You can growl away all you like, Zeus. I mean what I say!
Director : Don Chaffey
Cast : Todd Armstrong, Honor Blackman, Niall MacGinnis, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond, Laurence Naismith and Douglas Wilmer
One thing I’ve always felt a bit guilty of whilst writing for this site is the lack of older film reviews. I’m not going to look it up but I would be amazed if less than 90% of the movies I’ve reviewed were from the current decade, backed up by that I’m pretty certain I’ve only ever reviewed one from before the 1980s, and if you want obscure films then I haven’t really reviewed anything from before 1990.
I know you’re reading that and thinking “hold on, “Jason and the Argonauts” isn’t obscure” and you’d be right, but whilst at my parents house I found a DVD of it and whilst looking it up on IMDB I saw it didn’t have a lot of votes so I thought maybe it would be worth reviewing. I also think it is one of those films that the vast majority of people under 30 haven’t seen, even if they have heard of it.
“Jason and the Argonauts” kicked off my fascination with Greek Mythology back during my childhood and it is the oldest film I still watch semi-regularly.
So yeah, after a long winded introduction, here it is……
Pelias (Wilmer) successfully conquers Thessaly, but is warned that the son of the king, Jason (Armstrong), will one day come back and avenge his family, but he refuses to believe the prophecy until he meets Jason, now an adult, twenty years later. Without revealing who he is, Pelias convinces Jason to go on a mission to retrieve a golden fleece. The fleece is capable of healing any wound and could change the fate of a kingdom.
Jason finds himself in an audience with Zeus (MacGinnis) and Hera (Blackman), but he refuses the help other than basic clues. After a games to determine the crew, Pelias sends his own son Acastus (Raymond) with Jason to steal the fleece, but as the journey continues they will all end up fighting for their lives against titans, harpes and various other horrors.
So is it still decent or has time not been kind?
It’s hard to really criticise a film that is almost sixty years old for ageing badly, especially given the lack of technology that was readily available at the time, but I am going to start off with two things I would like to highlight on a negative side.
The first is that the dubbing of numerous characters is quite off-putting as whilst only Jason and Medea are officially credited as having dubbing, I’d be amazed it is wasn’t for the case for a significantly higher portion of the case as well. As well as that, the use of stop-motion it somewhat distracting at points as well. Don’t get me wrong, for some scenes it is vital, but do you really need to stop motion a discuss hitting a rock?
That being said, some of the visuals are absolutely fantastic. Everything regarding the Titan Talos is done in such a way that the threat feels very real. The sound effects utilised really help in this matter and it is genuinely hard to see how the crew will survive such a threat. That’s what is great about older films such as this, whilst they have probably as many action scenes as modern films, older movies are done in a far more convincing and methodical way. It feels iconic.
The on-location method of shooting really helps with the authenticity and whilst it sometimes produces inconsistencies (for example, when the above scene happens, when they arrive back at the island after the ship is destroyed there is no land visible in the background, even though it would only be a few hundred metres away). The locations are beautiful and modern day films can only dream of something similar.
There is nothing overly fancy about the film, it is there purely to tell a story. There are some very questionable and exceptionally stupid decisions made by characters (such as the fate of Hylas), but other than that the characters are more developed than could be expected. Hercules’ character arc (considering he is a minor character) is subtle but well-written, and you are constantly on edge with Acastus because you are never sure when he is going to turn on Jason, even at the point where they are supposedly working as a team to take on Talos and the harpes.
If you’re interested in Greek mythology, like I am, then there is a good chance that you will really like this film, if you could let the relatively minor things go.
In terms of Greek Mythology films this is one of the go-to films of the old-style era of cinema. It isn’t particularly flash, especially by today’s standards, and it hasn’t aged particularly well, but at nearly sixty years old you can forgive a lot of the issues.
Whilst the dubbing is distracting, the story-telling is fairly decent and the various villains do feel like a genuine threat, especially Talos.
If you’re open minded with regards to your films and aren’t put off by watching a film that is quite clearly still in the infancy of special effects, then I’d recommend it.