Jason and the Argonauts (working title: Jason and the Golden Fleece) is a 1963 Anglo-American independent mythological fantasy adventure film distributed by Columbia Pictures. It was produced by Charles H. Schneer, directed by Don Chaffey, and stars Todd Armstrong, while co-starring Nancy Kovack, Honor Blackman, and Gary Raymond.
|Jason and the Argonauts|
|Directed by||Don Chaffey|
|Written by||Apollonios Rhodios|
|Screenplay by||Beverley Cross|
|Based on||The Argonautica|
3rd century BC
by Apollonius Rhodius
|Produced by||Charles H. Schneer|
|Edited by||Maurice Rootes|
|Music by||Bernard Herrmann|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$2.1 million (rentals)|
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.
Although it was a box office disappointment during its initial release, the film was critically acclaimed and later became a cult classic.
Pelias usurps the throne of Thessaly, killing King Aristo, but knows that a prophecy states that one of Aristo's children will avenge him. The god Hermes, disguised as Pelias's soothsayer, watches as the infant Jason, Aristo's son, is 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, Hera becomes Jason's protector. She warns Pelias to beware of "a one-sandaled man".
Twenty years later, Jason saves Pelias from drowning in a river, an "accident" orchestrated by Hera, but loses his sandal in the process, so Pelias recognizes his enemy. Learning that Jason intends to seek the legendary Golden Fleece to rally support against him, he encourages Jason in the attempt, hoping that Jason will be killed.
Hermes takes Jason to Mount Olympus to speak with Zeus and Hera. Hera tells him Zeus has decreed that she can help him only five times. This is the same number of times that Jason's murdered sister Briseis called on Hera for protection. She directs him to search for the Fleece in the land of Colchis. Zeus offers aid, but Jason declines.
He sets out to build a ship and recruit a crew. Men from all over Greece compete for the honor of joining his quest. 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. The statue 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 and 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.
Hera directs Jason to seek out 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 other way, only to be crushed and sunk when the Clashing Rocks smash together. Upon Jason's refusal to turn back, when the Argo tries to row through, the ship appears doomed as well. In despair, Jason throws Phineus's amulet into the water, whereupon Triton rises up and holds the rocks apart long enough for the Argo to pass. Upon clearing the rocks, the Argonauts rescue a survivor from the other ship lost, the wonderfully and deadly attractive Medea, high priestess of Colchis.
Finally nearing 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 warned Aeëtes of Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. Aeëtes has the unwary Argonauts imprisoned, but Medea, having fallen in love with Jason, helps him and his men escape.
Acastus tries to steal the Fleece first, but is killed by its guardian, the Hydra. Jason is able to kill the beast and take the Fleece. Medea is mortally wounded by an arrow, but Jason heals her with the Fleece. Aeëtes then sows the Hydra's teeth and prays to the goddess Hecate. Seven armed skeletons, the "children of the Hydra's teeth", emerge from the ground. Jason, Phalerus and Castor, hold them off, 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, while Jason can enjoy his triumph, he is not done with Jason.
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 classic. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a "Certified Fresh" approval rating of 89%, based on 45 reviews. The site's consensus is: "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".
Variety magazine wrote: "The $3 million film has a workable scenario and has been directed resourcefully and spiritedly by Don Chaffey, under whose leadership a colorful cast performs with zeal". 
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).
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