Another one of Hallmark Entertainment’s great television productions is making it to DVD. This time it is the story of "Jason and the Argonauts," a saga taken from Greek mythology. With modern day technology and high production values this 3-hour mini-series tries to retell the tale of the intrepid hero, who is favored by the ancient Gods. But at the same time, it is hard to create a film that has been masterfully told before in the 1963 film adaptation of the same name by Don Chaffey, which featured some of the most spectacular stop-motion effects by Ray Harryhausen. Nonetheless I decided to give Hallmark’s new version a closer look, as many of their latest mini series have been great additions to the otherwise embarrassingly poor television fare.
As a boy, Jason witnesses the murder of his father, the king of ancient Greece, through his uncle Pelias (Dennis Hopper) in an attempt to steal the throne. Before Pelias can also kill Jason, the rightful heir to the throne, Jason is brought into safety and disappears from the eyes of the public.
Twenty years later, Jason (Jason London) returns to claim his throne, but Pelias quickly sentences the young man to death to avoid further implications. With his eloquence, Jason manages to get Pelias to agree to a deal. If Jason should manage to retrieve the mythical Golden Fleece for him, he should go free. Immediately Jason sets about to recruit a crew of adventurers and embarks on a perilous voyage to obtain the Fleece, and to fulfill his own destiny.
The story of the voyage that Jason undertakes is very well told in this production. With atmospheric images, great special effects that conjure up the Greek mythology and its many beasts, this new adaptation of the material is highly entertaining and enjoyable. Like most other television min-series, it suffers a bit from lengthiness. There’s a sudden drop-off about 90 minutes into the movie and from there the film takes some time to gather momentum again for the final showdown.
"Jason And The Argonauts" features a great cast that includes accomplished actors such as Dennis Hopper, Derek Jacobi and Frank Langella alongside television stars and a series of relative newcomers. Together they create an energetic mix of characters that bring the story to life. Combined with great costuming and a highly detailed production design, the characters are always believable and feel very authentic. Especially Jolene Blalock’s performance as Medea stands out, giving her character a very subtle twist that keeps viewers always on the edge whether to trust her or not.
The sets of the film are beautifully constructed, giving you the feel of ancient Greece, as well as other mystic places. Although the computer special effects in the film are not comparable to feature film productions, the majority of them comes across quite well - although the dragon simply cannot deny its immediate relationship to the Hollywood Godzilla. In the context of the entire film, these effects work quite well however and never become distracting or obtrusive. Especially the subtle use of the centaur early on in the movie helps to establish the credibility of these low-fantasy creatures.
Produced for television, "Jason And The Argonauts" comes in its original fullscreen presentation on this DVD from Artisan Home Entertainment. The transfer is very clean and entirely without speckles, scratches or other blemishes. The film’s highly de-saturated look is nicely reproduced on the DVD, creating images that appear real, yet somehow earthen at times. At other times, the colorful costumes and the production design come to life in all their beauty, rendering images of radiance and lavish splendor. The blacks of the transfer are deep, giving the image a lot of visual depth. No signs of edge-enhancement are evident anywhere in the transfer, leaving the picture without distracting ringing artifacts. The transfer appears a bit soft at times however, and seems to be lacking some definition. Although clearly visible, many textures found in the image, appear washed out and lacking in detail. The compression is very good, and no compression artifacts, such as pixelation, are evident, even in scenes with a lot of movement, where the entire screen is in motion - usually a bottleneck for compression.
The disc features a Dolby surround audio track in English only. No other languages are supplied and sadly, the disc also contains no subtitles. The audio is engaging and creates a solid sound field for the movie. Surround usage is subtle and quite limited, but in many instances I found it enhanced the scenes noticeably, and especially during more dramatic moments, the music and sound effects created an enveloping and pleasing presentation.
Dialogues are well integrated and always at an understandable level, never being drowned out by the music or the film’s sound effects.
To round out the release, the DVD also contains a 10-minute featurette that takes you behind the scenes of the production. With cast and crew interviews and quite some footage from the shoot of the movie, the featurette is entertaining and interesting, although held mostly on a promotional level. A section called "Notable and Quotable" contains quotes from some of the main star attached to the film, while the cast and crew biographies are surprisingly extensive. Covering even some of the less known actors and crew members of the production.
I found "Jason And The Argonauts" a very entertaining film, although it noticeably lost pace after about 90 minutes. In terms of drama and narrative the film is much slower, and less sweeping and "colorful" than the 1963 version of the movie. While the creatures are exciting to see, they don’t have the visionary quality of Harryhausen’s creation. Although present in this adaptation in a variation, the infamous skeleton sword-fight that made Don Chaffey’s films such a memorable experience, is not nearly as enticing as in the classic film. Still, this new retelling of the story leaves good impression and is another great entry in Hallmark’s line of recommendable television mini-series. Artisan’s DVD looks and sounds great, giving you the chance to board the Argo yourself, undertaking the perilous quest for the Golden Fleece.