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Jason and the Argonauts (Blu-ray) (1963)
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Details At A Glance
Audio Commentary-with Ray Harryhausen and Film Historian Tony Dalton
Audio Commentary-with Peter Jackson and Visual Effects Artist Randall William
Featurette-The Harryhausen Legacy
Featurette-The Harryhausen Chronicles Narrated by Leonard Nimoy
Featurette-Ray Harryhausen Interviewed by Director John Landis
Year Of Production
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†††† Anybody with so much as a passing interest in big-screen special effects should be aware of the late great Ray Harryhausen, a legendary stop-motion animator who has fuelled the imaginations of children and budding filmmakers for decades. Among his more well-known efforts is 1963ís Jason and the Argonauts, a cinematic take on Greek mythology which has lost virtually none of its appeal over fifty years after its release. A fast-paced, irresistibly fun action-adventure, Jason and the Argonauts is a thorough joy, and it was actually the first Harryhausen picture to receive a proper cinematic release. Indeed, his previous efforts were released within double features, but Jason and the Argonauts was released as a single feature, and the pedigree speaks for itself.
††† In ancient Greece, Pelias (Douglas Wilmer) selfishly takes control of the kingdom of Thessaly, pushing aside the rightful heir to the throne, Jason (Todd Armstrong). Jason survives, however, thanks to the influence of goddess Hera (Honor Blackman). Decades on, Jason returns to his kingdom, and Pelias recognises him but is not willing to give up his throne. To prove his worth and show that the Gods are on his side, Jason sets off to find the mythical Golden Fleece, with Pelias encouraging him, secretly hoping that the ostensibly impossible quest will lead to his demise. Setting sail on a ship known as the Argo, Jason receives help from the likes of Hercules (Nigel Green), while Peliasís cunning son Acastus (Gary Raymond) is sent along to sabotage the voyage.
††† Ultimately, the main attraction of Jason and the Argonauts is Harryhausenís iconic stop-motion animation sequences, and they have aged gracefully. To be sure, the special effects do lack the refined, glossy seamlessness of contemporary blockbusters, yet their vintage and simplicity affords a certain charm, and above all there is personality to the creatures which is borderline impossible to replicate on a computer. A memorable set-piece involving the enormous bronze statue Talos even affectionately references 1933ís King Kong, the movie which inspired Harryhausen when he was a boy. But itís the climactic skeleton battle that everybody remembers the most, and it truly is a sight to behold. Said climax runs less than five minutes, yet it took Harryhausen a staggering four months to animate the skeletons in the scene, and itís hard to not be impressed or entertained by its visual majesty. Other key sequences involving monsters still impress to this day, while the use of green screen and forced perspective really amplify the experience. The soundtrack, composed by Bernard Herrmann (Psycho), is overdramatic but effective, especially during the action scenes.
††† It may not be obvious, but Jason and the Argonauts was produced for a fairly paltry sum, even for its time period (footage from Helen of Troy was even used to save money). Yet, there is very little to complain about from a visual perspective; the location filming in Italy is gorgeous, while elaborate costumes, sets and ships look terrific. However, director John Chaffeyís efforts are not entirely flawless - although the picture moves at a decent pace, storytelling is a bit on the stilted side at times, while the acting is often rigid and overly melodramatic. As fun as the movie is, people will remember the special effects sequences more than the acting or script. Itís not a deal-breaker, but it would be dangerous to compare Jason and the Argonauts to the likes of 1933ís King Kong, which benefits from a far more involving narrative.
††† Jason and the Argonauts is essentially the summer blockbuster of its era, as itís an action-adventure loaded with state-of-the-art visual effects, but it holds more appeal than the dumb action movies of today due to the sheer care involved in the production. The special effects still look convincing enough in 2015, and such a huge amount of intricate VFX sequences would have been an absolute headache to achieve in the 1960s, especially with only Harryhausen working solo to achieve all of the stop-motion work. Jaded film-goers may not be as impressed with the movie as the adults who grew up with the picture, but thatís entirely down to taste and preference. For my money, this is a wonderful self-recommending classic that deserves its esteemed status.
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††† Fans and film buffs rejoice: Via Visionís Blu-ray presentation for Jason and the Argonauts is nothing but good news. Placed on a BD-50, the movie is afforded a healthy bitrate, yielding an often stunning 1080p, AVC-encoded high definition transfer. The film underwent an extensive 4K remaster and restoration (courtesy of Peter Jacksonís post-production house), and itís absolutely worth it. Sure, there is still a smattering of flecks and dirt, but if anything, that just adds to the old-school matinee vibe.
††† The video is presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, as opposed to its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. However, screen-shots comparing the Blu-ray to the DVD reveal that the presentation is open matte, adding extra information around the frame. Although I do favour fidelity, I cannot complain about this too much. Purists are welcome to disagree, though.
††† Presumably sourced from the same HD remaster used for Sony's Region A Blu-ray release, this little gem is stunner on Blu-ray, blowing away all expectations. Whatís especially exciting is the completely in-tact grain structure. Jason and the Argonauts looks rough and grainy, with the grain keeping the image looking detailed and razor-sharp. Via Vision deserve massive credit for not applying any unnecessary digital clean-up techniques like DNR or edge enhancement - the video looks organic.
