a critiQal film review Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Plot: After saving the life of his royal father's usurper, Pelias (Wilmer), whom he fails to recognize, Jason (Armstrong) is encouraged by the conniving murderer to begin a quest in search of the Golden Fleece. In doing so, Pelias hopes for Jason's death to thwart the prophecy that he will reclaim the throne. Along the journey, Jason is protected by the goddess Hera (Blackman), and his crew includes Hercules (Green) and Acastus (Raymond), a saboteur planted by Pelias.

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  • ...without a charismatic lead actor and some truly bad special effects, this voyage is a dud.

When Carmella suggested we watch Jason and the Argonauts, I said yes. I’d never seen the film and I liked the similarly-themed Clash of the Titans (1981). Plus, I was looking for a film for this week’s #TBT Review. So, why not?

But, would this earlier film, even though it had the same type of stop-motion animation, still thrill as much as Clash of the Titans (1981)? Or is Jason and the Argonauts the craptastic film Clash of the Titans (1981) could have been?

Unlike Clash of the Titans (1981), there’s no hammy Harry Hamlin to lead the charge. Instead, Jason and the Argonauts gives us Todd Armstrong in the lead role…and he’s a bit disappointing. Lacking any real sort of on-screen presence, he just goes about his business without really getting viewers interested in what he’s doing.

Despite her second billing, Nancy Kovack isn’t even in Jason and the Argonauts until the last third of the film. While she has a bit more of presence than her co-star Todd, she’s ill-used in the picture, mainly as a bizarre love-at-first-sight interest for Jason. And, of course, the obligatory scared face close-ups while Jason fights the hydra. It’s too bad, as she seems to be much more suited to carry the pic than Todd does.

There aren’t any real stand-outs in the rest of the cast of Jason and the Argonauts, either. And, with the confusion of all the similar ancient Greek names, the viewer will be hard-pressed to even remember the names of most of the characters either. Hera, played by Honor Blackman, is the most memorable, while other big names like Zeus and Hercules get largely delegated to background characters.

The plot is straightforward enough, as it is a retelling of the classic Greek myth of the quest for the Golden Fleece. However, Jason and the Argonauts leaves some of the best scenes out for some reason (probably budget constraints). Most notably, the island of Lemnos (with its Amazonian-like race) and the island of Circe (with its sirens) are never even mentioned. It’s odd, as viewers would think of these spots as some of the more memorable of the voyage, yet they aren’t even mentioned in Jason and the Argonauts.

There’s a lot that has been said about the special effects in Jason and the Argonauts, and most of it has been good, for some reason. While they may have been cutting edge back in 1963, even the improved version of these stop-motion effects in Clash of the Titans (1981) evoke laughs nowadays. And it’s even worse in this film. While the big guys (Talos and Triton) aren’t all bad, the smaller things – like the rubbery hydra – are so bad it’s hilarious. Even the animated skeletons are pretty crappy. But, they evoke a bit of nostalgia for Army of Darkness, so they can’t be all bad.

Still, it’s not really the bad effects that bring this movie down. It’s how the actors interact with them in Jason and the Argonauts that’s truly awful. This is especially easy to see in the both the hydra sequence and the animated skeleton sequence, where the characters (especially lead actor Todd) just seem to be flailing away with their swords – even though they are too far from the creatures to actually hit them. It just seems like blind luck when they do connect, rather than any skill on their part. It’s really almost painful to watch.

Without a charismatic presence like, say, Harry Hamlin, Jason and the Argonauts doesn’t really get the viewer interested in its characters. Instead, viewers stick around because of the half-remembered Greek myth. Interest is only peaked when a familiar name (like Hercules) is mentioned, and then the viewer watches in dismay as even that image gets ruined by some sort of cowardly – or stupid – act, and then quickly forgotten. Nancy Kovack does save the film a little bit near the end, but by that time, the viewer has already long given up hope on the film.

It’s too bad, as it seems like this voyage really could have become something special on-screen. Instead, it just seems like more of an inferior copy of Clash of the Titans (1981) than anything else.

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