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Jason and the Argonauts
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105 of 113 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I've reviewed quite a few films featuring the work of special effects artist Ray Harryhausen and found reasons to like them all, but Jason and the Argonauts (1963) features some of his most fantastic effects, and is considered to be one of the greatest fantasy pictures ever made. Would I say it's the greatest? No, but in terms of influencing many, including a majority of special effects artists in the business today, this film is a cinematic landmark, and deserves to be treated as such. Produced by long time Harryhausen collaborator Charles Schneer (The Valley of Gwangi, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans) and directed by Don Chaffey (One Million Years B.C., Pete's Dragon), the film stars Todd Armstrong in his biggest role, but not his voice, as that was dubbed over by Tim Turner, a British actor who did a lot of voice over work on film trailers, including the trailer for this film. Also appearing is Nancy Kovack (The Silencers), and a whole bunch of British actors including Gary Raymond (El Cid), Laurence Naismith (The Valley of Gwangi), Niall MacGinnis (Night of the Demon), Jack Gwillim (Patton), Nigel Green (Countess Dracula), and Honor Blackman (Goldfinger), to name a few.

As this fantasy epic begins, we see the plight of Jason as an infant, his father slain and kingdom usurped, as so the seemingly fickle Gods have decided. Jason grows up, returns to re-take the land and peoples that are rightfully his, only to be sent on a quest, by the Gods (geez, who died and made them Gods? Oh yeah...they ARE Gods), to recover a golden fleece, one that would bring peace and prosperity to the troubled land. Only problem is the fleece is across the world, to where no one has sailed before. To meet this goal, Jason has the finest ship built, and gathers the greatest athletes Greece has to offer, and sets out on a perilous journey that involves dangerous waters, mighty bronze titans, a deadly, multi-headed Hydra, an army of skeleton warriors (can seven really be considered an army? Maybe more like a task force...), and treachery within his own ranks, among other things (as if that wasn't enough). The quest seems an impossible one, but with Jason's determination, the loyalty of his men (the non-treasonous ones, of course), and even a little help from the Gods themselves, he just may be able to survive and return with the treasure to reclaim what is rightfully his, and bring and end to the tyrant reign that has plagued his lands for the past twenty odd years.

Alright, I will say some of the acting isn't all that great (actress Kovack seems to be on some kind of depressant, as her performance is about as deadpan as I've seen), and some of the non-Harryhausen special effects are extremely noticeable (the matte usage in some scenes stands out a lot more than they probably would have liked), but despite these points, this is really a fun and exciting movie. There are elements of the story missing (the 2000 television CGI-laden version starring Jason London was a bit more inclusive in this respect, but lacked the charm, for me at least, of this one), but the makers of this film did manage to cram a lot into its' 104 minute running time, and the capable direction kept the story moving along at a rousing pace, rarely slowing down, and keeping my interest. I did enjoy the sets (especially those on Mount Olympus, and I have to say, Honor Blackman makes for one sexy Goddess, playing Hera, Zeus' wife...hotchie momma!) and the location shots where wonderful, adding a lot to the story. The Argo (the boat that carried Jason and his crew, hence the term `Argonauts') was suitable, although that figurehead of Hera (she was one of the Gods assisting Jason) freaked me out, especially with the opening an closing of its' eyelids. And I can't review this film without mentioning the work of legendary Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Psycho, Taxi Driver)...well, I mentioned him...but seriously, it's pretty rare to find a composer as `in tune' with the material he's working with as Herrmann (think how different Psycho would be without its' frightening score). The best parts of the film, by far, are the stop-motion effects by Harryhausen. What makes his work so good, in my opinion, is not only his eye for meticulous detail (it would often take months to produce a 3 or 4 minute on screen segment of stop-motion work), but also his ability to create the appropriate movements for the characters he was presenting. An example within the context of the film is Talos, the bronze titan, compared to, say, the winged harpies. The character of Talos moved exactly how you would expect a giant made of bronze to move, rigid, lumbering, and generally slow, compared to the very fluid and animated movements of the winged harpies, or even the multi-headed Hydra creature. It's the supposition of how the creatures would move, infused with the created models that set Harryhausen apart from his peers, and made him a legend in his own time, influencing so many others that came after him. It's pretty rare to see stop-motion work in major films nowadays, as it's been replaced with computer generated images (which is probably cheaper and less time consuming, but can often appear just as unrealistic as lesser stop-motion work).

The picture looks pretty good on this DVD, and is available in both widescreen (1.85:1) and full screen pan and scan formats. The audio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, is relatively clear throughout. Special features include subtitles (English, French, and Spanish), the original theatrical trailer, short production notes inside the case, and a lengthy interview with Ray Harryhausen conducted by John Landis, featuring clips, still photos, and even a prop or two from the films.

