We hadn’t sat down for a Sunday morning movie in a while, but today we picked back up with a fabulous one. Tom Hanks once said that Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film of all time, and I think Hanks knows movies more than I do. He may be right; it’s certainly very fun.
Our five year-old critic got squirmy in the middle, and when the traitor on board the Argo, played by Gary Raymond, revealed himself, he had no idea what the heck was going on. But to be fair, Douglas Wilmer’s evil king tapped Raymond to spy on Jason, the true heir to the throne of Thessaly, almost an hour previously and Raymond didn’t actually do anything nasty after that, so we can forgive him for being baffled by the swordfight.
We also needed to pause early on after realizing that our son had virtually no contact with Greek mythology prior to this, and didn’t know who these gods were. I think that Ares and Hephaestus are in an episode of Justice League Unlimited, but other than that, I don’t know that today’s popular culture really references these beings much anymore. Niall MacGinnis plays Zeus and Honor Blackman, in between her two seasons as Cathy Gale on The Avengers, plays Hera. The two of them take an interest in Jason after competing prophecies and prayers attract their attention.
I really like the way that the film addresses a desire to live in a world without the interference of gods. There’s an interesting bit where the Olympians consider the wisdom in striking down every heathen who blasphemes.
Also appearing in the movie are Todd Armstrong, who never had the career he deserved, as Jason, Nancy Kovack as the priestess Medea, Laurence Naismith, who would later manipulate The Persuaders to do his bidding, as the shipbuilder Argus, Nigel Green as a most unusual (but still very effective) Hercules, and Patrick Troughton – didn’t we just see him last night? – as a blind soothsayer. Our son didn’t recognize him, of course. Troughton was such a chameleon.
The movie’s directed by Don Chaffey, who mainly did television work, but also Pete’s Dragon for Disney, and it is one gorgeous, beautiful movie. It’s also a movie where the director knows when to back off and let Ray Harryhausen take over.
Wow. Okay, it’s true that jaded eyes can spot the difference in film stock whenever something magic is about to happen. This actually works against the beautiful modern restoration of this movie, with the blues in particular so vibrant that even in thirteen-degree January Chattanooga, we warmed up just looking at the sea and the sky. Nevertheless, the special effects are completely amazing for their day and remain astonishing.
I also love how all the stop-motion beasts in this movie have their own body language. The giant statue of Talos is slow and lumbering, the harpies are blurs of motion, the hydra’s heads and tail are each doing their own thing, and the seven (seven!!!!) skeletons who attack Jason, Phalerus, and Castor are unstoppable. Well, it’s possible they might have dispatched one of them.
Apart from his fit of mid-movie boredom, our son really enjoyed this film. He leapt out of his skin when the hydra showed up, started chewing on his security blanket when the skeletons attack, and might have swallowed the whole thing if Jason hadn’t made it out of that. He said that his favorite part of the film was when they use the golden fleece (or “golden cloak thing” in his words) to bring Medea back to life.
I dunno what my favorite part of the movie is. Possibly the skeletons. That animation is so darn good. Sure, they could do it on a computer now, but just imagine the work that went into matching all that up with the live-action footage. We’ll see a few more Harryhausen films down the line, but they might all be in this one’s long shadow. It’s a fantastic movie.