Monday, May 20, 2013

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

I watched this movie for the first time in years the other day after Ray Harryhausen passed away.  my copy came from the OOP laser disc from Criterion, and features Ray's first commentary along with film historian Bruce Eider.  it sounds like they didn't record their commentary together, but it works really well, since Ray can talk about his effects and then Bruce can talk about the cast, crew and otherwise during the non-effects parts.  interestingly enough, the back cover of the Criterion LD claims that the movie is being released in it's original aspect ratio, that is, fullscreen, or Academy ration.  all subsequent releases have been in 1.85.1.  I'm no expert, but it seems like I've read somewhere that the movie was shot in an "open matte" framing, so it could be projected either way.

I saw this movie on it's re-release in the summer of 1978 (I think) as SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER had been a hit for Columbia and they realized they could cash in with more of Ray's movies.  I was glad they did, as it's always a good thing to see a movie like this on the big screen.
I really enjoyed watching the movie this time, perhaps since I hadn't seen it for so long.  it flowed very well and the story is pretty coherent.  the performances are all good, despite the dubbing of the leads (I would never have known this, except it's been reported all over now).  the story is very interesting- Zeus says he wants Pelias on the throne, but didn't want him killing everyone, so now he's doomed... what?  why not just keep Jason's parents in power?  then there's the whole thing of Jason stealing the Golden Fleece, which brought peace and prosperity to Colchis... ah, the capriciousness of the gods.

I'll say it, redundant as it is, but Ray's effects are amazing.  it's too bad the Hydra doesn't have a better scene, as it doesn't get to do much. probably for the best, as it probably couldn't live up to the skeleton battle, which is all sorts of amazing.  look at how Medusa overshadows the Kraken finale in CLASH OF THE TITANS.

the only real fault of the story is the ending- or non-ending, if you will.  if the movie had been a huge hit would they have made a sequel?  hard to say.  it's very common now to have movies end like this, because they are franchises. but in 1963?  it's not a very satisfying way to end the movie.

I do find Ray's comments right at the beginning of the movie interesting.  he blames the glut of Italian peplum movies for JASON not being a bigger hit.  this is probably true to a degree, but since HERCULES was released in the US in 1959 it would seem to me like JASON got made because those movies were financially successful at the time.  the cycle was nearing it's conclusion by 1963, so it's more of a matter of bad timing than anything else.

I actually saw GIANTS OF THESSALY first, though it was on TV.  I've watched the DVD of it in the last ten years, but I don't remember it at all.

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