††† Colours are bold and true, while close-ups reveal so much detail on the faces of the performers. Clothing is highly textured, and the environments are constantly easy to admire. A lot of state-of-the-art craftsmanship went into creating Jason and the Argonauts, and this Blu-ray does the film justice. It looks seriously gorgeous, showing that old movies can still shine in HD.
††† Visual effects shots often look a bit worse for wear, with complex composite shots looking a bit off, heavy in grain and with a lack of all-round refinement, but such issues trace back to the source. Again, digital tampering in such moments would spoil the transfer. This is what Jason and the Argonauts has always looked like, and the movie has never looked so good since its cinema release; it perhaps looks better than ever. You will not hear me complain about anything in regards to this video transfer, it exceeded my expectations at every turn.
††† English subtitles are available, and they present no issues at all.
Video Ratings Summary
††† Given a generous DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, Jason and the Argonauts sounds about as good as can be expected, and thereís very little to complain about. Although it cannot compete with any contemporary action movies, itís a clean, precise track. The two audio commentaries are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0.
††† The front-heavy dialogue comes through without any issues, while all the terrific sound effects have sufficient oomph, making great use of the subwoofer. Herrmannís dramatic music makes a lot of impact, as well. The 5.1 mix is tastefully done, with subtle but effective use of the surround channels to make the experience more immersive. Although there is not much noticeable separation, the overall track is faithful and effective.
††† Itís no Jurassic World, but Jason and the Argonauts sounds wonderful on Blu-ray.
Audio Ratings Summary
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††† Via Vision's Blu-ray contains a decent selection of bonus features.
Audio Commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Film Historian Tony Dalton ††† This is a hell of a treat. Recorded a number of years ago for the filmís American Blu-ray debut, Harryhausen sits down with Tony Dalton for this first audio commentary track, which is an essential listen for any fans of the movie, film buffs in general, or just anybody whoís interested in the process of making movies. Harryhausen speaks at length about the extensive special effects work and the models, while Dalton also gets his input in regards to shooting live-action elements, the actors, the locations, props, and the filmís legacy. I really enjoyed listening to this.
Audio Commentary with Peter Jackson and Visual Effects Artist Randall William Cook ††† Lord of the Rings trilogy mastermind Peter Jackson and one of his visual effects artists Randall William Cook sit down for the second commentary track. Neither were actually involved in the production of the movie, thus they share anecdotes about their personal experiences with both the movie and with Harryhausenís filmography, on top of discussing scene-specific trivia, and talking about their admiration for the special effects. I have always enjoyed Jacksonís commentary tracks, and this is no exception. Itís a very worthwhile listen.
The Harryhausen Legacy (SD; 25:33) ††† Essentially a tribute to the late Ray Harryhausen, this extra features interviews with a vast array of persons, from directors (John Landis and Joe Dante) to visual effects artists (Stan Winston, Phil Tippet, Dennis Muren), who share memories about seeing Harryhausenís movies and how his magic inspired their careers.
The Harryhausen Chronicles Narrated by Leonard Nimoy (SD; 57:58) ††† Running at nearly an hour in length, this vintage piece (also available on the old Aussie DVD release) is concerned with Harryhausenís career, from making short animated pieces as a teenager, up until he was given the chance to work with Willis OíBrien on Mighty Joe Young, leading to his long and fulfilling career. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, this is really good documentary, shedding light on the production process for a number of iconic Harryhausen movies. The documentary is supported by some outstanding interviews from filmmakers and Harryhausenís friends. This is a truly wonderful supplement which kept me interested all the way through to the end.
Ray Harryhausen Interviewed by Director John Landis (SD; 11:53) ††† Another vintage extra that was recorded in the 1990s (and included on the old Aussie DVD release), John Landis sits down with Ray Harryhausen (and one of the original skeleton models) to talk about Harryhausenís body of work and the stop-motion animation process. A charming and welcome supplement.
Original Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots (HD; 8:30) ††† Rounding out the extras is a selection of two trailers, eight TV spots, and a theatrical sweepstakes trailer. Worth watching for their historical value.
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†††† Sony's Region A release contains all the supplements available on this local Blu-ray, and adds the original 2.0 mono audio track plus the original storyboards of the skeleton fight. Curiously, the cover for The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen set does list the storyboards, but they are not present on the disc, which is peculiar. Due to this, the American edition does have a slight edge, though whether or not it's worth importing is entirely up to you.
††† Watching Jason and the Argonauts for the first time as a 24-year-old, I was blown away. Filled with old-school but nevertheless impressive special effects, and benefitting from a snappy pace, it's an enormous amount of fun, an action-adventure that's still enjoyable over fifty years on. Via Vision's Blu-ray is a home run, with remarkable video and audio, while the supplements are perfectly sufficient. Highly recommended.
© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
|DVD||PlayStation 4, using HDMI output|
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|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver.
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|Speakers||LG Tall Boy speakers, 5.1 set-up, 180W|
Great to finally see it get a local release