Jason and the Argonauts
By Emily Lowe
Jason and the Argonauts is a film that was made in 1963 by director Don Chaffey, about the Greek hero, Jason, and his quest for the Golden Fleece. After slaying Aristo, the King of Thessaly, Pelias takes over as the new ruler. However, it is foretold that he will be overthrown by one of Aristo’s children who will be wearing one sandal. After being granted the protection of Hera, a Greek goddess, Pelias kills one of Aristo’s daughters in cold blood, making Hera Pelias’ new enemy. Several years later, Jason, son of Aristo and Pelias’ arch rival, appear when Pelias’ horse is spooked by Hera causing him to fall into a lake; he nearly drowns. Luckily for Pelias, Jason sees him drowning and saves him. While saving Pelias, Jason loses one sandal, immediately gaining Pelias’ attention toward his nemesis, although Jason does not recognize King Pelias.
Pelias does not tell Jason that he is the King who killed his father. Yet Pelias cannot kill Jason either because the prophecy foretold Pelias would die when Jason dies. Jason tells Pelias of his ambition to find the Golden Fleece and return to Thessaly with it to gain respect from the people and revive the country. Pelias rallies for Jason to set sail on his voyage, sending him best wishes, and hoping that Jason is killed in the process. After being encouraged by Pelias to journey to the other side of the world for the Golden Fleece, Jason is unsure it exists and turns to a prophet for answers. The oracle is the Greek god Hermes. He is taken to Mount Olympus to speak to the gods Zeus and Hera. Jason learns that he can only invoke Hera’s aid five times. Hera tells him that the Fleece does exist and that it lies in the land of Colchis, on the other side of the world. Jason then has several Greek athletes compete to join the “greatest voyage ever taken” by holding Olympian games, in which he enlists the hero Hercules and Acastus, the son of Pelias sent to sabotage the voyage.
Many dangers threaten Jason’s voyage including Talos, a giant bronze guardian of the god’s treasures who is awakened by Hercules. When going to see the blind man Jason encounters harpies, which are creatures with the body of a bird or bat, and the head of a woman. A seven headed Hydra which guards the fleece and finally Hydra’s children, who are skeletons, are brought to life and formed into an Army. After making it through the clashing rocks, Acastus and Jason have a disagreement on how they should enter Colchis and speak with the king about retrieving the Golden Fleece. This results in a swordfight, leaving Acastus missing. Once the men arrive and begin to feast with the king, Jason is soon revealed as a thief, and his crew is thrown into prison. Medea, a priestess, helps Jason and the Argonauts escape and get the fleece. Jason soon returns to Thessaly.
I feel this film, although very old and with some hilarious lines of dialogue portrays the time period of late third century B.C. very well. As with many young people, this was one of my favorite childhood films. I loved the effects used in the film which reflected the technology available at the time the film was made. The acting in Jason and the Argonauts is less than great. The actual story of King Pelias comes to no conclusion, and that really bothers me. I wanted to feel the happiness of Jason regaining his throne and marrying Medea. Hercules is only presented in the film for a short period of time and in my opinion, I think he should have been a greater influence on the film. The music chosen for the film still chimes a chord with me, as soon as I put the film in my DVD player for the first time in ten years, I can still hum along to the music. Ray Harryhausen’s effects should get your respect, in spite of not being “up to today’s standards.” It’s an adventure from a time when entertainment was more important than preaching a message; the characters aren’t as bad as people say and Harryhausen’s effects are amazing in this stop motion picture. In the wake of computer generated graphics, Harryhausen’s effects may seem dated, but this is actually part of its charm. It has a certain visual appeal not found in contemporary films, and Harryhausen’s creations always have remarkable personality. The beautiful scenery also contributes to the authenticity. One thing I realized when I was watching this film, was that Olympus was not portrayed as well as it could have been. It was funny to watch the Gods sitting over a pond, resembling a television where they could watch the Jason and others.
While observing this film, I watched how the people acted, their daily lives, their weapons, and clothing. For the most part, this film in my opinion depicted the time period rather well. The men wore mostly bland colors, of course, with golden cuffs around their wrists and arms if they were a person of importance, for example Hercules and Pelias. Jason wore grungy clothes up until the end of the film, when he finally changed into “noble” clothes. The women’s clothes were made of cloth, looking much like bed sheets draped over them. When Jason saves Pelias and is taken back to his “camp,” I noticed that there were pretty, petite women dancing all around barefoot. Also, I did not understand why Pelias was in a small camp created out of tents and fires, and not in an enormous palace. The colors in the whole movie were dull except for the colors of the tents at Pelias’ camp. The tents looked like circus tents, with bright colors and designs.
