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  Jason and the Argonauts Hydra-phobia
Year: 1963
Director: Don Chaffey
Stars: Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond, Laurence Naismith, Niall MacGinnis, Douglas Wilmer, Jack Gwillim, Honor Blackman, Nigel Green, John Cairney, Patrick Troughton, Andrew Faulds
Genre: Historical, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 6 votes)
Review: Pelias (Douglas Wilmer) has been told by his soothsayer that he will inherit the kingdom of Thessaly, and it is Zeus's will, or so he believes. But he takes it by violent means, and ensures that the second half of the prophecy, that he will lose the kingdom to the son of the ruler he has deposed, will not come to pass by killing his offspring. However, in the temple where baby Jason, the son, is being kept safe from him, Pelias is visited by a mysterious woman he does not recognise to be the goddess Hera (Honor Blackman), and she informs him he will lose out when he is killed by a stranger wearing one sandal...

Arguably the best of the Ray Harryhausen special effects spectaculars, this fantasy depicted a world where men have only their wits and ingenuity to use against the Gods who see them as pawns in their game of life which are there to worship them above all else, and the supernatural creatures who represent almost insurmountable dangers. Despite the lavish look of the film worked up on a medium-sized budget, it's a harsh place to survive in and it's interesting that the gods are not depicted as particularly laudable or even worth the praise and dedication they expect - even Hera is looking out for Jason (Todd Armstrong) so she may win her game of strategy with Zeus (Niall McGinnis).

It is the special effects that are the true joy to watch, among the finest of the 1960s. Ray Harryhausen was the man toiling for months over his tiny models, and his monsters really put the "Aargh!" into the Argonauts with Jason and his shipmates battling against the giant bronze statue of the Titan Talos (my favourite), a couple of harpies, the many-headed Hydra and, in one of the most famous sequences in cinema, the skeleton warriors grown from the Hydra's scattered teeth. Even in these days of superadvanced computer graphics, the work here is still impressive for having the kind of personality and touch of particular skill that they lack, and the novelty value alone is enough to engage mightily.

As for the loyal Argonauts themselves, they are all manly men who shake hands in that gripping-each-other's-forearm way, laugh heartily when impressed and fall in the water a lot. There's not much of a sense of humour on display, but when you consider the comic relief in Clash of the Titans, that's probably all to the good. Pelias sends them on their way to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece, which is rumoured by legend to contain magical healing properties, without Jason realising that Pelias is the king who has stolen his throne. It's only halfway through the voyage that Hera, in the form of the ship's figurehead, lets on and he twigs that he's on a mission that he is not expected to return from.

This is stirring stuff, and successful in that it takes its fantasy so seriously, treating the Gods of Ancient Greece as living, breathing entities who may be aloof and cruel when it suits them, yet are aware their days are numbered when they can be bettered by brave morals such as Jason. You never see Jason get back home to tackle the wicked king, however, and the film ends as if it were setting itself up for a sequel which never arrived, though considering the following behaviour of Jason's new girlfriend Medea (Nancy Kovack, who gets her own dance sequence complete with back-up dancing girls), perhaps that's not such a bad thing. I suppose nothing could top the skeletons, but this is still the richest of the Harryhausen movies with plenty food for thought to accompany the thrills and spectacle. Majestic music by Bernard Herrmann.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Don Chaffey  (1917 - 1990)

British director best known for directing fantasy favourites Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years B.C, both of which featured groundbreaking Ray Harryhausen effects. Chaffey also directed Hammer’s Viking Queen, but much of his work was in television, both in the UK (The Prisoner, Man In a Suitcase) and, later, the US (Charlie’s Angels, CHiPs, Airwolf). Also made kids’ favourites Greyfriars Bobby and Pete's Dragon for Disney.

 
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