Still busy at work but at least I didn’t have to stay late today so now I can totally enjoy today’s movie because today’s movie is yet another example of Ray Harryhausen’s incredible work in stop-motion animation. In the late 50’s, Harryhausen was tired of doing movies about giant monsters destroying cities and decided to work on different movies. The first of these was The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad but today’s movie is truly noteworthy because, while everyone may have commented on how incredible Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation was, this movie is the one where people really noticed it. So let’s jump right into today’s movie, Jason And The Argonauts (1963).
The plot: Intent on usurping the throne of Thessaly, Pelias consults a seer, who tells him that he will take the throne, but a child of King Aristo will one day kill him and reclaim the throne. Hearing this, Pelias vows that all of Aristo’s children will die in order to prevent the prophecy. During the course of the attack on Thessaly, Aristo’s daughter Briseis takes her infant sister, Philomela, to the temple of Hera and prays for protection for the both of them. Pelias follows Briseis to the temple and kills her, but Hera, angered by the fact that he profaned her temple with murder, takes Philomela away for protection and warns Pelias that a man with one sandal will one day kill him. Twenty years later, Pelias is riding by a lake when Hera causes him to fall off his horse and nearly drown but he is rescued by Jason, who loses a sandal in the process. Pelias notices this and, deciding not to reveal who he is, offers his hospitality to Jason. When he learns that Jason plans to seek the Golden Fleece, Pelias urges him to do so, thinking that Jason will die in the quest and he will be safe. That night, Jason talks to the seer, who turns out to be a disguised Hermes, who takes Jason to Mt Olympus to speak to the gods. On Olympus, Hera tells Jason that she can only help him 5 times, then Zeus offers Jason a ship and crew, but Jason says he can find his own ship and crew, which pleases Zeus. Back on Greece, Jason hosts a series of games in order to find his crew from among the best warriors of Greece, then gets his ship, which he names the Argo after it’s builder. After several days at sea, supplies begin to run low so Jason asks Hera for help, and she tells him to make for the Isle of Bronze, but warns that they should only take food and water, anything else would cause them to suffer the wrath of Talos. When they reach the island, Hercules and his friend Hylas go searching for food when they come across a treasure trove, but when Hercules grabs a brooch pin to use as a javelin, the giant statue of Talos awakens and attacks the Argo. Jason asks Hera for help and she tells him of a plug on the heel of Talos which must be removed. When the plug is removed, Talos falls to the ground, crushing Hylas, and Hercules, feeling responsible, chooses to stay on the island to confirm what happened. When the rest of the crew refuses to leave the island without Hercules, Jason calls on Hera, who tells him that this will be the last time she can help him. She informs the crew that Hylas is dead and Hercules will not continue the journey with them. She then tells them to seek the blind soothsayer Phineas, who has been plagued by the Harpies for abusing his gift. When Jason arrives on the island, Phineas says he will tell them what they want, but only if they free him from the Harpies. Jason and the Argonauts capture the Harpies and Phineas tells them the direction to Colchis, then gives Jason an amulet as payment for Jason’s help. Following the directions Phineas gave them, the Argo arrives at the Clashing Rocks, and they witness another ship passing through and get crushed between the cliffs. Jason orders the Argo forward and as the cliffs begin to close in on them, he throws the amulet Phineas gave him into the sea, causing the god Triton to come forth and hold the cliffs apart long enough for the Argo to sail through. After passing the cliffs, they rescue some survivors of the wrecked ship, among them Medea. As they near Colchis, Jason says he plans to go alone to speak with King Aeetes, but Acastus, Pileas’s son, argues with Jason and the two fight, with Acastus jumping overboard after he is disarmed. When Jason arrives in Colchis, he is greeted by King Aeetes, who throws a feast for Jason and the Argonauts, but then accuses Jason of wanting to steal the Golden Fleece, having been lied to by Acastus, and has them all imprisoned. Medea having fallen in love with Jason, frees him and his men then leads Jason to where the Fleece. Meanwhile, Acastus attempts to steal the Fleece himself, but he is killed by the Hydra, the many headed guardian of the Golden Fleece. Jason manages to kill the Hydra and take the Fleece, and is soon joined by Phalerus, Castor, and Argos, who had seen Aeetes’ soldiers and gone to help Jason. King Aeetes, having been ordered by the Goddess Hecate, sows the Hydra’s teeth into the ground which produces a skeleton army that he sends after Jason. The skeleton warriors kill Phalerus and Castor but Jason, Medea, and Argos manage to make it to the Argo and escape. As the Argo makes it’s way back to Thessaly, Zeus informs Hera that in some future time, he will call upon Jason again.
Jason And The Argonauts was highly praised by the critics, earning a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Many people, including Harryhausen himself, consider this Harryhausen’s greatest work. While most of Harryhausen’s films had been shown as part of a double feature in “B” theaters, Columbia Pictures was able to book this as a single feature in most major cities. When Ray Harryhausen received his lifetime achievement award at the 1992 Acadamy Awards, Tom Hanks said that this was the greatest film ever made. The movie was a box office success, earning over $2 million at the theaters, though that was only twice as much as the $1 million budget for the film.
This is a fantastic movie to watch. The acting was pretty good, although it might seem stiff compared to more modern movies. Todd Armstrong did a great job as Jason and I liked Niall MacGinnis (Zeus), Nancy Kovack (Medea), Laurence Naismith (Argos), and Gary Raymond (Acastus), but I did think Nigel Green wasn’t the best choice for Hercules. The plot was pretty good, having been taken from the Greek myth. And yes, I know that it was not going to be 100% true to the myth, but the differences did make for a more exciting movie. The stop-motion effects were fantastic, from the giant Talos attacking the Argo, to the flying Harpies, to the multi-headed Hydra, and to the skeleton warriors. I personally thought it was funny that the shields of the skeleton warriors had references to some of Harryhausen’s earlier films; an octopus for It Came From Beneath The Sea and the face of Ymir, the monster from 20 Million Miles To Earth. If you want to watch a great fantasy movie, then you should definitely watch this one.
Rating: 5 out of 5