Cookieman108
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2010
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
Jason and the Argonauts is generally regarded as Ray Harryhausen's masterpiece (although my personal favorite is still Mysterious Island) and one of the greatest mythological fantasy films ever made, perhaps second only to the Kordas' Thief of Bagdad, if not better. This review, however, is not about the movie itself, but about the Blu-ray transfer versus the previous DVD release.

A number of reviewers have weighed in (both pro and con) on the Blu-ray transfer, but I wanted to add my two cents, having just cued up, synchronized, and directly compared the Blu-ray and DVD versions. Those complaining about the transfer could not possibly have compared the Blu-ray side by side with the DVD. Switching back and forth between the two, the superiority of the Blu-ray transfer is not only very noticeable, but indisputable.

The contrast, color balance, sharpness/detail, and black levels are all much improved in the Blu-ray. The DVD looks flat (low contrast) in comparison, the sharpness and detail are soft, and the color balance is considerably off, with the whole frame exhibiting a reddish-orange cast. In contrast, the Blu-ray is very sharp (even on my analog projection TV), fleshtones are natural, and the entire color palette is far more accurate (especially the blues and greens), revealing subtle gradations in hue (such as the slightly different colors of the two harpies) I had never even noticed before. I can only imagine how much better it looks on a digital TV.

Furthermore, visible film grain in a movie of this age (particularly in the optical effects and Dynarama shots) is to be expected and NOT a problem with the transfer. Grain can be reduced somewhat with Digital Noise Reduction, but applying it so heavily as to eliminate the grain will make the image look "plastic" and unnatural. A number of Blu-ray transfers have reportedly ruined the source material by trying to eliminate the grain with DNR. Personally, I think they did a fantastic job with this movie, striking a nice balance between restoring the image and respecting the original source material. Those reviewers who say it looks no better than the DVD are just flat-out wrong. If they had bothered to actually compare the two side by side, they would have seen a huge difference.

If you are a big fan of this film, the upgrade to Blu-ray is a no-brainer. I guarantee you will not be disappointed unless you are (unrealistically) expecting it to look like a movie shot in the last decade. I am very happy with the Blu-ray and can't see myself ever looking at the DVD again, especially after comparing the two.
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77 of 84 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2000
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I popped in this DVD very wary of how I would feel about an old childhood favorite after years of not seeing it. Well, I was pleasantly surprised that the film is still a lot of fun. Yes, a lot of the effects (blue screen, etc.) are unconvincing and show their age, but geeeez, the movie's almost 40 years old so what can you expect. This was a real stunner in it's day and Harryhausen's stop-motion sequences still outshine any boring CGI effect in today's cookie-cutter movies (just look at the awful recent TV remake with all those cheesy computer effects --- there's no contest!) The skeleton battle is most well-known, but I have a special fondness for Talos which was the first scene that caught my eye as a young kid on Saturday afternoon TV in the late 60's. Glad to see that "Jason" still has it's magic (along with some acceptable campiness) and the DVD is a nice presentation (there are some slight flaws to the print materials and grain in some scenes). The Harryhausen interview (with John Landis) is interesting and the original trailer is also included on the DVD.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 1999
Format: DVD
One of my fondest childhood memories was to spend Christmas Eve sitting near a warm fire watching the annual screening of "Jason and the Argonauts". As a teenager I stopped watching the film deciding that I had grown beyond it. A couple of years I rediscovered the film and found that I enjoyed as much as I ever did. All I need is to find a cabin somewhere in the wilds, take my DVD player up there and spend Christmas Eve as it was meant to be - next to a warm fire with "Jason..." playing away.
There is a sense of wonder and imagination to this film seldom echoed in the special fx epics of today, all bogged down with stupid (rather than stupendous) stunt sequences. This is good fun, highly enjoyable and a wonderful story.
This is a good DVD transfer - the picture is excellent (finally, the chance to see it in widescreen) and the sound is good. If you remember this from your childhood and wondeer if it is as good now then let me assure you that it has lost none of its magic.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2003
Format: DVD
Practically everyone with a passing interest in sci-fi films or mythology knows about "Jason and the Argonauts", so I won't go into detail about the film's plot here. I'll limit my comments to the quality of the films direction, acting and it's special effects. If you are one of the few who aren't familiar with the movie/story, a quick check of this films other reviewers will quickly bring you up to speed.
Until the advent of CGI, it was considered by most to be the epitome of the art of F/X and to many (myself included), it's still one of the best. Ray Harryhausen pulled out all the stops when making this film and it shows! The movie itself has a tried and true plot, good acting and excellent production values. The special effects by Harryhausen, even using todays computer generated effects, have seldom been equalled, much less surpassed.
If you can only own one Ray Harryhausen film, THIS is the one to get. If you have a choice, buy the DVD. You get a number of special features, such as the Harryhausen Chronicles, and you get to see the film in widescreen (worth it alone). Even if you aren't a fan of Harryhausen, I'd still get this movie. It's a classic story told in a way that everyone from 6 to 66 can enjoy. And, there are always those spectacular Harryhausen special effects!!
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
Don Chaffey was obstensibly the director of this movie but the mark of effects meister Ray Harryhausen is seen in almost every frame. Indeed, Harryhausen designed most of the major effects sequences for the film before a script had even been written, and as such "Jason" is almost pure Harryhausen from start to finish.
A master of drawing character from his latex and steel creations, Harryhausen's work on this movie transcends most CGI animation work done to date and even rivals the computer character creations seen in "The Phantom Menace". While maybe not as technically polished as the Star Wars creations are, Harryhausen's creatures have a real sense of character and life that does much to allow the viewing audience to suspend disbelief.
Due acknowledgement must also be given to composer Bernard Herrman for a stirring score that contributes greatly to creating the "sense of wonder" that is so prevalent in this movie. His trumpeting horns in the giant statue "Talos" sequence does much to lend a sense of massive scale to the sequence.
The skeleton fight near the end of the movie will perhaps be most famous sequence ever made by Harryhausen. The "Pharoh's undead army" sequence at the end of Universal's "The Mummy" is a clear tribute to Harryhausen's "Jason" skeleton sequence, and even with the flawless compositions and fluid, natural movements seen in "The Mummy" somehow don't quite compare to Harryhausens skeletons.
"Jason and the Argonauts" is a magical, wonderful movie, to be popped into the VCR along with the "Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" for an evening of real family entertainment.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2003
Format: DVD
We refer to Star Wars as a George Lucas film, ET as a Steven Spielberg film, and Terminator as a James Cameron film. It's always "a [director's name] film."

