Jason and the Argonauts (1963) – By Charles Rector

 Rarely does anything truly interesting or surprising happen at the Academy Award ceremonies on prime time television. One such occurrence was at the 1992 Academy Awards when Ray Harryhausen received the Lifetime Achievement Award. After the awarding, Tom Hanks, the emcee paid his own tribute: “Some say Citizen Kane, some say Casablanca, I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film of all time.”

The 1963 flick Jason and the Argonauts is one of those movies that has been unfairly been overlooked by mainstream film critics. Even worse is the fact that it is generally regarded by these same reviewers as being just a kids movie and as being just a glorified special effects festival. In other words, Jason and the Argonauts has the reputation as being a precursor to the visually stunning but otherwise empty works of the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

What this criticism overlooks is the high grade acting in Jason and the Argonauts. Todd Armstrong is great as a Jason who relies on skill rather than muscle to accomplish his goals. Basically, Armstrong’s Jason is a solid hero who is a man of intelligence and action. The fine actor Niall McGinnis is magnificent as Zeus, King of the Gods. Honor Blackman is top notch as Hera, queen of the Gods as is Laurence Naismith as Argus, the master ship builder. These performances help make Jason and the Argonauts an ideal cinematic introduction to the world of ancient Greek mythology.

However, the most outstanding performance was Nigel Green in the role of Hercules. Instead of a beefed up muscle man, Green’s Hercules is a burly, believable veteran. Hercules is portrayed as his older self, instead of the beefcake manner that he has been portrayed in countless Hollywood productions. The character of Hercules is far more believable in Jason and the Argonauts than he is in most other movies.

Complementing the acting, the special effects work of Ray Harryhausen is nothing short of breathtaking. This is a triumph of stop motion animation that looks especially good when contrasted with the CGI inundated movies of recent years. Harryhausen had an eye for detail and the ability to create the appropriate movements for the characters he was presenting. Harryhausen’s creations always show humanity and realism and have remarkable personalities to them. This stands in direct contrast to the boring CGI effects of today’s cookie cutter formula movies.

One of the best aspects of Jason and the Argonauts is that it is done in a fun and cheerful manner. There are a lot of bright colors in this movie. This puts it in direct contrast to the mythology movies of today that are almost uniformly dark. The original music by Bernard Herrmann is also excellent and puts the viewer in the proper mood.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Jason and the Argonauts is that despite its many merits, it failed to become the big hit at the box office that the studio bosses hoped it would. It did make a decent profit, but well short of the over inflated expectations placed on it. As a result, the planned sequel was scrapped and Todd Armstrong’s subsequent Hollywood career was restricted to only a few more movie appearances and infrequent guest star roles on TV shows. In this, Jason and the Argonauts has a distinct resemblance to the 1991 flick “The Rocketeer” in terms of both excessive expectations and negative impact on the careers of its stars.

In any event, Jason and the Argonauts is a great movie for the whole family.