Jason And The Argonauts

Jason And The Argonauts

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Back in 1963, when men were real men and Ancient Greek heroes were real American actors wearing lots of fake tan, myth-based fantasy cinema was enjoying a Golden Age. Jason And The Argonauts was one of its high points - the tale of a young Thessalian favoured by the goddess Hera who sets sail on the high seas to take a famous treasure from a neighbouring land. The Golden Fleece is what he dreams of, but the people who own it would quite like to keep it and even reaching it will prove a challenge.

Featuring a shipful of Greece's most impressive warriors, this was the 300 of its day for fans of musclemen, with Nigel Green's Hercules making a particularly impressive show of strength. Its homoerotic undercurrents add an extra charge to doomed friendships; only a handful of these men will make it home. Along the way they'll do battle with some of the most famous and artfully created monsters of the era - the vicious harpies defending a feast, the bronze giant Talos who guards the sea passage, the multi-headed hydra who keeps the fleece itself and, most famously, a skeleton army grown from scattered seeds.

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This is Ray Harryhausen's work at its finest; it was the film he was most proud of and the skeletons, stop-motion stars of a prolonged battle sequence, were his favourite creatures. They might not have the seamless look of modern CGI but their very awkwardness makes them enduringly creepy, otherworldly foes. All the fights are stunningly put together and still deliver in action terms. This may be an old story but it feels very much alive.

Less successful is the romance between Jason and his enemy's daughter, Medea, largely because the hero is not a professional actor but a gardener cast for his looks; he can handle the action well enough but struggles in emotional scenes. Nancy Kovak gives the heroine some force but has been steered away from the darkness inherent in the character; those who know the legend will appreciate that there are some films whose sequels just wouldn't go down well. Nevertheless, Kovak contributes some feminine glamour, and with British thesps Honor Blackman and Michael Gwynn on hand to play the gods (together with Ireland's Niall MacGinnis as Zeus), there's no shortage of acting oomph where it's really needed.

One of those rare films with real appeal for viewers of all ages, Jason And The Argonauts is a thrilling adventure ride that rarely slackens its pace. It rewards repeat viewing and those fearsome skeletons will thrill you again and again.

Reviewed on: 08 May 2013
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The young hero Jason takes a crew of Greece's most impressive warriors in pursuit of the legendary golden fleece.
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Director: Don Chaffey

Writer: Jan Read, Beverley Cross

Starring: Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond, Laurence Naismith, Niall MacGinnis, Michael Gwynn, Douglas Wilmer, Jack Gwillim, Honor Blackman

Year: 1963

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: UK, US

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