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.
Arguably the most intelligently written film to feature the masterful stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen, Jason and the Argonauts is a colorful adventure that takes full advantage of Harryhausen's "Dynarama" process. Inspired by the Greek myth, the story begins when the fearless explorer Jason (Todd Armstrong) returns to the kingdom of Thessaly to make his rightful claim to the throne, but the gods proclaim that he must first find the magical Golden Fleece. Consulting Hera, the queen of gods, Jason recruits the brave Argonauts to crew his ship, and they embark on their eventful journey. Along the way they encounter a variety of mythic creatures, including the 100-foot bronze god Talos, the batlike Harpies, the seven-headed reptilian Hydra, and an army of skeletons wielding sword and shield. This last sequence remains one of the finest that Harryhausen ever created, and it's still as thrilling as anything from the age of digital special effects. Harryhausen was the true auteur of his fantasy films, and his brilliant animation evokes a timeless sense of wonder. Jason and the Argonauts is a prime showcase for Harryhausen's talent--a wondrous product of pure imagination and filmmaking ingenuity. --Jeff Shannon
- Interview with Ray Harryhausen by John Landis
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This is definitely family fare - and older parents (who were kids when it came out) can probably still appreciate it as much, if not more, than children viewing it for the first (or second, or 50th) time. The plot isn't too complicated. There is no sex or gore. Humor is mixed with tragedy - like in the case of Hylas. A definite must-have for fantasy fans, filmmakers, and anyone who enjoys a great adventure film.
As an aside, for those of you who might be wondering just where the 'Clashing Rocks' were located, I looked it up for you. The actual location is the Bosphorus - that very narrow strait between the Sea of Marmara (Constantinople) and the Black Sea. Colchis was said to be somewhere on the Southern shore of the Black Sea. Just to avoid any confusion, the Hellespont (now the Dardanelles) is the narrow strait between the Aegean Sea (Greek side) to the Sea of Marmara. Troy was supposed to be located at the entrance to the Hellespont.
It is also said in myth that floating rocks known as the Symplegades or Clashing Rocks once crushed any ship that attempted passage of the Bosphorus until the hero Jason obtained passage, whereupon the rocks became fixed, and Greek access to the Black Sea was opened. Now you know how Jason avoided being crushed on his way back to Thessaly.
History and myth aside, this movie is one of the best of Harryhousen's efforts, told a great story in only 101 minutes, and is therefore highly recommended. The more recent re-makes of the Jason story, as well as the Perseus vs. the Gorgon myth (Clash of the Titans) have better effects (at least more modern), but their stories just don't hold together as well.
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.