Following on from The Vikings yesterday, I’ve decided to share with you another of my childhood favourites, Jason And The Argonauts. Based on the Greek myth that surrounds Jason and the Golden Fleece, this 1963 movie from producer Charles Schneer, revisits the legend with plenty of stop motion special effects from legendary visual effects creator Ray Harryhausen.
Usurped from the throne when his father is murdered, Jason (Todd Armstrong) sets out to steel the legendary Golden Fleece hoping it will inspire his people to rebel against the new king. The Goddess Hera, promises Jason five chances for protection, but no more, and Jason sets out on the perilous voyage with his crew – the Argonauts.
“Spellbinding… A must see for stop-motion fans”
Jason And The Argonauts is packed with monsters from harpies to hydras – a snake with seven heads – but the six skeleton men that Jason battles near the end of the film are a triumph in stop motion. Their jolty movements only serve to make them even more otherworldly and their grim, motionless expressions are frightening and sinister. Coming second in Empire’s ‘coolest stop motion monsters’ list, the four minute skeleton sequence took Harryhausen eighteen weeks to animate.
Of all the monsters Jason encounters, it is Talos – a giant bronze statue brought to life when Hercules steals from his island – that is the most impressive and my personal favourite. As he towers above the tiny Argonauts, and picks up their ship with one hand there is a real sense of scale and dread. As we see Talos’ fingers reach under a cliff and grab at the sand, missing the Argonauts by a few inches, the sheer power of this bronze titan is clear. Talos also makes his way into Empire’s ‘coolest stop motion monster’ list at number eight.
The mythical content and fantastical ideas in Jason And The Argonauts make it a spellbinding watch. Jason is transported to Olympus – the land of the Gods that is always signalled by mist around the edges of the frame – where he is placed on a game-board. It’s a nice touch that harks back to Greek myth as the giant Gods around him discuss his fate, playing out his destiny on the board. There’s a magical quality to the ideas here that captures imaginations, from the forgotten island that was the God’s forging works, to the Clashing Rocks that sink any ship daring to sail between them.
Jason And The Argonauts moves at a swift pace, never leaving too long between action sequences and delivering on entertainment and originality. Jason And The Argonauts is a must see for stop-motion fans, particularly for those who enjoyed Harryhausen’s other creations in films such as Clash Of The Titans (1981). While some modern viewers might find the special effects in Jason And The Argonauts a bit crude, for me the monster’s jerky movements and visual texture make them more fascinating and enchanting than any recent computer generated creation.
Interested in reading more? Here’s an interesting feature on Charles Schneer and his work with Ray Harryhausen in The Telegraph.