Jason and the Argonauts (1963) Review – Wonderful Escapism

There are plenty of movies out there that exist just to wizz you away to another world so you can enjoy its wonders and forget about real life. But few do it as entertainingly as Jason and the Argonauts, a Greek mythology film following a lad named Jason with his crew upon his boat on a quest to find a golden fleece.

Now, this film may deceive you because the first fifteen minutes or so are quite boring. The set up is that Zeus prophesied that someone would take over Jason’s town when he was a baby, leading to him killing Jason’s parents and siblings. So Jason’s quest for the golden fleece is to show his people the Gods haven’t given up on them and that there is still hope – that way they will choose to follow his rule. It’s an okay motivation, I suppose, if not for the fact Jason himself is as close to an atheist as you can get in a universe where God’s undeniably exist.

But once all that is out of the way, the movie really is just exciting scene after exciting scene. We are shown the entire movie is just Zeus and his wife, Hera, rather carelessly forcing dangerous things to happen to Jason and his crew for their own pleasure, which adds an existential layer to just about everything in the film. There’s a neat scene of Jason gathering his crew and then Hercules all of a sudden shows up and just decides to be in the film out of nowhere.

Of course the highlight is all the special effect work done by Ray Harryhausen. First we get a marvelous sequence with a huge bronze statue of Talos, a Greek titan. There’s such great attention to detail in every move he makes, from pivoting his torso around cliffs and passing his sword into his off-hand so he can lift a boat. He’s clearly one of the best realised monsters in the film. Then there’s the flying imps (I think they’re imps) stealing an old man’s food whom Jason has to trap. These guys interact a lot with the actors and do everything from ripping props out of their hands to even pulling parts of their clothing off.

One of my favourite moments is when Poseidon rises from the ocean to hold two sections of an island apart so they do not crush and bury Jason’s boat as he sails between them. I love how huge he is and the fish tail they gave him.

The Hydra, surprisingly, didn’t wow me all that much. It and Jason just seemed to aimlessly wave around at each other until the fight ended.

Lastly there’s the skeletons. These guys steal the show, making you think they’re slow and lumbering creatures until they errupt into full sprints at our characters. Unlike with the Hydra, there’s lots of clever interactions in the fight against these guys; characters get run through by their swords, disarmed and thrown around. According to IMDB’s trivia page the scene lasts roughly 3 minutes but took about 3 months to put together. All worth it though, as it’s still fun, engaging and full of tension even in today’s CGI can make anything a reality world.

I’m going to admit the story isn’t the greatest. Hell, Jason himself isn’t even all that interesting of a character and seems all too ready to doom one blameless civilisation by stealing the golden fleece just to get a chance at maybe giving it to his own. There’s also a scene where they’re told to go to Phrygia to find the fleece which I thought was silly because it’s not like Phrygia was a small island like all the other locations they vistied; in history, it was a huge empire making up all of Turkey and much of Syria. It might seem like a nitpick, but I still thought it was weird.

Overall though, that doesn’t change what this film is; an excuse for dudes to go from scene to scene fighting weird stuff for our entertainment. Given that it does so well at it, I’d definitely recommend Jason and the Argonauts.

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