Unless it's a Ray Harryhausen film. Because Harryhausen's spellbinding creations are always the real stars of his films, his name just has to come ahead of the director's. And nobody, but nobody will ever question that departure from protocol.

For the uninitiated, one viewing of Jason and the Argonauts will help you understand just what I mean. Employing the painstakingly difficult, low-technology method of stop-motion animation, Harryhausen delivers a fantasy-adventure that's absolutely breathtaking. Jason, leading an intrepid band of warriors that includes Hercules himself, encounters the seven-headed Hydra, the winged Harpies, the metallic 200-foot-tall Talos, the Merman Demigod Triton, and a band of sword-wielding skeletons. Not only are the creatures brought to life, they interact with the humans with seamless, eye-popping realism. And remember, this is a 1963 film.

How difficult is stop-motion animation? To give you an idea, Harryhausen took four and a half months to complete the skeleton battle scene, which lasted just over three minutes in the final edit. As for the Hydra, Jason had it easy. All he had to do was slay it. The really difficult task was Harryhausen's: he had to bring it to life, keeping all seven heads in constant, menacing motion.

The difficulty of this method naturally brings about the temptation to take short-cuts, moving the creature a centimeter here and there instead of the needed two millimeters. But Harryhausen worked hard at his craft, spending long nights in his studio to achieve the most realistic movements possible. And get this: he worked ALONE. Throughout his career, he NEVER had a staff or even an assistant.

So it was only fitting that in 1992, Harryhausen was honored by the Film Academy with a Lifetime Achievement Award. It was, to my mind, a long-delayed recognition. After the awarding, the emcee paid his own tribute: "Some say Citizen Kane, some say Casablanca, I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film of all time."

The emcee: a guy named Tom Hanks.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2010
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
This magnificent blu-ray version of Harryhausen's wonderful, mythological fantasy is a splendid, tour-de-force of sights and sounds. This is the most accurate version yet put on video, and has a filmlike presence that makes for a remarkably fresh, new presentation - especially if you can project it at home. The day-for-night shots appear as originally intended and the DTS, 6-channel mix has an engrossing presence - with just the right touch of reverb - to give it the depth of an auditorium playback (the original mono is on hand for purists). Bernard Herrmann's pounding score is lent a definitive dose of intensity. There are a couple of superb commentary tracks that make it a pure pleasure to go back and watch this masterwork over and over again.
Sony is to be congratulated for it's High-definition editions of Harryhausen's timeless works - his craftsmenship is legendary - and it's absolutely mesmerizing revisiting them all! Fantasy filmmaking rarely gets better than this.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-ray
When -- several decades too late -- the Academy honored Ray Harryhausen for Lifetime Achievement, and Tom Hanks handed him the award, Hanks said "Some people say 'Citizen Kane' is the greatest movie ever made. For me, it's 'Jason and the Argonauts'."

