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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 8/4/98



Jason and the Argonauts
Ray Harryhausen Signature Collection - 1963 (1998) - Columbia/TriStar

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Film Rating: A
I'm too young to really have been impacted by the work of Harryhausen -- but thanks to home entertainment and DVDs like this one I get the chance to look back, smile and thank Ray that I can now show my kids his magic.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/B-/C
The sound's in mono, for criminey's sake, the print shows a little too much age (although it is in widescreen) and the only extra is a rerelease trailer and John Landis interviewing Harryhausen about what made him tick.

Overall Rating: B
You have to keep in mind that this is a Columbia TriStar disc, and they never put special edition material on their discs, so maybe we should jump up and down for this disc regardless. But as it stands, this is a great disc because it give us one of Harryhausen's finest films on DVD, the best possible format.

Specs and Features

104 Minutes, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, pan & scan, double-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, interview with Ray Harryhausen conducted by John Landis, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English, French and Spanish (DD 1.0), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Close Captioned

Review

Stop-motion animation is a bitch. I've done it, so I know. The luxury stop-motion animators have, and it is still a bitch, is videotape referencing. Stop-motion animators can now videotape themselves animating and go back to see what the last pose was so they can keep track of themselves. That's an important fact to understand, because Harryhausen had absolutely nothing to go back on. He relied on only his memory, and his work is still more beautiful than what is currently coming out. The guy is a genius, and no one can debate that.

Ray Harryhausen started his grand career assisting the equally brilliant Willis O'Brien -- the innovative animator who brought King Kong and Mighty Joe Young to life. Harryhausen had a hand in a number of what film scholars consider to be the most important sci-fi films of the 1950s. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, It Came From Beneath The Sea and Earth Versus The Flying Saucers were just a few of his credits. He used his O'Brein apprenticeship and his solo credits to catapult himself into producing his own work and his own ideas, and judging from his credits, his inspirations came from ancient mythology -- Greek especially.

Jason And The Argonauts is a good example of the kind of work Harryhausen was capable of. It has thrilling action, breathtaking effects and an intelligent story. Actually that's what strikes me hardest when watching this movie -- just how intelligent it is. This was a movie, that at the time of release, packed the theaters with kids. Even today, parents show this film to children and they go gaga over it. It mostly has to do with the Harryhausen effects, but a lot of it has to do with the classic heroes quest that is at the heart of this story. Think Star Wars, but instead of a Wookie you have Hercules.

Pelias is a mortal man who is told by the gods that he will rule Thessaly -- he will rule for 20 years, only to give up the thrown to Jason, son of the fallen king. Pelias doesn't like this idea, and takes it upon himself to kill the children of the king so that he can keep the kingdom all to himself. Of course, he fails to do this, and is told by Hera that if he kills Jason he will in turn be killing himself. Twenty years go by and the young Jason (Todd Armstrong) returns to Thessaly to claim his rightful throne. On route he saves a man from drowning. Now, we all know this man is in fact Pelias, but Jason is not aware of this. Pelias, out of gratitude brings Jason to his camp. Knowing who Jason is from the god given prophecy, Pelias must think quick in order to keep Jason away from his throne. His chance comes when Jason confides in Pelias of his intention to claim the throne, and Pelias tells Jason, "Boy, it would just rock if you could bring back the Golden Fleece. In fact, you'd be the baddest dude in the world -- and then you'd be able to rule over this land with much force. Word." Okay, that's not exactly what he says, but that's the gist. This will keep Jason away from Thessaly for a long period of time, and might even get him killed. Can't argue with that theory. Anyway, Jason thinks that this idea is good, so he gets a shipbuilder to make him a mighty sailing vessel (which he dubs Argo after the builder Argus), hires a crew and heads off in search of The Golden Fleece. Many adventures ensue, providing much opportunity to showcase Harryhausen's effects. The Argonauts face the mighty bronze titan Talos, they battle evil Harpies and must seek passage through the oh-so-scary clashing rocks. These things they must face before they can reach the land of Colchis where hangs the Golden Fleece. And even if they make it that far, in order to claim their prize they must face the mighty Hydra and an army of skeleton warriors.

Without giving anything away, let me say that Jason completes his tasks, and then some. That slick ladies man Jason hooks up with the stunning Medea, high priestess , daughter to the king of Colchis and Pam Grier look-a-like (played by the ample Nancy Kovack). Hooking up with a major hotty would all be a great capper for a whirlwind adventure, except, if you follow Greek mythology, you know that there isn't a "Happily Ever After" ending for Jason -- Medea ends up becoming quite the bitch, destroying his life and making a pest of herself to everyone she touches.

But oh, well -- that's really his problem. Us? We get this fine film on DVD, without any of the baggage and all the thrills. This is a nice little package Columbia TriStar gives us. The print is as nice as you're gonna get, me thinks. From the get-go, you can notice some age, and a few bits of noise. It goes away very quickly, and it turns into a very clear print. The widescreen option is incredible -- flipping over to pan and scan, you almost need to flip it back to widescreen. I had to watch both, so I didn't have that option. There are no problems on either side. The sound is in frickin' mono. Which amazes me. Why not make a cool Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack? With all the monsters and splashing water, this would have been incredible. Just imagine what Talos would have sounded like in DD 5.1 -- all that metal on metal squeals. Heaven to the ears, I tell you. But we get mono, and we're happy for it. Believe me -- I wasn't a big Jason and The Argonauts fan before I saw this flick again on DVD -- my stupid head thought it was a band, actually.

The extras are all but non-existent, BUT for a Columbia Tristar DVD, it's the mother load. A nice interview between John Landis (director of The Blues Brothers films) and Ray Harryhausen illuminates Harryhausen's craft from his perspective and gives a few nuggets of information for behind-the-scenes fans. It's fun to watch, but no big deal. There's also a trailer for the film's rerelease -- but when you have the flick waiting for you in digital widescreen, who needs a trailer.

Bottom line

Jason And The Argonauts is a thrilling and captivating film about a hero and his quest. Filled to the gills with special effects goodness from famed FX legend Ray Harryhausen -- you can't go wrong. On DVD it's heaven to the eyes. The sound is a bit lacking, but it's still much better than any Jason laserdisc or video tape you're going to buy or rent.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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