The movie takes us on the familiar tale of Jason, a Greek warrior who sets out to find the Golden Fleece, a mythical object of great power. He needs this in order to take back his kingdom, usurped from his father by King Pelias. The new king sullies the temple of Hera by killing Jason’s sister there, prompting the goddess to aid Jason. With this rather substantial backing, he heads across the seas to recover the fleece, but not before attracting a crew than includes the legendary strongman Hercules.
The result is quite spectacular. Jason and the Argonauts blended the best of stop-motion animation and overlay technology to create something that must have been incredible in its day. In many ways it still stands up to today’s special effects efforts.
Much of the meat on this bone is from Ray Harryhausen, the godfather of stop-motion and one of the gods of special effects. He and his team spent months crafting the various action scenes, which would include the towering iron guardian Talos and the climactic fight with skeleton swordsmen. Along the way audiences are also treated with evil harpies and the multi-headed hydra. Audiences were also spoiled by the other effects, created by layering film elements over each other.
This allowed a tiny Jason to visit the gods in Olympus and rendered a giant Triton, messenger of the sea, rising out of the ocean and pushing apart massive cliffs. Today all that is rather expected from a film, but in 1963 it was fresh. Not only that, but the degree of artisan passion oozes from the set pieces – the teams behind this film’s fantastic visuals truly loved what they did and wanted to create something special.
Jason and the Argonauts came at a strange time, when there have been a flood of swords & sandals films, many dealing with Jason’s quest for the fleece. This is perhaps why it didn’t get that much attention from movie goers. While the film made back its $1 million budget, it only doubled it. In contrast James Bond’s debut film Dr. No, also released that year, cost the same but made nearly $60 million. Jason and his crew were resigned to history, but like any true classic refused to stand back. It has since become recognised as one of the greatest fantasy films of all time and many have declared it their all-time favourite film. Today it remains very watchable and you cannot help but wonder about all the kids who saw this went it first appeared, blown away by its unbelievable visuals. [/column] [column size=one_half position=last ] [/column]
Best Scene: Fighting skeleton, giant statues pulling boats out of the ocean, gods rising from the seas and moving mountains, Jason’s uncannily manicured beard… really, take your pick.
Best Quote: “The gods of Greece are cruel! In time, all men shall learn to live without them.”
Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.
Last Updated: June 2, 2014