A blu ray film review of Jason and the Argonauts.
Jason and the Argonauts hails from a time when stop motion technology and rear projection were commonly used to create special effects sequences, this film features some wonderful use of the technology, Ray Harryhausen took four months just to create the skeleton army scene which lasts a short time onscreen.
If you look closely you will see the shields that the skeletons use have designs featuring characters from other Harryhausen films such as the head of the Ymir from Twenty Million Miles To Earth.
The original idea for the film was to have Sinbad join Jason in his quest for the golden fleece, the reason for this was the success of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in 1958.
Not many people know that the original voice of Todd Armstong is unused in the movie and he is being dubbed by Brit actor Tim Turner. The actress who played Medea is Nancy Kovack and she also had her voice dubbed by Eva Haddon who did many BBC radio plays.
Bernard Herrmann reused to great effect parts of the music scores from his earlier films such as The Kentuckian, Beneath the 12-Mile Reef and 5 Fingers, Hermann also reworked passages from North by Northwest, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Vertigo.
Ray Harryhausen considers Jason and the Argonauts his best film work.
The Gods give Pelias the throne of Thessaly but warn him that he must give up his right to rule and that Jason will gain his crown, Pelias tricks Jason and tells him he must first assemble a crew and sail to the other side of the world and capture the legendary golden fleece and only then should he return to claim his rightful place as heir to the throne of Thessaly.
Jason's crew consist of the very best men that Greece has to offer including Hercules, unbeknown to Jason, the son of Pelias has also managed to get onboard with the aim of stopping Jason should he ever get close to the golden fleece. Jason sets sail on a mission that will pit him against Talos, the Hydra, a skeleton army and the Gods themselves.
Jason and the Argonauts has everything you could want in a fantasy movie, the plot is interesting and it has a beginning, a middle and almost an end, getting Bernard Herrmann to do the music score was also a stroke of genius, Herrmann's score is very satisfying and really makes the film special.
The skeleton battle is just one of many exciting scenes in the film, i would go so far as to say the build up to the scene which has some wonderful music is even more impressive as the teeth of the Hydra are plucked and planted and the skeletons rise and let out a shriek as they begin their attack.
Nigel Green as Hercules was a standout among the cast, he isn't the typical choice for such a part as he is not a muscleman but he plays the part with more humanity than past Hercules have, he has screen presence and almost overshadows everyone else when he is about.
This film features some of Ray Harryhausen's finest work, Talos is an impressive figure as is the Hydra but his work on the skeletons surpass all that and make the film the classic it is today.
The pace might seem too slow for modern audiences, i personally didn't have a problem with this but those brought up on fast paced movies with slick editing and cameras that cannot stay still for more than five seconds at a time may find themselves getting bored with this movie.
The ending which i will not give away does not conclude the whole story, of course if you look at the Greek history of this story you will see there is a reason the story finishes when it does.
I think the image quality is representative of the way it was shot, you may notice that effects sequences involving stop motion often have an outline around them, are softer looking and have more film grain, this is not a fault of the transfer but due to how they would optically add such effects to the film which meant those sequences when spliced back into the main film could be several generations removed from the original film print.
I was very pleased with the natural film like look to many scenes, i feel that as long as you are aware of the process used to make the stop motion effects blend with the live action you will not be disappointed with the image quality on this release.
You get a choice of the original mono track playing through your front left and right speakers or can choose to listen to a 5.1 remix, this should please everyone.
The 5.1 remix is front heavy but the music score sounds much fuller bodied, i also heard the sound of water hitting the Argo coming from the rear speakers a few times. This is not a movie in which you will hear deep bass and your subwoofer does not get a workout. Give the 5.1 mix a whirl, its faithful to the original mono mix but expands the soundstage a little.
Jason and the Argonauts did not have the lavish budget that other sword and sandal productions of the time did but it looks like a more expensive movie than it actually is and much of this can be attributed to the producer Charles H. Schneer, the cinematography of Wilkie Cooper, the effects by Ray Harryhausen and the fabulous music score by Bernard Herrmann.
Fantasy movies can have a timeless quality about them which you can enjoy no matter your age or where in the world you come from, I feel Jason and the Argonauts still entertains and despite the advances in CGI technology there will always be a charm to movies such as this.
I have no doubt that the planned updating of this classic tale will feature amazing CGI effects but they may overdo it, sometimes just because you can do something doesn't mean you should, by that i mean will they have fifty skeletons battling Jason and his Argonauts, if so it might be overkill, sometimes less is more.
For those interested in the new version it will be hitting cinemas in 2012 and is called Jason and the Argonauts: The Kingdom of Hades, meanwhile i recommend checking out the original.
View some blu ray full hd screencaps from Jason and the Argonauts here.