a quest to find the Golden Fleece where he would fight all sorts of forces. Directed by Don Chaffey and screenplay by Beverley Cross and Jan Read, he film is a fantasy-adventure film that features the work of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen as it plays into a man dealing with mysterious creatures in his quest to become king. Starring Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Honor Blackman, and Gary Raymond. Jason and the Argonauts is an exhilarating and exciting film from Don Chaffey and Ray Harryhausen.

The film is about a young man who is asked by a king to retrieve an object known as the Golden Fleece and in return would get revenge on the king who killed his mother many years ago due to a prophecy. It is a film that has this young man named Jason (Todd Armstrong) who saves this king from drowning unaware that he was the man who killed his mother based on a prophecy that would destroy him. The film’s screenplay by Beverley Cross and Jan Read is straightforward as it opens with Pelias (Douglas Wilmer) hearing about a prophecy that a child of a rival king would usurp him as he attacks that king’s palace where he kills one of the king’s daughters who prayed to Hera (Honor Blackman) who would protect the young Jason and warn Pelias that killing Jason would meet his doom. The film moves 20 years later where Pelias is saved by Jason from drowning as Jason has no idea who Pelias is and what he’s done as he agreed to get the Golden Fleece for Pelias.

After assembling of some of the best Greeks including Hercules (Nigel Green) and getting a ship created by Argus (Laurence Naismith), Jason and his crew go on this journey unaware that Pelias sent his son Acastus (Gary Raymond) to join the crew as a saboteur. Yet, Jason and his crew deal with monsters and such as well other things in the course of the film while they’re watched from above by Hera and Zeus (Niall MacGinnis) as observers with the former helping Jason out whenever he prays to her. Still, Jason deals with the challenges towards his destination as well as issues among the crew into this treacherous journey.

Don Chaffey’s direction is stylish in terms of its presentation in the world of fantasy and sword-and-sandal films with a lot of emphasis on visual effects to play into the former. Shot largely on various locations in Italy as Ancient Greece, Chaffey uses the locations to play into this vast world that Jason and his companions would embark on that would include ancient ruins, large statues, and other places where Chaffey would use wide and medium shots to get a scope of this world. Still, Chaffey knows when to move the story forward for non-action scenes as a way to showcase Jason’s development as a leader as he knows he might be way over his head where he does go to his crew for advice but also to the gods as Chaffey’s usage of close-ups and medium shots play into these moments. Through the visual effects work of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, Chaffey is able to create these extravagant action scenes that include a confrontation with a giant statue, flying creatures, a seven-headed monster, and skeletons in the film’s climax as they add to this world that Jason would encounter.

Chaffey and Harryhausen would create these sequences that are filled with suspense and adventure as there is something primitive to the effects yet there is also a charm to it. Especially in the film’s memorable climax with the skeleton soldiers where the mixture of live-action and stop-motion animation is strange yet there is a lot of imagination into what is created. Overall, Chaffey and Harryhausen craft a thrilling and offbeat adventure film of an explorer trying to retrieve an object that brings life.

Cinematographer Wilkie Cooper does excellent work with the film’s cinematography for many of the natural daytime exterior scenes along with some of the scenes at night in some of the interior/exterior settings for scenes in the third act. Editor Maurice Rootes does terrific work with the editing as it has some nice dissolves and rhythmic cuts to play into the action. Production designer Geoffrey Drake, with art directors Jack Maxsted, Antonio Sarzi-Braga, and Herbert Smith, does amazing work with the set design from the look of the statues and ruins to the palace of one of the kings in the third act. Sound editor Alfred Cox does superb work with the sound as its usage of sound effects and sparse sounds in some of the film’s locations add to the air of adventure and action. The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is incredible for its bombastic orchestral score that help play into the sense of adventure and suspense along with some somber string-based pieces as it is a major highlight of the film.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast include some notable small roles from Patrick Troughton as the blind prophet Phineus who helps Jason find the land known as Colchis, John Cairney as a young Greek in Hylas whom Hercules is mentoring, Nigel Green as the legendary strongman Hercules who finds himself dealing with doubt and guilt, Doug Robinson as the strong swimmer Eupaemus, Andrew Faulds and Ferdinando Poggi in their respective roles as the swordsmen Phalerus and Castor, Michael Gwynn in the role of Pelias’ priest who reveals him this prophecy when he is really the god Hermes who allows Jason the chance to talk to the gods. Jack Gwillim is terrific as Colchis’ King Aeetes who takes Jason in after a mission where he saved his daughter only to learn of Jason’s motives at his home.

