Jason and the Argonauts
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Fantastic special effects by Ray Harryhausen and exciting mythological adventure make this a film that is fun for everyone. It's the story of Jason (Todd Armstrong), a fearless sailor and explorer, who returns to the kingdom of Thessaly after a 20-year voyage to make his rightful claim to the throne. But to do so, Jason must first find the magical Golden Fleece. He selects a crew and with the help of Hera, Queen of the Gods, sets sail in search of the Fleece. Jason and his crew must overcome incredible obstacles including a 100-foot bronze giant, the venomous Hydraa huge creature with the heads of seven snakes, and a spectacular battle with an army of skeletons.
Commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Film Historian Tony Dalton
Original Skeleton Fight Storyboards
The Harryhausen Legacy
Interviews with Ray Harryhausen by John Landis
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Shots which do not contain special effects involving double printing or blue screen procedures have razor sharpness that is immediately apparent. The scenes with special effects: Talos, the Hydra, the sword-fighting skeletons, etc. divulge, quite obviously, a loss in clarity resulting from the double printing required for these effects. These differences are not nearly so apparent in the standard DVD release simply because the standard DVD process cannot convey the ultimate clarity available with Blu-ray. As I see it the only way these differences could have been minimized would be for Harryhausen to have used something like VistaVision to produce the negatives involving special effects and double printing. The large negatives produced by the VistaVision process could have minimized the loss in clarity in the subsequent reprinting. But this would probably have added considerable costs to an already fairly high budgeted movie for its time.
But I'm not being negative on the Blu-ray release of this classic at all. Blu-ray is a system that provides more technical information about the film you are watching and as the saying goes, you have to take the bitter with the batter. In the scenes with the animated skeletons combined with the live actors, for example, you immediately see that the skeleton figures have greater clarity than the live actors in the same frame as a result of the double printing required for Harryhausen's process.
The Blu-ray release also has a higher level of audio quality than the standard DVD, which provides added richness to Bernard Herrmann's excellent score. All in all, a fine presentation of this tremendously entertaining picture.
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.