Friday, January 28, 2011

re-watching Jason and the Argonauts

My favorite movie growing up was Jason and the Argonauts. I grew up with a beautiful edition of D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths and seeing a movie like this, with Ray Harryhausen's great effects bringing my favorite hero to life was beyond a treat, it was a dream come true. Plus, Todd Armstrong as Jason was pretty cute.

I watched it again recently with my daughter and was impressed by how much fun it still is. Talos the enormous bronze warrior was still pretty scary to my almost seven year-old. At a critical point where Jason deactivates Talos my daughter yelled, "Go Percy!" I gently corrected her that it was Jason doing the heroics she was watching and not the lightning thief, but I wasn't too bothered by the slip. I think it's great that mythology is making an impact in her life, as it did in mine.

I enjoy most of the filmic attempts to bring myths to life—Clash of the Titans with Harry Hamlin, the Jason miniseries from the 90s. I even enjoyed the recent Clash of the Titans remake, even with Liam Neeson's oft-criticized "Release the Kraken!" and Ralph Fiennes honing his onscreen villainy.  It wasn't a great film, but it wasn't as bad as it was reviewed. The Medusa segment was a nice homage to Harryhausen and the addition of the female character of Io on most of the quest was a welcome addition. I saw it on the small screen, so didn't have to deal with the reportedly sloppy 3D conversion.

When I was a kid my mom also had a huge crush on Steve Reeves, so whenever any of his Italian-produced Hercules movies came on television we were all sure to be front and center. The Kevin Sorbo series was always a lot of fun, too. The two Odysseus depictions, Ulysses with Kirk Douglas and The Odyssey with Armand Assante are way over-the-top, primarily due I think to their larger-than-life leading men—but they are still a lot of fun to watch.

Some might consider this 1963 film a little cheesy or primitive compared to today's CGI special effects. But I still feel that this film is superior to all of those listed above. As a Greek myth-nerd, I love the little touches of authenticity, like the goofy beards and costumes of the Colchians, the painted shields of the Argonauts. The Argo is correctly depicted, as is the rowing technique used to propel her from Greece to Colchis. And how could you not love Harryhausen's many-headed hydra and the fighting skeletons?

Little references to the deeper mythology of Jason—his knowledge of healing, his complicated relationship with Medea—she declares his love for him and he accepts it, but it's hardly a true romance, which bodes ill for everyone's future—these are all touches that make re-viewing the film a pleasure. Jason, like another mythological hero I love, Batman, is a normal guy who becomes a hero out of necessity. His evil uncle has cheated him out of the throne of Iolcus and Jason must go on the quest for the Golden Fleece to prove himself and get the throne back for his family. His quest for the Fleece requires his gathering an assembly of superheroes: the Boreads, Heracles, Orpheus, Castor and Pollux, Atalanta—talk about a justice league. Jason is also a tragic figure, although this movie doesn't take his story that far. As Zeus says at the close of the film, "For the moment, let them enjoy a calm sea, a fresh breeze and each other. The girl is pretty and I am always sentimental. But for Jason, there are other adventures. I have not finished with Jason. Let us continue the game another day."

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