Honor Blackman and Niall MacGinnis are fantastic in their respective roles as Hera and Zeus with Blackman providing charm as the goddess who helps Jason and protects him while MacGinnis brings his own charm to the role of the famed god as he is someone not willing to interfere but knows he’s got plans for some of the characters involved. Douglas Wilmer is superb as Pelias as a king who learns that Jason is the young man who intends to usurp him while knowing that he can’t kill Jason where he tries to befriend him and send his son Acastus to sabotage Jason’s quest. Laurence Naismith is excellent as Argus as the man who created the boat for Jason’s quest as well as being someone who is wise and helps Jason with advice as he is someone the crew looks to for guidance.

Gary Raymond is brilliant as Acastus as Pelias’ son who takes on a different identity to join Jason’s quest in order to sabotage him as he would find himself sparring with Jason over ideas and decisions leading to a lot of tension. Nancy Kovack is amazing as Medea as the princess/high priestess of Colchis whom Jason saves when her ship was attacked as she falls for him while becoming aware of her father’s greed over the Golden Fleece as her voice is dubbed by Eva Haddon. Finally, there’s Todd Armstrong in an incredible performance as the titular character, as he is dubbed by Tim Turner, who is an explorer that is tasked to retrieve the Golden Fleece for its healing powers unaware that he’s giving it to the man who killed his mother where he deals with the journey as well as his own role as a leader where it is a charismatic performance from Armstrong.

Jason and the Argonauts is a phenomenal film from Don Chaffey and Ray Harryhausen. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, an incredible music score from Bernard Herrmann, and inventive visual effects that play up this air of fantasy in the film. It is a film that is filled with a lot of thrills and adventure as well as being this journey of a man trying to prove his worth to the world with the gods looking from above to see him reach that journey. In the end, Jason and the Argonauts is a sensational film from Don Chaffey and Ray Harryhausen.

© thevoid99 2021


SJHoneywell said...

I still have trouble believing that in all of the revision that has been done to the 1001 Movies list, including the major overhaul a few years ago, they have never put a single Harryhausen film on the list.

This would be my choice for the skeleton battle alone. Medusa from Clash of the Titans is his single-best creation, but the skeleton battle is his most epic work.

VinnieH said...

I love this movie. One of my late Grandpa’s favourites

thevoid99 said...

@SJHoneywell-Yet they put in The Greatest Showman a couple of years ago. I'm starting to take that list much less serious these days. How can you have a list of the 1001 Movies list and not include anything by Ray Harryhausen? That's blasphemy.

@Vinnieh-Your grandpa is awesome. I'm glad you and him liked this film.

ruth said...

I actually like these types of movies, so I might give Jason and the Argonauts a try. I had to look up the year, 1963, that's gotta be challenging to make big movies like this one back then, but then again I'm still astonished what William Wyler was able to do with Ben-Hur in 1959 with those huge sets and incredible action sequences.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-While the effects in that film might seem primitive and cheesy. I think it's creative and given the limitations it had. I think Ray Harryhausen did a hell of a job and it is an incredible film. I read that when Harryhausen was presented a special Oscar, Tom Hanks stated that this film was one of the greatest. He's right.

I really do think audiences need to watch older films just to get an idea of what was done then and now as there's just some things that were better then. Speaking of Ben-Hur, that chariot sequence was partially directed by Sergio Leone who helped Wyler with his vision. While I think Leone is a better filmmaker for me personally, I do think William Wyler for a lot of his Oscar wins and such still doesn't get enough love.

Jay said...

I love when you go old school.

thevoid99 said...

@Jay-There's no school like the old school. Plus, I always feel like there's so much to be discovered. Even as older films seem to have much more to offer than newer films.