Reviews

Reviews

Jason and the Argonauts

Jason and the Argonauts

Don Chaffey

UK / USA, 1963

Credits

Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 06 February 2005

Source Columbia/Tristar DVD

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Ray Harryhausen’s formidable contribution to this film is first acknowledged in the form of Talos, a giant bronze statue that comes to life to preserve a treasure stolen from his loot. Via superlative stop-motion photography, matte shots, and superimpositions, Talos towers over the Argonauts with a sword the length of their ship, the Argo. The first of numerous visual highlights in this film comes soon after, with the giant statue standing above the Argo’s path and lifting it out of the water.

Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects have a crude tangibility. There are flaws in Talos’ interaction, for one, with the denizen of useless warriors beneath him, but the construction is remarkably believable, stiff and looming, as a giant bronze statue would be. The remaining highlights involving stop-motion effects, each on a scale smaller than the one cited previously, are individually remarkable, but do not seamlessly coalesce with the live-action components. There is a fight with harpies, or the famous warrior skeletons at the film’s end (faithfully homaged, if not outdone, in Army of Darkness), but in each of these scenes the choreography is uncomplicated on the part of the human actors. To criticize these as flaws would be warranted had Harryhausen not fine-tuned his craft in his later films.

The film is based loosely on the search for the legendary Golden Fleece of Greek myth. The mortals, Jason and his crew specifically, are pawns for the gods—literally, the gods reside atop mount Olympus and place figurines, representing the mortals, in a model arena to determine their fates on the planet below them. I cannot verify the accuracy of the adaptation, but the film is nonetheless bound by its special effects. The dialogue is always mannered and uninflected. The hero, although predictably triumphant, is completely overshadowed by his nemeses. No matter, Jason and the Argonauts—certainly a wondrous film at its time—benefits from nostalgia, and is moviemaking in a rarefied form.

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