The big-budget remake of Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans hits the theaters next weekend. The original (reviewed by Fiz awhile back) ranks among his worst film. His effects-filled 1963 sandal epic, Jason and the Argonauts, saw more “A” list playing houses than his previous work, and Harryhausen considers it his best.

How well has it held up?

Jason and the Argonauts

Available from Amazon. To fans, I recommend this edition that features Harryhausen’s three Sinbad films and The Three Worlds of Gulliver.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Don Chaffey

Written by Jan Read, Beverley Cross, from the ancient epic by Apollonios Rhodios (“Do you represent Apollonios Rhodios? Add a resume, photos, Twitter or Blog feed to this page with IMDb Resume.”)

Special effects by Ray Harryhausen

Cast

Todd Armstrong as Jason
Tim Turner as Jason’s voice
Jack Gwillim as King Aeetes
Nancy Kovack as Medea
Gary Raymond as the Acastus
Laurence Naismith as Argos
Honor Blackman as Hera
Niall MacGinnis as Zeus
Nigel Green as Hercules
John Cairney as Hylas
Douglas Wilmer as King Pelias
Patrick Troughton as Phineas

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb

Premise:

The ancient Greek hero gathers a crew and touches down in Colchis to take the Golden Fleece. Along the way, they encounter Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations, and a future Doctor Who.

High Points:

Harryhausen’s best films contain a sense of old-school Saturday matinee fun that permits me to overlook any number of flaws. Talos, this film’s most memorable heel, conveys a powerful sense of comic-book menace as he creaks across the beach after our heroes.

Low Points:

People training in martial arts often refer to “practice dummy syndrome” (by various names) in which someone attacks, text-book style, as though the opponent won’t evade, strike back, or do anything else that might complicate the fine execution of technique.

Everyone in Jason and the Argonauts act like practice dummies.

Hydra has seven heads and cannot seem to nip Jason with one. Aeetes rules an entire country but can only muster up a small group of soldiers (and, apparently, no ships) to pursue the Argonauts. While Aeetes does the incantation that will raise the Children of the Hydra’s Teeth, the Argonauts…. Run to the ship? Fight? Shoot him with an arrow? No—they employ the brilliant strategy of standing there waiting to see what will happen next.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6. Sandal epics had been big for some time when this came along, and it otherwise stands as a somewhat faithful adaptation of its source.

Effects: 5/6. Special effects have changed a great deal since 1963. The mattes have been handled well. The double-exposure and compositing looks like double-exposure and compositing—but this is as good as it got at the time. Even the pre-Special Edition versions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi contain obvious flaws in this regard. And yes, we can create more realistic creatures now, but Harryhausen was the best at what he did, and his creatures have a charm and a power all their own. Talos, menacingly rendered, remains one of the great old-time movie monsters. Most of Harryhausen’s later films would follow suit, and feature at least one living statue. The stop-movement suits animated stone and metal.

Okay, the fireball effect really sucks, even for 1963.

Story: 3/6. The film’s makes some attempts to be faithful to its sources. The result is episodic, and things happen for reasons that seem quite arbitrary. The film concludes abruptly. The final reference to future myths suggest sequels never made.

Acting: 4/6. The actors perform in a fashion that already seemed quaint by 1963, but it’s not really bad, just heavily stylized, and not helped by the lack of character development. For some reason, Jason’s and Medea’s voices were dubbed by other actors. Jack Gwillim is hilarious, wearing his hairpieces badly and chewing scenery shamelessly.

Production: 5/6. The style of this film, heavily influenced by previous Bible and sandal epics, should remind many fans of the original Star Trek. Paint Medea green instead of dusting her gold and the dance scene could be from one of the Enterprise’s exotic ports-of-call. And while you couldn’t make this sort of film without over-the-top music, but the score, by Bernard Herrmann, works well in context.

Jason and the Argonauts also features some excellent location shooting. The filmmakers accomplished much on a comparatively tight budget. It also (reportedly) led to an encounter between the Argo and Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind. Apparently, a British production was filming in the same area. Producer Charles H. Schneer yelled “Get that ship out of here. You’re in the wrong century!”

Emotional Response: 4/6.

Overall: 4/6. It may be flawed and dated, but it remains a fun film. Harryhausen considered it his best, though I have a personal preference for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

In total, Jason and the Argonauts receives 28/42.

Lingering Question

Why does stabbing an animated skeleton have an effect?

Is it possible to dress someone like the god Hermes and not have him look like an idiot?

Jason mentions two other survivors of the shipwreck from which they rescue Medea, but we never see them. Based on her appearance at the time, can we assume they are her hairdresser and her make-up artist?