U – 101mins – 1963
Presented in dazzling technicolour so rich even the shadows are blue, this mythological stop-motion extravaganza is a feast for the eyes and the imagination, even if Ray Harryhausen’s once ground-breaking claymation effects work has dated somewhat in the intervening 53 years.
In this bold fantasy epic, Todd Armstrong plays the titular Jason, protected by the goddess Hera (Honor Blackman) after his father, King Aristo, is murdered and usurped by Pelias (Douglas Wilmer). Twenty years pass, and fearful of a prophecy that warns of his death at the hands of Aristo’s son, Pelias sends an unaware Jason on a dangerous – surely impossible – mission to the ends of the earth to bring back the legendary Golden Fleece, hoping the young man will die in his endeavour.
With the Gods of Olympus on his side, Jason recruits his crew of “Argonauts” from Greece’s strongest and bravest warriors, and they travel to many a strange and awe-inspiring realm, encountering all manner of inhumane obstacles, from giant bronze treasure-hoarding statues come to life, to evil, tormenting flying Harpies and the cliff-supporting sea god Triton, in their quest to locate the shimmering sheep’s hide.
There’s no denying Jason and the Argonauts its due: Don Chaffey’s interpretation is wildly imaginative in scope and commendable in tireless execution, but advances in technology have relegated it to nostalgic curio; it now makes for cosy Sunday afternoon viewing, whereas in its day it was the blockbuster equivalent of Jurassic Park or Avatar. Also, some of the dialogue dubbing is distractingly obvious, and surely unnecessary?
Through no fault of its own, I also found the plot jarringly familiar – bizarre given how this was my first viewing. Perhaps this is because the power-hungry humans vs. cruel, playful immortals trope has been recycled countless times since, from Clash of the Titans (another Harryhausen classic) to Immortals and this year’s turkey Gods of Egypt? Granted, Jason came first, and was taking its cues from classic mythology (Apollonios Rhodios’ The Argonautica), but while I was expecting to be stunned, I was merely snug.
CR@B’s Claw Score: