I’ve always had an odd metaphor for Jason And The Argonauts – to be honest, it doesn’t really make a lick of sense the moment you waste more than a second of thought on it, but I’m going to share it with you fine people anyway. When it comes to Ray Harryhausen’s ode to greek myth, I consider it not unlike Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West – which means that if you follow my little flawed theory down it’s rabbit hole, it means that his trio of Sinbad movies would be the equivalent to the Man With No Name Trilogy. Now while there is plenty wrong with this comparison (filmed in different orders, quality is hella different, plus I’m obviously talking crap to fill up space), the point I’m clumsily trying to make is that Jason And The Argonauts is perceived to be the classier product than the rather more pulpier Sinbad trilogy.
Well, it’s been many years and after repeated viewings, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that my weirdly wrong hypothesis is unsurprisingly wrong – but it’s wrong because Jason And The Argonauts just isn’t as good as I want it to be… Now before you throw me screaming to the skeletal children of the Hydra for my blasphemy, that’s not to say I don’t find the film as iconic as it’s been touted as for all these years – I strongly agree that the legitimately mind boggling skeleton fight is probably in the all time top 5 fantasy moment in the whole of cinema history – it’s just when compared to other films in the Harryhausen cannon, those Argonauts could have picked up the pace a little…
It’s, unsurprisingly, ancient Greece and we find those wacky Gods of Olympus randomly fucking around with humans as they always seem to do. This time they have decided to mind fuck king Pelias into usurping the throne of Thessaly and killing it’s current King, but after he fulfills their wishes he then finds out that the Gods then plan to have the kingdom go back into the hands of the former king’s infant son when he comes of age. Understandably pissed at the Gods for playing him like a cheap fiddle, Pelias vows to never give up his throne and waits for the day that young Jason returns to a kingdom that is rightfully his and twenty years later a “chance” encounter brings both men finally into contact.
Knowing he can’t slay Jason without incurring the wrath of a dangerously indecisive Zeus, Pelias tricks his unwitting enemy into going on a quest for the fabled Golden Fleece and because Jason’s obviously gotten by on his looks, he foolishly agrees. He has a special ship made and gets a crew together by holding games to find the toughest men available who all have dad bods, have names like Faeces and Herpes and even includes the legendary Hercules who here looks like an alcoholic strongman from the 1930’s. Also joining the crew is Pelias’ son Acastus, who is obviously there to fuck shit up but no one seems to think that having the son of the mortal enemy of their captain join the quest is going to stir up anything more than a little menial drama, so no one questions it. The voyage almost instantly experiences disaster when Hercules starts acting like an entitled prick and brings down the wrath of a Kaiju-sized bronze statue of the Talos, but after this false start, Jason manages to get a lead on where this ram’s skin of bling is actually being kept and after some adventures involving scavenging Harpies and sailing between some clashing rocks he comes across Medea. Shipwrecked without a single hair out of place and wearing cheekbones that could carve cheese, Medea turns out to be a priestess of Colchis who worships – you’ve guessed it – the golden fleece. With his goal finally in sight, can Jason liberate his prize not only from a suspicious king, but a treacherous ship mate AND the kind of Hydra that even Captain America would have problems dealing with?
If Jason And The Argonauts has one overriding problem it’s that it’s a bit slow… like an octogenarian attempting to run the 1500 meters with really heavy shoes on slow as it often takes a while for anything to happen. While the other movies Harryhausen lent his artistry to tend to move with the relentless pace of a great white shark suffering the munchies, Jason has a tendency to lumber from set piece to stop motion set piece at an annoyingly leisurely pace and unfortunately the Argonauts aren’t really fleshed out enough to hold our attention while we anxiously wait for another creature to rear it’s head and even when they do, it’s sometimes a tad underwhelming.
While the aforementioned skeleton swordsmen and Talos are admittedly instantly and effortlessly iconic (the skeleton birthing scene as they erupt from the ground is magnificent and the moment Talos first turns his head is honestly chilling), if I’m being honest the Harpies are pretty much filler and the Hydra, while impressive in design, doesn’t turn out to ultimately be that much of a threat considering that a sword through the breast stops it just as effectively as it would any normal creature.
Another issue is that one of the biggest problems about movies involving Greek mythology usually end up being the Gods themselves as the movie’s they’re in are often unsure of how to present them. Too benevolent to be considered out and out bad guys, yet way too shitty for you to not to utterly despise them, they just end up being a spiteful grey area with all the self awareness of a reality tv star. Honor Blackman’s Hera at least wants to help but Niall MacGinnis’ Zeus is as dependable as Hedonismbot from Futurama and when it’s questioned why the Gods decided to cause so much needless chaos for absolutely no reason, they give the divine version shrugging their shoulders, rolling their eyes and going “Oh, what am I like, eh?” before making an exaggerated cartoonish tutting sound.
Maybe it’s a personal thing, but as much as I recognize the obvious impact this film has on popular culture, I tend to prefer 1958’s 7th Voyage Of Sinbad far more. The monsters have more to do and the story is more complete whereas Argonauts just ends with it’s only single plot thread barely addressed, whicg happens to be the entire main fucking point that started the damn story in the first place… after all showdowns with huge bronze giants and boney skeleton rumbles, the film just up and stops with the matters between Jason and Pelias left utterly unresolved. I understand that maybe the filmmakers were maybe hoping for a series of these movies but it’s still annoying to be left dangling out in the cold like a pair of old man balls on a brisk winter’s morning.
Yet despite all of this, Jason And The Argonauts is still a must see for anyone in love with fantasy films or the magic of cinema in general, as the sight of people intricately fighting with tiny models simply never gets old (especially with Bernard Herrmann’s perky score keeping things moving) and for this I suppose we should give praise to the gods….
Moody divas that they are…