Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Film review: Jason and the Argonauts

As Sally Bowles sings, “money makes the world go around”. When that world is the cinema, money leads to the movie equivalent of reinventing the wheel: the doomed remake of a highly regarded classic.

On this basis I didn’t expect much when I embarked on watching the 1998 Hallmark version of Jason and the Argonauts. The Harryhausen version isn’t a perfect film by any means, but the effects are still jaw-dropping and the scene where the skeletons bust from the ground is undoubtedly one of the great moments of cinema history.

The Hallmark production strings out the story over the course of three hours. A young cast (with a few older, established actors, mainly in bit-parts) do their best but ultimately the show is let down by some hammy acting and bad structure. It’s actually the latter that’s the real problem. The writers fail to spot that the strength of the epics is that they are a series of exciting encounters. Jason tramples about with overly-long bits of melodrama which detract from the all-too-short action sequences. The scenes with the bickering Apollo and Hera simply slow the film down and are marred by ill-judged effects.

However, the series is not a complete wash out. Its production design is really top-notch. The sets and costumes are realistic, gritty and spectacular and their quality is buoyed by some stunning locations. The producers took the brave decision to make the “look” of the film very archaic, with the properly researched weapons and architecture catching my eye. Some of the CGI isn’t bad too for it’s time. Many of the beasts encountered by the Argonauts have been completely re-imagined which deserves kudos. The Talos is now a steampunk bull, the harpies are raptor-like devils and the skeletons are…well, you’ll just have to watch it.

If you’re an aficionado of the Classics, or interested in production design it’s worth seeing. If you are after a sprightly romp and want to see lots of action, don’t bother. Instead watch the Hallmark version of the Odyssey, which I will review next.

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