Our review of Jason and the Argonauts (Blu-ray), published September 18th, 2011, is also available.
A man of passion. A warrior of courage. A hero of destiny.
A made-for-TV retelling of the classic adventure story, Jason and the Argonauts is a decently told yarn that takes advantage of a notable cast and modern special effects and is brought to disc by Hallmark with an excellent presentation and modest extras.
Sometimes when I get a disc to review, it is one that doesn't exactly light my fires. More often than not, by the end of my viewing, I find that it was better than I had expected. Jason and the Argonauts is one that falls into this category. I had never heard of this film when it (presumably) made its way to TV, and was only vaguely aware of the classic adventure story. However, as I continued to look into this modern adaptation, I was impressed by the quality of the cast and the attention to detail.
The special effects of Jason and the Argonauts are quite good for a TV movie, and nearly on par with theatrical movie quality. Poseidon rising from the waves, the fearsome Harpies, and other creations are convincing and detailed, though they do not quite seamlessly fit into the real-life settings of the film, most notably a fearsome bull.
Scattered throughout Jason and the Argonauts are a competent assortment of actors, some with undeniably excellent resumes. In the title role, Jason London (Dazed and Confused, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar) fits the physical needs of the part, but his Jason just is too flat, without that heroic quality and spark of life that would draw the audience in to really root for him. On the other hand, Dennis Hopper (Hang 'Em High, Hoosiers, Speed) has exactly that sort of evil glee and maniacal charm necessary for the usurper king Pelias, and Frank Langella (Dracula, Body of Evidence, The Ninth Gate) has the calm, calculating gravity to make his King Aertes a strong character.
Also worthy of mention are the ever-compelling Derek Jacobi (Dead Again, Cadfael TV series, Gladiator) as the blind, tormented Phineas, Brian Thompson (best known as the Alien Bounty Hunter on The X-Files) who brings an endearing, energetic performance to his role as the he-man Hercules, and last but certainly not least, Natasha Henstridge (Species, The Whole Nine Yards) is suitably gorgeous as the black-widow Hypsipyle. One more negative must be noted as regards Adrian Lester (Primary Colors, Love's Labour's Lost) as Orpheus. The man has talent, but he just struck me as a bit lost or distracted here.
Video quality for this full-frame transfer is top-notch. The picture is very crisp and clean, without dirt, debris, or flaws, and also without any notable digital enhancement artifacts, but I did see shimmering around some objects in outdoor scenes. The worst I can say is that the colors are weakly saturated and not as vibrant as they could have been. A pity!
The audio is one of the better Dolby Surround tracks that I have heard. Most of the action takes place in the center and to a lesser degree the front of the soundstage, but the rears are strategically used to effect in enhancing the atmosphere and action scenes. However, not much of your subwoofer will get used, and softly spoken dialogue can be difficult to pick out, especially without subtitles to assist! (See the Rebuttal section below for more on this annoyance.)
The extras are modest as DVD discs go. The featurette is the usual short PR-fluff that we have seen on so many discs, but the cast and crew information (bio and filmographies) is reasonably extensive. The "Notable and Quotable" is unique as far as I can recall, as it is simply a collection of quotes from a few of the cast and crew about their part in the genesis and completion of Jason and the Argonauts. As such, it possesses some insight into the film and its production, and is a welcome addition to the disc.
Facts of the Case
As a boy, Jason witnesses the murder of his father and King at the hands of his scheming uncle, Pelias. After taking his brother's throne and his wife as his own, Pelias spares Jason by exiling him and swearing his death should he ever return. Jason grows into a fine young man, and soon sets forth to the place of his birth to discover the truth. Seized by Pelias' soldiers, Jason escapes execution by promising to find for Pelias the Golden Fleece, an object reputed to imbue its possessor with great power. Granted a ship, named the Argo, and with the blessings of the goddess Hera, Jason next assembles a motley crew to embark with him on his quest. His mates include his friend Atalanta, a woman who harbors secret love for Jason, the strongman Hercules, the musician Orpheus, and others.
After setting to sea, some troubles lead to a stop for repairs, where Jason and his Argonauts encounter Lemnos, a nation entirely of women, ruled by their queen, Hypsipyle. The shore leave is a glorious time of alluring women and bounteous food, but when the true nature of Lemnos is revealed, all are lucky to escape with their lives. The next stop is another island, whose sole inhabitant, Phineas, was marooned there by the gods and afflicted by the torment of two unspeakable monsters, the Harpies. When Jason agrees to fight the Harpies, in his gratitude Phineas, a noted soothsayer, helps Jason by giving him vital clues to the location of the Golden Fleece.
Arriving in the land of King Aertes, keeper of the Golden Fleece, Jason is saved from a terrible fate by the intervention of Medea, Aertes' daughter, who has fallen for the heroic Jason thanks to the machinations of Eros, the god of love, who in turn acted at the urging of Hera, queen to Zeus. When Aertes sets Jason a test no mortal could complete without the protection of the gods with the Fleece as a great prize, Medea aids him with ointments and potions of her magical creation. Aertes will not so easily part with his prize, and so Jason and his Argonauts must fight against many enemies, human and otherwise, to gain the Fleece and return in safety to his homeland.
Upon his return, Jason must again face his usurping uncle Pelias, and fight once more for his birthright, and the future of his friends and his people. It's a happy ending, of course. You expected something else?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A small point, but still we see a disc without any sort of on-disc captioning or subtitles of any sort. This should be as much a part of a DVD disc as "interactive menus" or the "scene selection" so-called features that are still touted on the back of most discs. Tsk, tsk, tsk!
The story is a decent enough adventure story (departing from the classic in a great number of details), and keeps things moving along at a nice pace, which makes the three-hour running time bearable. Its major flaw is that we do not spend very much time on the early, formative events of Jason's life between the murder of his father and his embarking on the epic quest for the Golden Fleece. Since we spend little time with Jason before we jump into the quest, it is harder to develop the empathy for him that draws us further into the action as we root for him.
A light, old-fashioned adventure, with heroes and villains, monsters and gods, just the sort of thing that is suitable for family entertainment, or anyone who likes a classic story brought to life in fine fashion. A rental would be worth the few bucks, and if you like it enough, the price ($20 retail) is right.
Acquitted with the blessing of the gods.
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