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Directed by Don Chaffey

UK / USA 1963

 

As a boy, I remember growing up watching some of my favorite adventure films; Mysterious Island, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, First Men in the Moon and Jason and the Argonauts. The common thread of these films are that the special effects were all done by Ray Harryhausen and two of the films were backed by a stirring musical score from the great Bernard Herrmann.

When I was a child, "Jason" was my least favorite of the four films, but as an adult it has moved to the top of the list! Inspired by the epic poem, the Argonautica, by third-century scholar-poet Apollonius of Rhodes, it assured Jason, the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece would have a worthy place in the legacy of classical Greek literature. Between the generations of the myth of Cadmus and Homer's Ulysses, Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece is referred to in the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Tristmegistus as "the operation of the Sun". Inaccuracies and adjustments with the original story seem to blossom forth complaints from overly retentive film fans. The complaints should easily be ignored as you allow your inner child to get caught up in this outstanding fantasy/adventure cinematic masterpiece regarded by many as the best of its genre. I strongly agree.

Synopsis:
Jason is the surviving son of Aristo ("Aeson" of the written legend ) and has been prophesied to take the throne of Thessaly from King Pelias. Pelias murdered Jason's father and sister, Briseis, 20 years prior ( other sister Phoilomela survives ). Unknowingly Jason saves him from drowning one day, losing his shoe in the process. The lost shoe alerts Pelias of the prophecy of his arrival as warned by the Oracle ( actually the God Hermes in disguise ): "Beware a stranger who wears but a single sandal". Under a guise of friendship, Pelias persuades Jason to travel to Colchis, at the end of the world, in an attempt to abscond with the "Golden Fleece"; a golden ram’s hide with mystical powers of healing. Jason takes his heed and stages a great athletic contest, assembling a sailing crew of the best warriors in Greece. He has a ship constructed by the worthy shipwright Argus, deriving the name of the sea vessel: The Argo.

Some of the Argonauts include: 
The legendary Hercules (or Heracles, to give him his proper Greek name), "Phalerus of Athens" - champion archer, "Polydueces" the bare fist fighter, "Castor of Sparta" - the wrestler, "Euphemus of Taenarum", the swimmer "Spyros of Saracuse", the brainy "Hylas" - and "Acastas of Thessaly", the son of Pelias sent there by him as a spy and to disrupt the voyage by causing dissention in the crew.

Luckily, they are under the protection of the cunning Hera, queen of the gods, who is angered at Pelias for the profanation of her temple in Thessaly ( by murdering Briseis there ). Hera (played by Honor Blackman) is able to manipulate her husband Zeus into allowing her to advance Jason's voyage with five separate episodes of assistance... when she is called upon. With her as the talking masthead at the stern of the Argo, she becomes their guardian. Hera describes Colchis, the land where the Golden Fleece is kept, and promises that obtaining it will free Jason's homeland from the reign of Pelias and restore Jason's rightful place as King.

Hera guides them to "Isle of Bronze", the foundry of the Gods, where Haphaestus had labored, making arms and weapons for Zeus. She warns that only food and water may be taken from the island, but Hercules is too tempted by a large gold broach-pin of the Gods, ( he thought was a javelin ), that he discovers while chasing after goats with Hylas. The theft arouses the irk of the terrifying bronze titan Talos. Jason defeats the metallic giant, with further help from Hera who indicates his weakness lies in his ankles. Jason removes an iron plug from the massive heel and drains him of his life-force of molten blood.

Next they sail to Phrygia to seek out blinded Phineas, "The See-er", who has offended the gods, and is being punished daily by screeching, bat-winged, razor-clawed pests known as Harpies. They constantly steal his food and torture him. Jason and his band of heroes capture the Harpies with a giant net hung over the ruins. A thankful Phineas points them on their way with a talisman that will protect them from their next peril.

The route to the Golden Fleece is not an easy one, and the next trial involves two steep rocky cliffs called the Symplegades, which crash together destroying any ship attempting to pass between them. Hurtling Phineas' talisman into the ocean stirs the Fish-tailed Neptune who forces apart the rocks allowing the Argo safe passage.

The seven headed hydra lives in a cave in Colchis and protects the Golden Fleece from would-be burglars. Jason vanquishes it promptly with his sword, but unlike the legend, a new head does not grow each time one is chopped off.

Once arrived in Colchis, Jason had to face a few challenges from King Aeetes. He and his people were not kindly disposed toward foreign athletic champions, especially those who have come to steal the Golden Fleece! Aeetes daughter, Medea, becomes a muted love interest for Jason, as he eventually saves her from death using the healing powers of the Golden Fleece. The most spectacular and memorable of Jason's battles are with the planted teeth of the Hydra which grow into a small battalion of sword yielding skeletons. Herrmann's music is as effective as it has ever been in this unforgettable sequence.

The ending is swift with the entire adventure being gazed at and manipulated by the whim of the Gods in Olympus. The entire saga has been set for their entertainment... and ours.

