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Jason And The Argonauts - Blu-ray Review

Jason and the Argonauts


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With a ceremonial crashing of cymbals, Bernard Herrmann’s thunderous score – completely without the use of strings - kicks off the drama and stop motion wonder in Columbia Pictures’ presentation of Jason and the Argonauts.  Directed by Don Chaffey (of Pete’s Dragon and One Million Years B.C. fame) and full of Ray Harryhausen’s superbly rendered monsters, this 1963 fantasy feature is, time and time again, credited as being the ONE film that fired the imaginations of nearly two generations of film visionaries, from the magical minds of Tim Burton and Peter Jackson to the well-timed staging of Steven Spielberg and John Landis.

Produced by Charles H. Schneer, longtime champion of Harryhausen’s work, and written by Beverley Cross (Clash of the Titans), the Argonaut narrative - loosely based on the epic poem The Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius - concerns itself with the travels of the mythical Greek hero, Jason (Todd Armstrong) as he gathers a group of able-bodied men, including Hercules (Nigel Green) and Acastus (Gary Raymond), and sets sail aboard the Argo in search of the fabled Golden Fleece that will unite the people of Thessaly and bring an end to the corrupt rule of Pelias (Douglas Wilmer).  Quickly paced – even with today’s standards – Jason and the Argonauts is the best representation of the whole Sword-and-Sandal phenomenon, as well as Harryhausen’s first effort to earn a single release billing (and not the dreaded B-movie double feature) at movie houses across America.

Jason’s perilous journey in search of the Golden Fleece brings his men face-to-face with Talos, a moving bronze statue - 500 times their height - that seeks to destroy the men and their boat once they remove a piece of treasure they were warned not to disturb.  Talos, comparable only to the success of the original King Kong model, is a towering behemoth of a monster and a mighty fun sequence to repeatedly watch.  Harryhausen’s effects against the Italian location, after noting the enhanced tarnish on the bronze skin of Talos, are superbly rendered in his painstaking obedience to detail.  Even the physicality of the statue as it straddles two bluffs in order to block the men poses a realistic threat.  Using camera tricks and a healthy dose of blue screen circa 1963, the illusion of men verses clay is successfully achieved.

Losing Hercules to his own epic adventures, the men continue on with the guiding lips of the soft-spoken Hera (Honor Blackman).  Soon enough, their journey leads them to a blind prophet cursed by Zeus (Niall MacGinnis).  Following Hera’s advice, the men protect Phineas (Patrick Troughton) from the purple-winged bat attacks of the Harpies (another gem of Harryhausen design), who torment him day and night due to his curse, so that he might tell them the way to the Golden Fleece.  In this engaging sequence (as the men string a net between two columns in order to catch Phineas’ tormentors), Harryhausen’s influence upon Peter Jackson’s effects is definitely obvious, as these monsters are not unlike those found in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings saga.

Full of giant mermen, sword-wielding skeletons (a four minute sequence of awesomeness that took Harryhausen four months to complete and DEFINITELY influenced Burton), and the multi-headed Hydra that protects the glowing beauty of the Golden Fleece, Jason and the Argonauts is an effects loaded pre-digital era treat showcasing the dimensions of Harryhausen’s creations.  It may have only had a budget of one million dollars, but its influence on the art and future artisans of film is simply priceless.  It is no wonder that Harryhausen – who celebrates the milestone that is his 90th birthday this year – considers this film his best work in the field of stop motion.

Component Grades
5 Stars
5 Stars
DVD Experience
5 Stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - July 6, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.66:1
: English, English SDH
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: Mono
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); BD-Live

Choosing the slightly taller 1:66 aspect ratio, Sony wisely gives us more effects in its use of the screen.  The grain factor is an ebb and flow sort of occurrence (it always was), and sometimes the use of stock footage (namely from Helen of Troy) brings down the quality of the Blu-ray, as it always did.  Still, this transfer is less splotchy and dim than previous versions.  Yes, even Criterion’s laserdiscs can be put away because this version is better. The Blu-ray’s details really display Harryhausen’s creations and only sometimes do the era’s blue screen effects become a bit so-so in quality.  Complete with a strong 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track for which the blasting of Herrmann’s score is highly recommended, Jason and the Argonauts is a treasure to own on Blu-ray.

While Columbia was originally going to roll on the light side with their special features for this Blu-ray release, the celebration of Harryhausen’s 90th birthday convinced them otherwise.  Man, this puppy is loaded with information.  The features are as follows:



  • Two Audio Feature-Length Commentaries: The first commentary track is with director Peter Jackson and effects guru Randall William Cook. While it is a very technical track, their discussion also covers the film's production history, the various actors and actresses, and of course, the effects that influenced them. The second commentary track is with Ray Harryhausen, joined by film historian Tony Dalton. Along with the usual production insights, Harryhausen reveals the tricks behind his creations and gives the listener some interesting anecdotes.


  • The Harryhausen Legacy (25:32): Directors John Landis and Joe Dante, as well as visual effects superstars John Dykstra, Dennis Muren, and Phil Tippett reflect on Harryhausen’s influence upon their own careers.
  • Harryhausen Interviewed by director John Landis (11:53): Landis and Harryhausen talk monsters and stop-motion.
  • Ray Harryhausen Chronicles (57:57): This near feature length documentary covers the illustrious stop-motion career of Ray Harryhausen - which initially began as his hobby after seeing King Kong.  Complete with special interviews, a new look at his models, animation segments, and narrated by Leonard Nimoy, the feature is a fun thrill ride through all things Harryhausen.


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