Everyone has established mental images of moments from films that they remember from their childhood, whether it be Scar throwing Mufasa into a gorge full of stampeding wildebeests, Woody telling Buzz “You-Are-A-TOY!!“, or a mad scientist almost eating his own kids in his breakfast cereal. In my case, the most memorable event from any movie I’ve seen in the last 22 years involves a scary 100-foot bronze man named Talos and his relentless pursuit of Jason and the argonauts across the Isle of Bronze.
Watching the film now, of course, doesn’t produce quite the same emotions, save for that warm nostalgic feeling. The aforementioned sequence now in fact looks incredibly dated in the face of the squeaky clean computer effects that Hollywood has found at its present-day disposal. Talos moves with all the speed and vigour of a stiff old man suffering from rickets, while the argonauts look more like disgruntled football fans than the greatest Greek warriors in the land when facing up to him. But for kids, this was and still could be the stuff of nightmares, mainly because you can see Talos moving right there in front of you (senile or not), unlike the paper-thin impression that you can get from modern day CG effects.
Compare, for example, this film’s spiritual cousin, Clash of the Titans, with its recent big budget Hollywood remake, and tell me honestly which version of Medusa fills you with more uneasiness. Is it the CG version, which you can see even the actors have trouble believing is really there, or is it the older looking, actually moving version that you could almost imagine seeing in the street. Okay, it would have to be a murky street and you probably took something that helps slow the rest of the world down beforehand, but still, it’s scarier, if not so much in its realism, then in its very existence.
Ray Harryhausen’s famous effects are the main reason both movies are so fondly remembered, and it’s easy to see why on repeated viewings: everything else is largely rubbish. The acting is amateur, the storytelling flawed, the relationships unbelievable. All three of these things are encapsulated in the film’s main love story between Jason and Medea. No sooner has Jason pulled her from a shipwreck than is she betraying her country and professing her undying love for him. Wait a minute, you’d think, didn’t they just meet earlier today?! Yes, they did. Just a few hours ago, in fact. This kind of thing has been known to happen in older movies, dating back to the laughably similar scenario in the original King Kong, another film rightly famed more for its special effects than the rest of its instantly forgettable aspects. I guess, in Hollywood land, love really doesn’t take all that long to bloom.
Worth a more positive mention is the fact that the film-makers didn’t turn to bodybuilders to fill their cast, which would have been an easy trap to fall into, although you have to wonder whether it ultimately would have made any difference. After all, it’s not as if any of the cast have stellar acting ability or even a charismatic smile to fall back on. At least back then they did all do their own stunts, although I doubt Hercules is relying on his actors strength when pushing open the door to the treasure chamber below the as-yet-immobile statue of Talos at one point in the film.
Nevertheless, this movie holds fond memories for me, as it surely does for anyone else who had the privilege of watching Harryhausen’s visual masterpieces at an age before they could be spoiled by CGI. Having said that, we may be looking at a prime example here of why CGI even became a big thing in the industry at all. Had people shown little interest in the scale of monster movies such as this one, Hollywood would not be in the position it currently finds itself in; the leading light of world cinema. So I guess what I’m really doing in this review is praising something that gave birth to a juggernaut that sucks the creativity out of the rest of the industry. Well, we can’t all be perfect.
7 / 10.