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Jason & The Argonauts

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 100 mins . G . PAL


Ray Harryhausen is a man I both respect and am aggrieved by. Respect, because he made some of the most spectacular special effects in movie history. Harryhausen's stop-motion sword-wielding skeletons, multi-headed hydras and ferocious dinosaurs still stand proudly today as some of the most inspirational creations ever.

And this is where the problem lies. So many people have been influenced by Harryhausen's films that the special effects industry has swamped Hollywood and eye candy has become the prime reason that many people see films, and indeed the justification for many otherwise hollow films existing (cough, Phantom Menace, cough). Yet very few 'effect' movies possess the imagination and childlike joy that Harryhausen imbued his work with.

Even though Jason and the Argonauts has dated, most obviously in the Shatner-esque acting, it's still very entertaining. Most people will be aware of the famous skeleton fight sequence, even if they haven't actually seen the film, as it's often held up as an example of the stop-motion technique in documentaries.

Drawing inspiration from Greek mythology, the film follows Jason, destined to become king of Thessaly, and his quest to recover the fabled Golden Fleece, which is said to bring peace to the land, and defeat the evil king who murdered his father. His only assistance against the danger in his path comes from the Goddess Hera, who is engaged in a battle of wits with Zeus, supreme ruler of Mount Olympus (and her husband!).


Columbia have anamorphically-encoded this 1.85:1 transfer, as we have come to expect, and the picture is generally decent considering the age of the film, but it's a rather eccentric source print. Sometimes the image is surprisingly good, but certain scenes look rather ragged. There's a couple of cutaways during a dialogue scene between Jason and his crew where one character seems to be caught in a windstorm, as noise washes across the screen, but other scenes could have come from a film from the mid 80s, with surprising clarity and naturalness.

Grain is generally visible, and inevitably becomes more problematic during effects scenes, which suffered degradation during the primitive optical composition process. Colour is also noticeably less saturated during effects sequences, but varies considerably throughout the presentation, and rarely looks natural.

Shadow detail is poor to average and detail varies from scene to scene. It's difficult to tell whether these problems are due to the transfer or are inherent to the source print, but I'd assume the latter. The layer change occurs at the beginning of Chapter 26, and is not annoying.


Audio is poor, reflecting the age of the film, and is overly compressed and quite harsh. While the mono soundtrack never breaks up into horrible distortion, it often sounds on the verge of it, and is never a very comfortable experience. Much of the dialogue is looped and is wanting in naturalness.

The poor sound quality is a shame, because the score is by the wondrous Bernard Herrmann, and I never like hearing his work presented poorly.


Now this is interesting!

The Region 1 DVD has dual-format video (fullscreen and 1.85:1 widescreen), but the Region 4 DVD forgoes the fullscreen option and substitutes an hour-long documentary about Harryhausen's effects, narrated by Leonard Nimoy! Cool!

This alone makes the PAL version the better option for the collector, but the disc also contains all the extras from the Region 1 DVD, the original theatrical trailer (in fullscreen and acceptable in quality) and a nearly 12 minute interview that director John Landis (The Blues Brothers) conducted with Harryhausen about his effects, which is entertaining, if a little sycophantic.

Of course, you get filmographies as well, but these are even less useful than usual, being a simple list of films from Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer, and no background information at all.


Overly theatrical acting stops it from being a fantastic film, but the amazing effects should be enough to earn this disc a place in your collection. Children in particular won't be bothered by the acting, and will carry the wonderful setpieces in their imaginations forever. With the added value of the extra features, can you pass this one up?

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