Jason and the Argonauts: Epic With Argy-Bargy Skeletons

Jason and the Argonauts
Jason? Not a very ancient Greek name, is it?

This landmark piece of cinema from 1963 was something of a childhood favourite. So, Jason, let’s find out what this is all about.

Jason and the Argonauts

Adapted from an ancient Greek poem called Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius, this film revels in its Greek mythology. And still stands the test of time.

The director was Don Chaffey (1917-1990), who was from Sussex in England. It was an Anglo-American production, with an independent edge.

Right, brace yourself for the plot. There’s a lot of Greek mythology things here.

Pelias seizes control of the throne in Thessaly by killing off King Aristo. However, he’s aware of a prophecy that someone will avenge this devious doing.

The goddess Hera takes Jason (Todd Armstrong) under her wing, ensuring he’s safe for his formative years.

20 years pass. Jason and Pelias start to butt heads, with the latter pushing for the former to obtain the Golden Fleece. The expectation is Jason will die trying. To add to the peril, Zeus informs Jason that he, Zeus, can only save the warrior five times.

Jason, aware he can find the fleece in Colchis, starts to assemble his crew.

Greek men compete to join his mission. And a ship is put under construction by Argus, gaining the name Argo as a result.

The successful crew Jason assembles are, consequently, dubbed the Argonauts.

Amongst them are Hercules, Hylas, and Acastus. The latter is actually Pelias’ son and is out to ruin the mission. But Jason doesn’t know that, the stupid bloody fool!

As the voyage begins, they head out to the Isle of Bronze. There Hercules, like the freeloading thug he was, steals items.

A giant statue of Talos comes to life, seemingly through pure outrage!

Stopping on the plot for a moment, but look at these special effects! Stop-motion work from 1963—it looks terrific to this day.

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2003) led the team responsible for this landmark stuff. The American was a legend in the industry, retiring in 1981 after working on Clash of the Titans.

His work in this film is outstanding and undoubtedly one of the main reasons it remains such a cult classic.

Tom Hanks is a big fan. He was responsible for presenting a special award to Harryhausen at the 1992 Oscars. And you can see why. Behold!

Returning to the plot, Jason goes off in search of Phineus. And it is he who directs the man to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece (as well as handing over a nifty amulet present).

The Argonauts reach a rocky pass that appears rather belligerent, crushing ships that dare to pass between them.

Jason gives it a go anyway, but it appears all is doomed when the rocks close on in. Miffed, he chucks Phineus’ amulet gift into the water. Miraculously, the oceans push the ship upwards and away from death. Huzzah!

Finally reaching their destination, they meet with King Aeëtes and he offers to throw them all a feast. What a splendid gentleman!

However, the rotter has ulterior motives and imprisons them… only for crew member Medea (in love with Jason) to break them free.

King Aeëtes then summons the children of the Hydra’s teeth. And that leads to one of the most famous moments in cinematic history.

The iconic skeleton battle scenes are awesome to this day. Very eerie and exceptionally well done—pat on the back, special effects team.

It runs for around three minute and took Harryhausen some four months to complete. His efforts led him to consider this his best work.

The actors actually did their work a year early, shadowboxing away at thin air.

The stop motion gentleman then did his best to fit the skeleton’s movements around the recordings he had.

Hell of a climax to the film! Jason hurls himself into the ocean to escape the skeletons, taking Medea and the surviving Argonauts with him.

And that’s with the Golden Fleece, helping him to successfully complete his mission.

Dramatic stuff, eh? A landmark of cinema for the time, even if it didn’t prove a box office sensation. The $3 million budget didn’t lead to a huge return.

But with those special effects and a Bernard Herrmann score, it’s since gone on to earn its place in cinematic history.

And it’s still enjoyable now. A pioneering classic Hollywood film that you have to watch to enjoy the full scope of its impressive visions.

In 1963, there must have been nothing else like it. In 2020, it still looks the part.

6 comments

  1. Superb stuff! I remember watching Jason & the Argonauts on TV and being totally blown away by it. And of course it was simply spectacular for 1960s audiences. Definitely stands up today. Maybe it’s the fact that it the sfx were high budget and all old-school analogue? On that note, have you ever seen ‘Star Crash’ (1977)? Italian spaghetti version of ‘Star Wars’ starring Caroline Munro and The Hoff – superbly silly in general (including spaceships with the actual moulding sprues still attached from the kits they ‘bashed’). But it has a LOT of rather excellent Harryhausen style stop-animation in it, including a fairly specific homage to the Talos beach scene.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve not seen Star Crash, but I have seen Alien 2: On Earth. An Italian-American film designed to rip off Alien. They just about escaped a lawsuit with the name.

      I hope Hollywood doesn’t bother with a remake of Jason and the Argonauts. And it’s kind of like a historical text. You leave that sort of stuff alone. You can’t really add to it. Innit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yup – classic cinema! Those Harryhausen (and similar) epics were very much a style and art-form of the mid-twentieth century & not to be messed with. Do check out ‘Star Crash’ if you can track it down (I think MS3K ‘did’ it). Wild combo of apocalyptically silly dialogue and storyline, a truly sublime soundtrack by John Barry, swimming in space, spaceship models whose builders used the moulding sprue as well as the Airfix parts. And more. Worth it for the soundtrack. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzfuNSpP0RA

        Liked by 1 person

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