Jason and the Argonauts (1963 film)
|Jason and the Argonauts|
|Directed by||Don Chaffey|
|Produced by||Charles H. Schneer|
|Written by||Apollonios Rhodios|
|Screenplay by||Beverley Cross
|Based on||The Argonautica
3rd century BC
by Apollonius Rhodius
|Music by||Bernard Herrmann|
|Edited by||Maurice Rootes|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|June 19, 1963|
|Box office||$2,100,000 (US/ Canada)|
Jason and the Argonauts is a 1963 British Columbia Pictures fantasy film starring Todd Armstrong as the titular mythical Greek hero in a story about his quest for the Golden Fleece. Directed by Don Chaffey in collaboration with stop motion animation expert Ray Harryhausen, the film is noted for its stop-motion creatures, and particularly the iconic fight with the skeletons. The score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, who also worked on other fantasy films with Harryhausen, such as Mysterious Island and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The working title was Jason and the Golden Fleece.
Pelias (Douglas Wilmer), misinterpreting the prophecy given by god Zeus (Niall MacGinnis), usurps the throne of Thessaly by storming the palace of King Aristo and killing him and most of his family. The infant Jason is spirited out by one of Aristo's soldiers. Pelias encounters one of the king's daughters, Briseis (Davinia Taylor), seeking sanctuary in the temple of the goddess Hera (Honor Blackman) and slays her. Because the murder has profaned her temple, Hera becomes the protector of Jason and informs Pelias that killing him now will do no good. Zeus, angered by Pelias' actions, determines that Pelias shall fall and Aristo's son, Jason, shall be his instrument.
Twenty years later ("but an instant of time on Olympus"), Jason (Todd Armstrong), Aristo's son grown to manhood, saves Pelias from drowning during a "chance" encounter (orchestrated by Hera), but loses a sandal in the river so that Pelias recognizes him. Upon learning that Jason intends to obtain the legendary Golden Fleece, Pelias — concealing his identity — encourages him, hoping he will be killed in the attempt.
Jason is taken to Mount Olympus by the god Hermes (Michael Gwynn) to speak with Zeus and Hera. Hera wishes him well, but tells him Zeus has decreed he can only call upon her aid five times. She directs him to search for the Fleece in the land of Colchis. Zeus offers his direct aid, but Jason declares he can organize the voyage, build the ship, and select a crew of the bravest men in all Greece by selecting those who distinguish themselves in the Olympics. Zeus, observing that those most worthy of the aid of the gods are those who least call upon it, is pleased and sends Jason back to Earth.
Men from all over Greece compete for the honor of joining Jason. Because their ship is named the Argo after her builder Argus (Laurence Naismith), the crew are dubbed the Argonauts. Among them are Hercules (Nigel Green), Hylas (John Cairney) and Acastus (Gary Raymond), the son of Pelias, sent by his father to sabotage the voyage.
When supplies run low, Hera guides Jason to the Isle of Bronze, but warns him to take nothing but provisions. While exploring the island, however, Hercules steals a brooch pin the size of a javelin from a treasure chamber surmounted by a statue of Talos, which comes to life and attacks the Argo. Jason again turns to Hera, who tells him to open a cylindrical plug on the back of Talos' heel, releasing his ichor. Talos falls to the ground, crushing Hylas and hiding his body. Feeling responsible, Hercules refuses to leave until he ascertains the fate of his friend. The other Argonauts refuse to abandon Hercules, so Jason calls on Hera again. She informs him that Hylas is dead and Hercules is not fated to continue the voyage.
She directs them to seek the blind soothsayer Phineas (Patrick Troughton), who is constantly tormented by two Harpies sent by Zeus to punish him for misusing his gift of prophecy. These winged females steal Phineas' food leaving him only scraps. In return for imprisoning the Harpies, Phineas gives Jason directions and presents him with an amulet. To reach Colchis, the Argonauts must sail between the Clashing Rocks, which destroy any ship attempting to pass the narrow channel. As they approach, another ship coming the other way suffers just that fate. When Jason tries to row through, his ship appears doomed. In despair, Jason throws Phineas' amulet into the water. Hera now summons the sea god Triton who rises up and holds the rocks apart long enough for the Argo to pass. Just beyond the Clashing Rocks, they rescue Medea (Nancy Kovack), high priestess of Colchis..