It's certainly one of the great fantasy films, and it ends with two sequences that any other effects "technician" would have given an arm to have created: Jason's battle with the seven-headed hydra, followed by the battle with seven skeletons. More than a half-century later, /no one/ has duplicated this scene, not even with CGI. It's not that it's impossible, it's just that it requires an attention to detail and quality that nobody seems to want to put out. (It might also be that, out of respect, no one wants to top it while Ray Harryhausen is still with us.)

Yes, it's true that Blu-ray exposes the problems in an effects-heavy film, especially those scenes with animated figures and multiple mattes. However, the film has simply never looked /this/ good. "Straight" shots (those without effects) are usually sharp, detailed, and colorful. "Jason" is no longer a smeary, desaturated mess. Although there have been 4:3 transfers of the full frame (most notably the Criterion laserdisk), this one is at 5:3, which leaves narrow bars at the image sides. The framing almost always /looks/ right, so it probably /is/ right.

As for the film grain... THANK YOU, Sony, for NOT trying to suppress it, which would have only further reduced sharpness and detail.

The casting is generally good, especially Honor Blackman as Hera, and Nigel Green as Hercules (who more-resembles Grizzly Adams). Patrick Troughton (the second -- and arguably the best -- actor to portray The Doctor) plays Phineas, beset by Harpies. The intelligent script was co-written by Beverley Cross, Maggie Smith's husband. (She appears in "Clash of the Titans", which her husband also wrote.) Don Chaffey's direction is brisk and unfussy.

Little is ever said of Harryhausen's attention to detail. But note that when the actors swim, they do a side stroke -- /not/ the Australian crawl, which didn't appear in Western countries until the mid-1800s.

"Jason and the Argonauts" is generally considered Ray Harryhausen's masterpiece. Whether or not, it's a lot of fun, and belongs in the library of anyone who simply enjoys movies.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2001
Format: DVD
Ok, Todd Armstrong is not very impressive as Jason - rumour has it that he got the role because he knew someone big at Columbia - his uncle or something like that.
Apart from that, the movie is a classic. Starting with the obvious, I doubt anyone can find a movie made until then - 1963 - and even much later that can match "Jason and the Argonauts"'s technical brilliance - not only in the realm of stop-motion animation.
Two sequences stand out - Talos and the skeleton fight. Both are not only brilliantly executed from the technical point of view, but their build-up and atmosphere - helped by Bernard Hermann's score - is fantastic. But other scenes - like the one with the Triton and the one with the harpies - are also way beyond anything made at the time. This is indeed Ray Harryhausen at his very best.
But there are other good points besides the technical ones. As a life-long Greek mythology buff, I felt that "Jason" was one of the very few movies to convey the right atmosphere. It's much superior to Harryhausen's later "Clash of the Titans" in this respect. The scene where the princess goes to Hera's statue to ask for protection, with Hera appearing in the guise of a priestess soon afterwards, and the scene where Hermes reveals himself to Jason - those are the best proofs that the movie was written and shot by people who really understood and cared about Greek mythology, in my opinion. "Clash" isn't very good at that, although the recent "The Odyssey" is.
In some ways "Jason" hasn't aged very well; some dialogues and some performances seem a bit corny now. And although Todd Armstrong was the worst of all, other actors weren't well cast, either.
The DVD edition is very good, with excellent extra features, including the John Landis interview of Ray Harryhausen and the documentary on his careers - the latter extremely valuable for some glimpses of Ray's early work.
One thing bothered me a bit. Both in the interview and in the documentary there was a defensive attitude, saying that stop-motion animation should be seen with "imagination" or something like that - presumably to preempt comments of those who belittle stop-motion-animated figures in comparison to today's computer animated ones.
I couldn't disagree more. Of course "Jurassic Park"'s dinosaurs are more realistic than anything that could be achieved via stop-motion animation. And the latter can indeed look phony sometimes. But at its best - as in the Talos and skeleton sequences - it was and is a very convincing *special effect*, meaning that audiences were supposed to believe what they were seeing.
Moreover, to say that computer-animated dinosaurs are more realistic than dinosaurs animated by a master of the craft is like saying that photographs are more realistic than paintings by the old masters.
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