Jason and the Argonauts Reviews
The film is tremendously entertaining because it is an adventure filled with fantastical monsters, heroic feats and mythical characters. While watching the film, even if you never saw it as a kid, you are transported back to a simpler age. A time where heroes were pure and villains were evil beyond all words. This film is not about character development, complex moral issues or tragic moments; it's about a crew of heroes that invite you to come with them on one of the greatest adventures you could ever imagine. Like any great heroes, they're more than just a group of tough guys with swords. Strength alone is not going to do the job against these titanic threats, they're going to need their brains too. Why? Because despite the fact that the crew of the Argos includes the mightiest man that has ever lived, Hercules (Nigel Green), these guys are still underdogs. They're at the mercy of the gods, who literally play with the fates of men like chess pieces on a board and the monsters they're going up against are unlike anything you've ever seen. To further entice the audience, we also get a cherry on the sundae, the very sexy Medea (Nancy Kovack) who comes in as a love interest for Jason and the key to getting the Golden Fleece.
Anyone who talks about this film really focuses on the special effects, and I'm going to focus on that myself in a bit, but I want to take a moment to focus on the other aspects of the film that really work. It's true that the acting here is not the greatest, but it's never cringe-worthy or so awful that it pulls you out of the movie. The special effects are the star, but film actually frequently shows a lot of intelligence. Even when there are not monsters on the screen, there are many memorable moments that will put the sparkles back in your eyes. Early in the film it is established that the goddess Hera (Honor Blackman) will get to aid Jason 5 times during his quest. Your typical movie would have Jason requesting her help several times throughout but saving the last "wish" for the very end of the movie, where she would come and give him a magical sword or bring someone back from the dead or something like that, but that's not the case here. What happens instead is that Jason and his crew begin the film competent, but inexperienced and quickly get into trouble. At only about halfway through the film, the help that Hera had promised is all gone. You wonder to yourself how our hero is going to make it out alright. Then you realize that he's not the same man that left the beaches of Thessaly at the beginning of the movie. He's now an experienced hero that is more than able to rise to the challenges presented in front of him. It's by their own skills that the Argonauts will have to triumph in the end, and that's a heck of a lot more exciting than a Deus Ex Machina. Another moment I want to highlight is one right at the beginning of the film, where the greatest champions of Greece are competing to see who will be joining Jason on the Argo. Hercules arrives and is immediately admitted, because he's a legend among legends. Following him is a regular-looking guy called Hylas (John Cairney). He came in too late to be admitted into the games, but figures he will earn himself a seat by challenging Hercules, and winning. I don't want to spoil it, but the way that scene plays out is brilliant.
Now we come to the special effects, and those are really special in this case. If you're at all interested in stop-motion, you've surely heard the name Ray Harryhausen and this is his best film. There are three great creations in "Jason and the Argonauts"; the colossal Talos, who moves with the constant creaking and screeching of metal as he stiffly makes his way around his home island to capture the Argonauts; the seven-headed hydra who is probably the single most dazzling creation Mr. Harryhausen, or anyone else has ever created with the aid of stop motion effects and of course, that famous army of skeletons.
Let's take a closer look at these creatures. First up is Talos. Despite the fact that what we have here is an animated statue that never changes expression and basically wanders around trying to crush all of the Argonauts, it still feels like it has a bit of personality. Whenever it moves around, there's the distinct creaking and unlike the fluid creations usually found in Harryhausen films, like the Octopus in "It Came from Beneath the Sea" or the Ymir from "20 million miles to Earth" this thing moves stiffly, like an actual animated statue would. It doesn't bend its limbs much, moves relatively slowly, kind of like Boris Karloff did as the Frankenstein monster (It does seem to enjoy playing with its sword though, frequently passing it from one hand to another). Like all good creations, you're kind of sad to see it go, even if it does mean our heroes will get to move on to their next adventure.
Next, and my personal favorite is the Hydra. You cannot fully appreciate how amazing this creature is without thinking about the behind the scenes here. These special effects were created by a single guy. Not a team of animators, like we're used to nowadays with our computer effects, just one guy. He had to painstakingly move the joints of this creature one frame at a time to bring it to life. And wow! does this creature have a lot of bits that move. It has seven heads, which means seven jaws that can open and close. Each head is mounted on a long neck, which does not move as simply as an arm where there's a single joint; there are hundreds of positions possible there. As the final touch, the Hydra has not one, but two tails that also writhe around as the creature moves. That's not even including the scenes where it is grasping a human in its coils (which would also be animated using stop-motion) and the fact that the whole thing had to be spliced together with Jason slashing his sword and darting about. All of this achieved without the use of computer technology of any kind. As a kid, you don't know who you want to cheer for in this battle because on the one hand, you really want the hero to get the prize and win over the girl, but on the other, this Hydra is like a dinosaur, but seven times more awesome and a totally unique creation!
Finally we big climax of the film, the fight between the Argonauts and the skeleton army. A total of seven skeletons, fighting three men. Each skeleton, armed with a weapon and several with shields as well. Let's not even count the amount of limbs and joints that had to be moved for every single frame. Let's not think of the incredible coordination that had to be used here to convincingly make it look like the actors, who were shadow fighting when their scenes were shot, are actually fighting against an army that is impervious to injury. It comes in right at the end of the movie and leaves you speechless. It's really hard to describe what makes this scene so special using only words, but it really is a thrill ride that leaves you wondering "how DID they do that?"
Some people will call this movie dated because of the special effects. I say it is not dated, it is stylish. Think about it. Every computer-generated monster moves the same way. I don't mean that they all have the same amount of limbs or all move by walking, I mean that they all move as fluidly as their human counterparts. Today, there is nothing that really makes one monster unique from another, except the way it acts and looks. Here, it's like a surrealist painting. It might not look 100% realistic, but I don't think it's supposed to, it's supposed to have the artist's mark on it. No one would look at a tapestry from ancient Egypt or Greece and criticise it because it didn't look as realistic as the photo your camera took. The reason being they would be missing the point of the artistic piece in the first place, often, art is remarkable because of the artistic style on display, or the subject illustrated, not because of its resemblance to real-life. The same principle applies here. If the technical wizardry present isn't enough (and considering the amount of effects where we see gods disappear, grow to immense size, send flames down from the heavens or the amount of scenes spliced together from multiple shots, it should be) you still have a thrilling, lighthearted adventure story with plenty of action and some clever moments too. "Jason and the Argonauts" is fantastic fun, heightened by some of the best stop-motion monsters you'll ever see. (On Blu-ray, August 27, 2014)