Challenging Jason's authority, Acastus engages him in a duel to the death. Disarmed, Acastus jumps into the sea and disappears. Believing him dead, Jason and his men continue and accept an invitation from King Aeëtes (Jack Gwillim) to a feast. Unknown to them, Acastus has survived and warns Aeëtes of Jason's quest to seize the fleece. After a hospitable beginning, the Argonauts are seized and imprisoned. However, Medea, enamoured of Jason, helps him and his men escape.
Meanwhile, Acastus tries to steal the Fleece himself, but is dispatched by its guardian, the Hydra. Moments later, Jason encounters the beast and kills it after a tense battle. Aeëtes, in pursuit, sows the Hydra's teeth after praying to the goddess Hecate, producing a skeletal warrior from each. Jason, together with Phalerus and Castor, fight a desperate rearguard while the remainder flee to the ship. After a furious fight in which the other two men are killed, Jason jumps from a cliff into the sea. He, Medea, and the surviving Argonauts begin their return to Thessaly. In Olympus, Zeus tells Hera that in due time he will call upon Jason again.
In credits order
- Todd Armstrong as Jason
- Nancy Kovack as Medea
- Gary Raymond as Acastus
- Laurence Naismith as Argus
- Niall MacGinnis as Zeus
- Michael Gwynn as Hermes
- Douglas Wilmer as Pelias
- Jack Gwillim as King Aeëtes
- Honor Blackman as Hera
- John Cairney as Hylas
- Patrick Troughton as Phineus
- Andrew Faulds as Phalerus
- Nigel Green as Hercules
- Ennio Antonelli as Dmitrius (uncredited)
- John Crawford as Polydeuces (uncredited)
- Aldo Cristiani as Lynceus (uncredited)
- Ferdinando Poggi as Castor (uncredited)
- Davina Taylor as Briseis (uncredited)
- William Gudgeon as Triton (uncredited)
This is one of many mythically-themed fantasy films scored by Bernard Herrmann. Apart from being the composer's fourth collaboration with Ray Harryhausen (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Three Worlds of Gulliver and Mysterious Island, made in 1958, 1960, and 1961 respectively), Herrmann also wrote the music to Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Contrasting with Herrmann's all-string score for Psycho, the soundtrack to Jason and the Argonauts was made without a string section. This leaves the brass and percussion to perform the heroic fanfares, and the woodwinds along with additional instruments (such as the harp) to dominate in the more subtle and romantic parts.
In 1995, Intrada released a re-recording of the original score. The new version was conducted by American composer/conductor Bruce Broughton, and performed by the Sinfonia of London.
Differences from classical mythology
The film differs from the traditional telling in Greek mythology in several ways.
- In mythology, the Argonauts encountered Talos on their return journey after they had obtained the Golden Fleece. He was defeated not by Jason, but by Medea casting a spell on Talos, causing him to remove the bronze nail from his ankle which kept the ichor inside. The mythological Talos guarded Crete, not the "Isle of Bronze", and was protecting not a treasure, but Queen Europa.
- In the film, Hylas was killed when the crumbling remains of Talos crushed him. However, in mythology, Hylas was actually kidnapped by a water nymph who fell in love with him as he took a drink from a spring. When Hercules couldn't find him, he stayed behind on the island to search for him (this part was accurately portrayed in the film: when Hylas was crushed, Hercules believed him to still be alive, and stayed behind to look for him).
- The harpies were not caught in a net or caged, but were chased away by the Boreads: Calaïs and Zetes (also Zethes) Upon doing so, Iris (goddess of the rainbow), promised the Harpies would not bother Phineas anymore. Phineas told the Argonauts how to safely pass the clashing rocks by releasing a dove. If the bird makes it through, he tells them to row with all their might and, according to Apollonius, the goddess Athena gave the Argo the extra push needed to clear them, "the Argo darted from the rocks like a flying arrow", whereas in the film he gives Jason an amulet. Yet in Homer's Odyssey, Circe tells Odysseus, "One ship alone, one deep-sea craft sailed clear, the Argo, sung by the world, when heading home from Aeetes' shores. And she would have crashed against those giant rocks and sunk at once if Hera, for her love of Jason, had not sped her through."
- Jason was not betrayed by Acastus in the classical tale. Jason openly told King Aeëtes that he had come for the Fleece. The king promised Jason could have it if he performed three tasks, knowing full well they were impossible. However, Jason was able to complete the tasks with the help of Medea. It was Jason himself who sowed the dragon's teeth in the ground, not Aeëtes. Jason defeated the skeleton army (the spartoi) by making them fight amongst themselves and destroy each other, rather than the Argonauts battling them.
- One of the two Argonauts killed by the skeletons is Castor, who in Greek mythology would perish much later as the result of a feud with Idas and Lynceus. The other is Phalerus, who in mythology would also survive the adventures of the Argonauts.
- Medea killing her own brother, Absyrtus, to help Jason and the Argonauts escape, is omitted from the film, as are the episodes with Cyzicus and the Gegeines and the Argonauts' stay on the isle of Lemnos. Ancient mythology suggests King Aristo and Pelias were half brothers; each sharing a common mother, the beautiful Tyro, where the former is a son of her husband Cretheus and the latter, a son of the god Poseidon.
- King Aeetes is Medea's own father and Jason does not kill his uncle Pelias, instead Medea uses her wit and powerful magic to accomplish the task.
- The film ends on a high note with plotlines unresolved and ignores the tragedy and bloodshed which marks the end of the myth.
It was shot in Eastman Color.
At the 1992 Academy Awards, in honoring Ray Harryhausen with a lifetime-achievement award, actor Tom Hanks remarked ""Some people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane. I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made."
Ray Harryhausen regarded this as his best film. Previous Harryhausen films had been generally shown as part of double features in "B" theatres. Columbia was able to book this film as a single feature in many "A" theatres in the United States. The skeletons' shields are adorned with designs of other Harryhausen creatures, including an octopus and the head of the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth.
Columbia released the movie on Blu-ray Disc (regions A, B and C) on 6 July 2010. The disc's special features include two new audio commentaries, one by Peter Jackson and Randall William Cook, the other by Harryhausen in conversation with his biographer Tony Dalton.
- List of American films of 1963
- Jason and the Argonauts (TV miniseries)
- List of stop-motion films
- Sword and sandal
- List of historical drama films
- Greek mythology in popular culture
- Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius third century BC
- "Top Rental Features of 1963", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 71. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.
- It took Ray Harryhausen, well over three months to animate the skeleton sequence of film.
- Argonautica, book II; Ovid XIII, 710; Virgil III, 211, 245
- Homer, The Odyssey, Book XII, lines 76 to 80, Translator Robert Fagles, Penguin Books, 1996
- In an Interview with John Landis, John said "I noticed you left out Medea"; Ray responded "We had to"
- "King Kong tops movie Monster poll". BBC. April 3, 2004.
- Jason and the Argonauts. Culver City: Columbia TriStar Home Video, 1998.
- Ray Harryhausen bio
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
- "Jason and the Argonauts". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
- First Details! Jason and the Argonauts Hitting Blu-ray
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jason and the Argonauts (1963 film).|
- Jason and the Argonauts at the Internet Movie Database
- Jason and the Argonauts at AllMovie
- Jason and the Argonauts at the TCM Movie Database
- Jason and the Argonauts at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Jason and the Argonauts at Rotten Tomatoes