|Jason and the Argonauts|
Theatrical release poster
by Howard Terpning
|Directed by||Don Chaffey|
|Produced by||Charles H. Schneer|
|Written by||Apollonios Rhodios|
|Screenplay by||Beverley Cross|
|Based on||The Argonautica|
3rd century BC
by Apollonius Rhodius
|Music by||Bernard Herrmann|
|Edited by||Maurice Rootes|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|June 19, 1963|
|Box office||$2,100,000 (rentals)|
Jason and the Argonauts (working title: Jason and the Golden Fleece) is a 1963 Anglo-American independently made fantasy film produced by Charles H. Schneer and directed by Don Chaffey. Based on Greek mythology, the film stars Todd Armstrong as the eponymous hero, along with Nancy Kovack, Honor Blackman, and Gary Raymond. it was distributed by Columbia Pictures.
Shot in Eastman Color, the film was made in collaboration with stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen and is known for its various legendary creatures, notably the iconic fight scene featuring seven skeleton warriors.
Pelias, misinterpreting the prophecy given to him by the god Zeus, usurps the throne of Thessaly, killing King Aristo and most of his family. The god Hermes, disguised as Pelias' soothsayer, enables the infant Jason to be spirited away by one of Aristo's soldiers. Pelias slays one of Aristo's daughters after she seeks sanctuary in the temple of the goddess Hera. Because the murder has profaned her temple, the angry Hera becomes Jason's protector. She warns Pelias to beware "of a man wearing one sandal".
Twenty years later, Jason saves Pelias from drowning in the river Anavros, an "accident" orchestrated by Hera, but loses his sandal in the process, so Pelias recognizes him from the prophecy. Learning that Jason intends to find the legendary Golden Fleece, he encourages him, hoping that Jason will be killed in the attempt.
Hermes takes Jason to Mount Olympus to speak with Zeus and Hera. Hera tells him Zeus has decreed that he can only call upon her for aid five times. She directs him to search for the Fleece in the land of Colchis. Zeus offers his direct aid, but Jason declares he can organize the voyage, build a ship, and collect a crew of the bravest men in all Greece.
Men from all over Greece compete for the honor. Because their ship is named the Argo after her builder, Argus, the crew are dubbed the Argonauts. Among them are Hercules, Hylas, and Acastus, the son of Pelias (unknown to Jason), sent by his father to sabotage the voyage.
Hera guides Jason to the Isle of Bronze, but warns him to take nothing but provisions. However, Hercules steals a brooch pin the size of a javelin from a building filled with treasure and surmounted by a gigantic bronze statue of Talos. Talos comes to life and attacks the Argonauts. Jason again turns to Hera, who tells him to open a large plug on Talos's heel to release the giant's ichor. Talos falls to the ground, crushing Hylas, hiding his body. Hercules refuses to leave until he ascertains the fate of his friend. The other Argonauts are unwilling to abandon Hercules, so Jason calls upon Hera again. She informs them that Hylas is dead and that Zeus has other plans for Hercules.
The Argonauts next meet Phineus, who has been blinded and is tormented by harpies for misusing Zeus's gift of prophesy. After the Argonauts capture and cage the harpies, Phineus tells them how to reach Colchis, by sailing between the Clashing Rocks. He also gives Jason an amulet of the sea god Triton. The Argonauts see another ship trying to pass through the Clashing Rocks the other way, only to be crushed and sunk when the Clashing Rocks smash together. The Argonauts rescue a survivor, Medea, high priestess of Colchis. When the Argo tries to row through, the ship appears destined for destruction as well. In despair, Jason throws Phineus's amulet into the water, whereupon Triton rises up out of the water and holds the rocks apart so the Argo can pass.
Finally approaching remote Colchis, Acastus challenges Jason's authority and engages him in a duel. Disarmed, Acastus jumps into the sea and disappears. Jason and his men land and accept an invitation from King Aeëtes to a feast. Unknown to them, Acastus has survived and warned Aeëtes of Jason's quest for their prized Golden Fleece. Aeëtes has the unwary Argonauts imprisoned, but Medea, having fallen in love with Jason, helps him and his men escape.
Meanwhile, Acastus tries to steal the Fleece, but is killed by its guardian, the Hydra. Following right behind Acastus, Jason is able to kill the beast and retrieve the gift of the gods. Aeëtes, in pursuit, sows the Hydra's teeth while praying to the goddess Hecate, producing a band of seven skeleton warriors called the Children of the Hydra's Teeth. Jason, together with Phalerus and Castor, hold off the skeletons while Medea and Argus escape back to the Argo with the Fleece. After a prolonged battle, in which his companions are killed, Jason escapes by jumping into the sea, and he, Medea, and the surviving Argonauts begin their voyage home to Thessaly. On Olympus, Zeus tells Hera that, in due time, he will call upon Jason again.
The film is one of the mythically-themed fantasies scored by Bernard Herrmann. Apart from being the composer's fourth collaboration with Ray Harryhausen (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, and Mysterious Island, made in 1958, 1960, and 1961 respectively), Herrmann also scored the science fiction films The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959).
Contrasting with Herrmann's all-string score for Psycho, the film's soundtrack was made without a string section. This leaves the brass and percussion to perform the heroic fanfares, and the woodwinds along with additional instruments (such as the harp) to dominate in the more subtle and romantic parts.
In 1995, Intrada released a re-recording of the original score. The new version was conducted by American composer/conductor Bruce Broughton, and performed by the Sinfonia of London.
The film differs in some ways from the traditional telling in Greek mythology.
The film received critical acclaim and is now considered a cult film classic. It currently holds a 93% "fresh" rating at the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 41 reviews, with the consensus: "Don Chaffey's Jason and the Argonauts is an outlandish, transportive piece of nostalgia whose real star is the masterful stop-motion animation work of Ray Harryhausen." In April 2004, Empire magazine ranked Talos as the second-best film monster of all time, after King Kong.
Ray Harryhausen regarded the film as his best. Previous Harryhausen films had been generally shown as part of double features in "B" theatres. Columbia was able to book it as a single feature in many "A" theatres in the United States.
At the 1992 Academy Awards, in honoring Ray Harryhausen with a lifetime-achievement award, actor Tom Hanks remarked "Some people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane. I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made".
Columbia released the film on Blu-ray (for regions A, B, and C) on 6 July 2010. The disc's special features include two new audio commentaries, one by Peter Jackson and Randall William Cook, and the other by Harryhausen in conversation with his biographer Tony Dalton.
The five-issue comic book miniseries Jason and the Argonauts: The Kingdom of Hades (2007) from TidalWave Productions' Ray Harryhausen Signature Series, continued the story. It was followed by Jason and the Argonauts: Final Chorus (2014).