(1963) dir. Don Chaffey
Again a Friday night movie night with my son, introducing him to some of the films that I liked so well as a kid. This week: Ray Harryhausen. Quite frankly, I don’t know the percentage of kids that grew up in the 1970’s with that name readily on the tips of their tongues, but it was true for me for Harryhausen’s amazing stop-motion animation effects in his series of Sinbad films and other science fiction fare. Jason and the Argonauts is considered by many, including Harryhausen himself, to be his best work, and I’d probably concur.
It’s interesting seeing it again. I think it’s been maybe 20 years since I’d seen the film, though about 10 years ago I had the luck of getting to see Ray Harryhausen in person in a tribute presentation of his work and fans in San Rafael. It was interesting to see him in context of visual effects in an industry that has changed so radically with the evolution of digital effects. Many of the notable figures in the tribute to Harryhausen were big names in the industry today, all of whom had grown up with his monsters and creatures as I had, and it made sense that his work, as unique and unparalleled at the time, really inspired many F/X specialists who have come to be the ones who’ve redefined the industry.
They cited the way that in a Harryhausen film, not only did the monsters get a lot more play and screentime, but they actually moved and interacted with the rest of the film in ways that other types of visual effects of the period simply did not do. Stop-motion animation has its own funky aesthetic of movement and flair, somewhat kitschy, though also otherworldly in a way that made sense with the monsters and their mien. I wonder how kids today would see these types of effects, as something purely odd and perhaps less “realistic” than that of modern digital effects or what.
The movie itself is kitschy in its own right. The “sword and sandal” style of hero films that were so popular in that period feature some pretty goofy acting and dialogue at times, and the integration of certain visuals work less seemlessly at times than others.
But I do have to say that the film is still a hoot for all the reasons that Harryhausen’s work achieved its fame, enjoyment, and respect. The best moments are clearly the battle with the Argonauts’ battle with the iron giant Talos and the rip-roaring finale with the army of skeletons emerging and attacking Jason and his crew. I don’t know how much my son enjoyed it. I clearly had a greater penchant for monsters when I was his age, already self-indoctrinated into the world of Universal horror films, Lon Chaney, Sr., Godzilla and Hammer and so forth. His interest in these films is definitely mitigated by my own, but I have to say that Jason and the Argonauts still holds its place pretty damn well, even up against the modern stuff. My opinion.