Wednesday, May 8, 2013

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (Don Chaffey, 1963, USA)

Only the gods could create a magical object that both heals and preserves peace…yet is also an instrument of war. Jason seeks to avenge the death of his father King Aristo and claim back the throne to Thessaly, to bring prosperity and justice once again to his homeland and destroy the tyrant Pelias who usurped his throne. The story begins with a seer receiving answers from the gods, and the ambitious Pelias condemning the wishes of Zeus and attempting to alter his own destiny. Pelias is told that one of Aristo's offspring would survive the siege so he orders that all children be executed. He then profanes a temple of Hera by murdering Aristo’s daughter. Pelias is finally warned by a mysterious woman to beware the man with one sandal. A wicked prelude to a children’s film!

Director Don Chaffey and the now legendary Ray Harryhausen team up to create one the greatest fantasy films of all time, their magical alchemy resulting in a wonderful adventure story infused with breathtaking special effects. Though the acting is adequate but not exemplary, it’s Harryhausen’s vibrant creatures that come to life: from the creaking iron giant Talos to the Children of the Hydra’s Teeth, these stop-motion characters are realistically articulated and beautifully designed, reacting and moving with human emotion. In one scene, Jason discovers the giant’s Achilles’ heal and, as Talos’ lifeblood gushes onto the hot sand, the iron behemoth sways and grabs his throat in pain. Another fine example is the final scene as a group of skeletons attack Jason and his cohorts: one skeleton is stabbed through the heart and reacts accordingly and another clutches a wounded arm, like vestigial pain remembered from a previous life. The monsters are an extension of Harryhausen’s brilliance as an artist: he breathes his own life into the soft clay of nonliving matter. Bernard Herrmann adds the final touches to this extravaganza with a bombastic score devoid of his usual string section, utilizing clashing symbols and percussion to accentuate the Argonauts heroism while allowing subtle woodwinds to create suspense and melodrama: this is one of his best scores. 


Jason curses the gods though he accepts the services of Hera to complete his quest, but it’s his own relentless courage that allows him to persevere…and win the heart of the lovely woman. Jason believes that he is a free man...but the vicious gods have other plans. 

Final Grade: (B+)

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