Gary Tooze

 

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Theatrical Release: June 19th, 1963

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Comparison:

Columbia - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Sony - Region FREE - Blu-ray

Columbia - Region 1 - NTSC LEFT vs. Sony - Region FREE - Blu-ray RIGHT

DVD Box Cover

Distribution Columbia - Region 1 - NTSC Sony - Region FREE- Blu-ray
Runtime 1:43:51 1:43:54.228
Video 1.75:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.30 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

1.66:1 - 1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 34,390,892,340 bytes

Feature: 26,051,291,136 bytes

Video Bitrate: 27.92 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

DVD

Bitrate:

Blu-ray

Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0)  DTS-HD Master Audio English 3089 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3089 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround
Subtitles English, Spanish, French, none English, English (SDH), none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Columbia

Aspect Ratio:
Aspect Ratio 1.75:1

Edition Details:

• Landis interviews Harryhausen (11:53)

• Trailer (1:26)

Full screen version on opposite side of disc

DVD Release Date: July 14th, 1998

Keep Case
Chapters: 28

Release Information:
Studio: Sony

1.66:1 - 1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 34,390,892,340 bytes

Feature: 26,051,291,136 bytes

Video Bitrate: 27.92 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Edition Details:

• Commentary with Ray Harryhausen and film historian Tim Dalton
• Commentary with Peter Jackson and visuals effects artists William Randall Cook
• Original Skeleton Fight Storyboards
• The Harryhausen Legacy (25:32)
• The Harryhausen Chronicles narrated by Leonard Nimoy (57:58)
• Landis interviews Harryhausen (11:53)

Blu-ray Release Date: July 6th, 2010

Standard Blu-ray case
Chapters: 16  

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

There are two issues we will try to address regarding the new Blu-ray image transfer.  The aspect ratio and the colors.

From our The 7th Voyage of Sinbad comparison: via Lawrence French's excellent article in Cinefantastique (interview with Ray Harryhausen HERE) we know that Harryhausen never really wanted his movies to be projected in any of the then new “widescreen” formats. He accepted the 1.85 aspect ratio under protest from the studio, but he hated working in the extreme widescreen formats, especially when he had to make First Men in the Moon in Panavision. The original Columbia DVD of Jason and the Argonauts had an anamorphic widescreen version on one side of the disc (at approximately 1.75:1) with a full frame version on the opposite side. As with Sinbad there appears to be a compromise and we get Jason on Blu-ray in precisely 1.66:1 which opens up the frame, on all 4 edges, when compared to the widescreen DVD.

Colors can show some notable differences from the DVD transfer to the Blu-ray. Overall the 1080P rendering is brighter and blues tend to be calmer with lighter greens becoming more prominent. This actually seems less noticeable in the screen captures than on my system - perhaps because I have watched the original DVD so many times. I was too young to have seen Jason in its initial theatrical run (although when I was a bit older I believe my father took me to re-issue at the cinema) - so I'll rely on others to pass on their recollections of the color scheme. The less vibrant hues may not be favorable to some - but the improved clarity and detail is an extremely welcome factor. As for the bolstered green it tends to work with the 'Bronze Man' for the patina look he had on much of his structure (but he is, certainly, no longer 'bronze')... and the Hydra seems more correct as richer blue as opposed to drab, flat, gray.

 

I'm unsure what 'ocean' water we are seeing as I understand much of this was filmed in land-locked Campania, Italy, but if it was the Adriatic then the water might be more accurate now (actually, in the commentary it is described as 'Southern Italy'). In other sequences the reds of Medea's (Nancy Kovack) robes are far richer than the SD-DVD could produce. Skin tones appear less orange and more natural and the textured grain is a very desirable attribute. As is the improved contrast. So, without going too picky with the colors - I'll say that Jason on Blu-ray looks absolutely magnificent - but, at times, quite different from the DVD.  

The DTS-HD Master 5.1 at 3820 kbps sounds even better than I expected. Bernard Herrmann's score is such a treat to hear in a lossless rendering and for this film the audio is a huge part of the viewing experience - loud drums and crashing symbols heightening the adventure and impact of the many confrontations. Depth and separation exist but it is definitely the music that would be considered 'aggressive'. The old DVD had English, Spanish and French, gaudy yellow, subtitles and the new hi-def disc only offers English (and SDH), in white, and no foreign language DUBs - although, as a side note, I seem to recall that the voices of both Todd Armstrong (Jason) and Nancy Kovack (Medea) were DUB'ed - a fact they only became aware of at the time of the film's Premiere! My Momitsu has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines world-wide.

The Blu-ray is stacked with extras - not one, but two commentary tracks with Ray Harryhausen and film historian Tim Dalton on the first and director Peter Jackson and visuals effects artists William Randall Cook on the second. In the first they discuss how the film was so inspirational to directors' like Spielberg, Lucas and Mr. Jackson and how it developed into a bit of a cult over the years. Other topics broached are Herrmann's amazing score, where the miniature sequences were added at Shepperton Studios in Surrey and other production details. Peter Jackson and visuals effects artists William Randall Cook impress with how many details of the film that they are aware of especially as Jackson was only 2-years old upon it's release. Seeing the original Skeleton Fight Storyboards was pretty cool and we also get video pieces found on other Harryhausen works transferred tom digital including the 25-minute The Harryhausen Legacy, the hour-long The Harryhausen Chronicles narrated by Leonard Nimoy and, also found on the original Jason DVD - John Landis interviews Harryhausen for about a dozen minutes.

The Sony Blu-ray has a strong recommendation. It has great value especially for the price offered. I'm obviously biased about the film and it's impact it had on me as a child growing up but I consider Jason and the Argonauts an absolute MUST-OWN- but I expect many surfing to the comparison might already feel that way.

Gary W. Tooze

 


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Distribution Columbia - Region 1 - NTSC Sony - Region FREE- Blu-ray



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Gary Tooze