Greek weapons and conduct of battle were a significant part of this time period. The weapons I observed were mostly large pieces of wood, bat-like shaped and swords. During the scene where the Greek athletes are competing for a place on the Argo, Hercules is challenged by a young boy to any competition he wishes; the boy aims to receive a spot on the ship. Hercules accepts and decides they will throw discus past a rock in the water that no man has reached before. Of course the youngster makes it further than Hercules, causing the Greek men to chant his name and rejoice in his arrival on the ship. I imagine that this is how matters were decided then. Hercules is shown in the film as a middle-aged man, possibly in his 40’s, with gray hair and an average body. I was surprised they did not make him more masculine, fit and young for that matter. Most films would portray such an inspiring person of the past, as someone with a young, broad stature. All the battle scenes in the film are intense, although out dated. To this day, the sound of metal grinding as Talos turns his head to fix his blank gaze upon those who have stolen his treasure-house is the single most chilling and dramatic scene in any of Harryhausen’s films. The battle with the bronze giant sticks in my mind to this day as one of the scariest monsters scenes in cinema history. I was hysterical during the scene though, mainly because a huge, metal monster, which would normally contain no organs nor blood, dies because Jason pulls a plate off the back of his Achilles heel causing him to die from blood loss. Through the film, the Argonauts must battle many fantasy creatures. The next triumph over the bat-like harpies who eat the blind man’s food, was a scene that stuck with me also. Jason and his Argonauts are told by Hera to continue on their mission from Talos, without Hercules, and seek out a blind man in exile to help them continue their journey. Once they arrive, the old blind man is being harassed by harpies, who steal his food when he tries to eat. Rather than killing these harpies to help this man, Jason simply traps them for the man, and then serves him a feast. The man tells them they must travel through the Symplegades, or the Clashing Rocks. In this scene, the Sea God Triton, who is also portrayed in my favorite Disney film, The Little Mermaid helps the Argonauts make it through The boat ahead of them that Medea was sailing in did not make it through. They save her and she in return offers to take the men to Colchis. This is where Jason encounters the seven headed Hydra.
The seven headed Hydra is not as scary as the other monsters in my opinion, although it does guard the Golden Fleece. It comes out of a cave and starts coming after Jason, but it’s too slow to even get near the young man. While he kills the monster, Medea is stealing the Golden Fleece. So Medea is a traitor. The final battle with the “Children of Hydra” is probably the most memorable moment from the entire movie. The director put it at the end, so everyone would remember this film. A skeletal army becomes a threat when the King from Colchis, Aeetes, plants the teeth of Hydra to attack Jason and his crew. As a young child watching Jason and the Argonauts, I remember being terribly frightened of these creatures. They are, in my opinion, some of the most creative evils created on screen.
The ship used in this film is called the Argo, named after the creator Argos. I thought that the ship was an interesting piece in this film. It was a massive ship, especially for its time period. Also, the ship had one eyeball painted on it, and the eye color was blue. This particularly intrigued me, because I did not think Greeks had blue eyes. At the other end of the enormous ship was a statue of Hera, the goddess. This statue would come to life, and open its eyes to speak to Jason and his men. It was scary at first, and exceptionally phony also. The ship was rowed with all 50 men on board, except Argos, the creator. I noticed that during the fight scene with Talos, the crew jumped onboard to get away but they had to row. How did they expect to row far enough away, to be safe from this vast bronze guardian?
Reviews of Jason and the Argonauts have been diverse because most people these days do not appreciate any form of creativity. A film has to be Pixar these days to make a mark. This film did not win any Oscars, not even for the effects done so well. When I was a child, my father would put this movie on to get all of his children in front of the television and out of his hair, and it worked for a reason. Watching it again today though, was a very amusing experience that took me back ten years.
There are many other
films depicting this time period including The Odyssey, which everyone
has studied at some point or another and also The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad,
which is an older movie including effects by Ray Harryhausen. Some recommended
additional reading for material includes Jason and the Golden Fleece
by Claudia Zeff and Jason and the Argonauts by Medelaos Stephanides.
(All images taken from the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts)