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 (working title Jason and the Golden Fleece) is a 1963 American-British independent fantasy film distributed by Columbia Pictures, produced by Charles H. Schneer, directed by Don Chaffey, that stars Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Honor Blackman, and Gary Raymond.
Jason and the Argonauts was made in collaboration with stop motion animation expert Ray Harryhausen and is known for its various fantasy creatures, notably the iconic fight scene featuring multiple warrior skeletons.
The film score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, who also worked with Harryhausen on the fantasy films The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960), and Mysterious Island (1961).
Pelias (Douglas Wilmer), misinterpreting the prophecy given to him by the god Zeus (Niall MacGinnis), usurps the throne of Thessaly, killing King Aristo and most of his family. The infant Jason is spirited away by one of Aristo's soldiers. Pelias slays one of the king's daughters, Briseis (Davina Taylor), as she seeks sanctuary in the temple of the goddess Hera (Honor Blackman). Because the murder has profaned her temple, the angry Hera becomes Jason's protector. She warns Pelias to beware "of a man wearing one sandal".
Twenty years later, Jason (Todd Armstrong) saves Pelias from drowning (orchestrated by Hera), but loses his sandal in the river; Pelias recognizes him from the prophecy. Learning that Jason intends to find the legendary Golden Fleece, he encourages him, hoping Jason will be killed in the attempt.
Jason is brought to Mount Olympus to speak with Zeus and Hera. Hera tells him Zeus has decreed he can only call upon her for 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 a ship, and collect a crew of the bravest men in all Greece.
Men from all over Greece compete for the honor. 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.
Hera guides Jason to the Isle of Bronze, but warns him to take nothing but provisions. However, Hercules steals a brooch pin the size of a javelin from a treasure building, surmounted by a gigantic statue of Talos, which comes to life and attacks the Argonauts. Jason again turns to Hera, who tells him to open a large plug on Talos' heel, to release the giant's ichor. Talos falls to the ground, crushing Hylas, hiding his body. Hercules refuses to leave until he ascertains the fate of his friend. The other Argonauts refuse to abandon Hercules, so Jason calls upon Hera again. She informs them that Hylas is dead and that Hercules will not continue on with them.
The Argonauts next reach the realm of King Phineas, who has been blinded and is tormented by Harpies for his transgressions against the gods. In return for his advice on how to reach Colchis, the Argonauts render the Harpies harmless by caging them, whereupon Phineas tells them to sail between the Clashing Rocks, which destroy any ship in the narrow channel, and gives Jason an amulet. Arriving at the Clashing Rocks, the Argonauts witness another ship suffering that fate. When the Argo tries to row through, the ship appears doomed. Jason throws Phineas' amulet into the water, and the sea god Triton rises up and holds the rocks apart so the Argo could pass them. The Argonauts rescue a survivor from the other ship, Medea (Nancy Kovack), high priestess of Colchis.
Challenging Jason's authority, Acastus engages him in a duel. Disarmed, Acastus jumps into the sea and disappears. Jason and his men land in Colchis and accept an invitation from King Aeëtes (Jack Gwillim) to a feast. Unknown to them, Acastus has survived and warned Aeëtes of Jason's quest for their prized Golden Fleece. Aeëtes has the unwary Argonauts imprisoned, but Medea helps Jason and his men escape.
Meanwhile, Acastus tries to steal the Fleece, but is killed by its guardian, the Hydra. Following right behind Acastus, Jason is able to kill the beast. Aeëtes, in pursuit, sows the Hydra's teeth while praying to the goddess Hecate, producing a band of skeletal warriors. Jason, together with Phalerus and Castor, hold off the skeletons while Medea and Argus escape back to the Argo with the Fleece. After a prolonged battle in which his companions are killed, Jason jumps from a cliff into the sea, and he, Medea, and the surviving Argonauts 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 (voice dubbed by Tim Turner)
- 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 the 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 scored the science fiction films The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959).
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 only encountered Talos on their return journey after they had obtained the Golden Fleece. He was defeated not by Jason, but only 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 naiad 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 only chased away by the Boreads: Calaïs and Zetes (also Zethes)
- In the film, the god Triton saved the Argo from destruction passing through the Clashing Rocks, but according to 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 Aeëtes 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 not the Hydra that protected the Fleece but rather only a dragon or a snake. Jason did not slay it, instead only Medea cast a spell on it, causing it to fall asleep. It was only 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 ultimately omitted from the film, as are the episodes with Cyzicus and the Gegeines and the Argonauts' stay on the isle of Lemnos.
It was shot in Eastman Color.
Reception and legacy
Jason and the Argonauts received critical acclaim and is now considered a cult film classic. It currently holds a 93% "fresh" rating at the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 41 reviews, with the consensus: "Don Chaffey's Jason and the Argonauts is an outlandish, transportive piece of nostalgia whose real star is the masterful stop-motion animation work of Ray Harryhausen.". In April 2004, Empire magazine ranked Talos as the second best film monster of all time, after King Kong.
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 film on Blu-ray (for 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, and the other by Harryhausen in conversation with his biographer Tony Dalton.
- Jason and the Argonauts (miniseries)
- List of stop-motion films
- Sword and sandal
- Greek mythology in popular culture
- "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.
- Jason and the Argonauts at the Internet Movie Database
- Argonautica, book II; Ovid XIII, 710; Virgil III, 211, 245
- The Odyssey, Book XII, 80
- In an Interview with John Landis, John said "I noticed you left out Medea"; Ray responded "We had to"
- "Jason and the Argonauts". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
- "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
- First Details! Jason and the Argonauts Hitting Blu-ray
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