Jason And The Argonauts

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Details At A Glance

Category Adventure Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.33:1, Mono
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1963 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 99:42  Other Extras Filmographies
Interview - Ray Harryhausen with John Landis (11:53)
Featurette - The Harryhausen Chronicles (57:56)
Production Notes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (83:39)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Don Chaffey
Columbia Tristar
Starring Todd Armstrong
Nancy Kovack
Gary Raymond
Laurence Naismith
RRP $34.95 Music Bernard Herrmann
Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    This film is another one of the few things I remember fondly from the early stages of my life. Although I am sure others will disagree with my assessment of this film, it is truly a timeless classic with something for everyone. The film mainly concerns a prophecy by the Greek goddess Hera (Nancy Kovack), and the man destined to fulfil it. Said man, Jason (Todd Armstrong), is the rightful heir to the throne of Greece, and sets about retrieving an item known as the Golden Fleece in order to prove to the people of Greece that the gods have not abandoned them. This item, as the name suggests, is a carpet of wool that is gold in colour. It also has some rather extraordinary powers, such as the power to heal whomever lays beneath it. Of course, the complicated part is that retrieving this magical item will require sailing to a previously unknown part of the world where some rather nasty death-worshipping cultists guard the fleece. It also requires some rather interesting confrontations with stop-motion puppets animated by special effects genius Ray Harryhausen. According to the featurettes and the text in the case's liner, the climactic battle at the end of the film between Jason, two of his Argonauts, and five stop-motion skeletons took five months to complete. The major selling point of the featurettes is learning exactly how much work was involved in shooting stop-motion sequences.

    For me, this film represents a look back into a time that was long gone by when I was born - the era of the Saturday matinee. An era that I sometimes sorely wish that I had been around for, if truth be told. The story itself is not a terribly original one (several different versions of the "chosen one comes back to claim his rightful kingdom" story come out every year), but the special effects work lifts this film above most of its competitors. Ray Harryhausen's work has been a massive influence on many special effects makers today, including the man who directed Michael Jackson's ground-breaking music video Thriller - John Landis, who interviews Ray for one of the featurettes. Even if you have no interest in the film itself, you are in for some fun if you are interested in the art of special effects, particularly if you are interested in how they were made before the digital era.

Transfer Quality


    Before we begin, I have to tell you that if the original film stock is in bad shape, then the DVD transfer is not going to improve things any. Thirty-six years is a long time to keep a film in storage for transfer to a whole new medium, and it is a credit to Columbia Pictures that this film came out as well as it did. The overall quality indicates that Columbia actually took the time out to do some restoration work on this film, which is just as well given DVD's ability to make minor limitations in the source material stick out like a fully avulsed toenail. The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with 16x9 enhancement. Given the age of the source material, I shudder to think what this transfer would have looked like without such enhancement. Either way, you are unlikely to see this film in such wonderful condition anywhere else.

    The transfer is variably sharp, although this has more to do with the limitations of stop-motion animation in the year 1963 than anything else. Most of the degradation in this respect is confined to the scenes in which Jason and his merry band of Argonauts confront various stop-motion monstrosities. The picture becomes very grainy during these sequences, but I have seen much more modern films on VHS exhibit far worse problems than this (The Thing being a good example of this - even with aliasing galore the DVD romped home all over the VHS). If every film released on DVD had this much care taken with the transfer quality, there'd be no need for an analysis of video quality on DVDs at all. Having said that much, however, the DVD is still reflective of its source material, and thus is somewhat limited in quality. Colour saturation was often inconsistent, although this also has more to do with 1963 NTSC formatting than the DVD itself. In spite of the fact that shadow detail was very good, the actual brightness (or gamma if you want to be technical) level was all over the place in a few sequences, and it cannot be a coincidence that less than ten percent of this film takes place in anything vaguely resembling darkness.

    MPEG artefacts were completely absent, as were apparent film-to-video artefacts. Given that a high proportion of this film involves such scenery as the ocean, the chances for MPEG artefacts to occur were abundant, so this is a much better transfer than we have any right to expect. Film artefacts, while picking up the slack, were amazingly rare considering the age of this film, and those that did show were much less intrusive than expected. This film was a staple part of my early life, and I have never seen it look anywhere near this good.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place at 83:40. The layer change is noticeable, but not particularly intrusive. It would have been a little better in one of the fade-outs that occurred earlier in the film, but this is a minor quibble.


    Well, while the video quality had been gone over with a fine-toothed comb and mostly defies its age, the audio quality certainly doesn't have either attribute going for it. There are five languages on this disc, all of them in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround encoding that has been somewhat lazily remastered from mono: English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. It would have been very interesting to see a version dubbed in Greek, but we can't have everything, really. I listened to both the English and the Spanish versions, although my skill with the latter language is rather limited. The packaging quite explicitly states that the only audio tracks available on this disc are in mono.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to follow at all times, although this has a lot to do with the limitations of mono recording in an age where it was pretty much the only option than any heroic effort on the part of the transfer. Other elements, such as the limited sound effects and the music, appeared to have been mixed about two decibels below the dialogue. Overall, this DVD is reflective of the original theatrical exhibition in the audio area, which is much better than having a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix with the sounds stretched around where they do not belong. Audio sync was mildly problematic for the first third of the film, and characters can often be seen with their lips moving and no sound coming out. This is actually a problem with the recording of the original film, and thus cannot be held against the DVD transfer. It is a lot less bothersome than one would expect, given that the video quality of the film half makes you expect it.

    The score music was unremarkable, and appeared to be taken from pre-recorded stocks in the Columbia vaults. Nothing to get excited about there.


    For a thirty-seven year old film, this is a very good crop of extras. The theatrical trailer, interview, and featurette all have a choice of subtitles in German, French, Dutch, Spanish, or Italian.


    A typical Columbia TriStar menu, with no audio or animation or 16x9 enhancement.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented in full frame with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this trailer is somewhat poor in quality.

Interview - Ray Harryhausen with John Landis

    An interesting eleven-minute interview, done in talk-show style by John Landis, who has certainly left an interesting mark of his own on the evolution of special effects through his work on Michael Jackson's Thriller music video (something I really would like to see on DVD). This is a very interesting interview with some insights into how such trivial things as lunch breaks affected special effects work in the early sixties.

Featurette - The Harryhausen Chronicles, narrated by Leonard Nimoy

    A fifty-seven documentary about the work of Harryhausen, complete with interjections from such great names as George Lucas. It is presented in full frame with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. While it is somewhat difficult to view in one sitting, it is an interesting summation of the birth of special effects as an art form.


    Filmographies of Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer. Their formatting as black text against a dark marble background makes them rather difficult to read.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Given that the featurette in question is a major selling point of this DVD, and that this film really does not deserve Panning & Scanning, Region 4 is definitely the way to go.


    Although the film itself is somewhat average in terms of storytelling, Jason And The Argonauts is legendary in the field of special effects. It is a film that has given me much inspiration.

    Given that this film is old enough to be one of those midday presentations introduced in glowing terms by Bill Collins, the video quality is truly triumphant.

    The audio quality is good for a film of this vintage, but nothing to write home about.

    An excellent, complete, and indispensable collection of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Dean McIntosh
February 5th, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D
Display Samsung CS-823AMF, 16:9 mode, using composite input
Audio Decoder Built In
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer