Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
read a review of:
Jason And The Argonauts (2001)
There are films where, if you are around my age, you probably never ever got a chance to
see on the big screen; certain iconic films consigned to the bank holiday small-screen,
despite being made for the wider celluloid canvas.
Jason And The Argonauts is one such film, released in 1963. Unfortunately, the print I saw at the arts cinema in Cardiff, wasn't exactly pristine, with many scenes and sequences almost un-watchable, but as I sat there in the auditorium, dazzled by Ray Harryhausen's much imitated but never bettered effects, I unashamedly became a eight-year-old again, watching it for the very first time.
What, though, made me smile in this day and age of faultless CGI were the number of young children and their parents watching a 40-year-old film, and said children clutching to the arms of their mother or father, or leaning forward during the Talos sequence, and it made me realise just how 'false' CGI was; no character nor emotion, or rarely so. Harryhausen's persistence and craft instilled within his animated creations a sense of personality that is lacking in many a computer-generated gimp.
Is there anyone reading this who doesn't know the story to this? Well, in case there are: Jason (played by Todd Armstrong in typical lantern-jaw fashion) is an orphan; he is helped by Hera (Honor Blackman) to avenge the death of his people, and to find the Golden Fleece. Jason enlists the best men in all of Greece by way of a tournament, and the best ship-builder to construct a craft for the arduous journey - the Argo.
This is very much a boy's own adventure, that will never win awards for acting nor writing. Technically, it is a very accomplished film, from the art direction to score by Bernard Herrmann that underpins the set pieces superbly. The only award it truly deserves, though, is for Harryhausen's work, and everyone involved knows this; the quality of each set-piece is enough for just one per film, but here Harryhausen betters himself time after time; from the aforementioned Talos to the skeletons - when you consider how much effort goes into animating one, here we have six of the buggers in a perfectly choreographed fight scene, which it has to be said must also have been a pain in the arse for director Don Chaffey and the cast.
Jason And The Argonauts is the pinnacle of Harryhausen's career - even though he made several films later, notably Valley Of The Gwangi and his last, Clash Of The Titans in 1980, this will always be considered his crowning moment, a tour-de-force of stop-frame animation, though Harryhausen is more modest and still considers the original King Kong (by his mentor, Willis O'Brien) to be the finest piece of stop-frame action ever produced.
Now, I'm off to see if the DVD is available... and so should you.