Jason and the Argonauts

Ohhh, I have been excited to watch this movie for a long, long time.

Ostensibly, Jason and the Argonauts is the story of the hero Jason — hero being defined in this case as a demigod — who embarks on a quest to recover the golden fleece.

(A note on the golden fleece: practically, the description of this (fictional) artifact might have emerged from the real-life practice of collecting gold from running water by laying sheepskins in the stream. Just as they demonstrated earlier, in “What The Ancients Did For Us”!)

In the classic tradition of Greek epics, the story starts when a king (Pelias) tries to prevent his eventual overthrow by killing off potential prophesied usurpers before they can come of age — but in doing so, he only succeeds in laying the path for the thing he feared the most.

Twenty years later, a grown-up Jason fishes Pelias out of a river, and the king decides to encourage him to take on a dangerous quest, hoping he’ll die without Pelias having to do it himself.

After some posturing and discus throwing, Jason recruits a bunch of his buddies and they sail off in a specially-designed ship, the Argo.

Then they do some hero stuff, but the rest of the movie is basically an excuse to show off the incredibly awesome stop-motion work of genre master Ray Harryhausen, who considered this his best film. And I agree.

Skeleton children of the hydra:

The awakening of Talos:

The skeleton clip lasts four minutes, but it took more than four months to create. Every tiny movement is the result of the touch of a human hand. Incredible.


A giant merman


Harpies that torture a blind man


The Hydra!

I’m resisting posting videos of the other cool stuff, so that I don’t overwhelm this post with clips. But seeing these makes me feel like the Cat from Red Dwarf. YOW!

Anyway, back to the story — most of the heroes die in the battle, but Jason escapes the spookies, gets the girl and returns home, where he gets to rule two kingdoms and have a lifetime of adventures.

But what does all that matter, when you remember that we’re all (literal!) pawns of the immortals, eh?


Ha ha, suckers!

The Heroic Age

The Heroic Age, as it is known, indicates a generation of men created by Zeus that overlaps the Bronze (2700 – 700 BC) and Iron (700 BC – 43 AD) Ages. It deals mostly with heroes/demigods, children of one immortal parent and one human parent.

A bit of background: the Golden Age was the first race of mortals, who lived under the titan Cronos, never aging or suffering. Then Zeus and the Olympians overthrew the Titans, creating a new, less noble generation: the Silver Age.

The Bronze Age followed, with the war-like Brazen people created from ash trees. Then, finally, the Heroic Age.

(After the Heroic Age follow the Iron and Gold Ages — like at the end of Lord of the Rings, the elves sailed into the Gray Havens and ushered in the age of Man, who is, in short, violent and stupid. It may not surprise you to learn that this is meant to be our generation.

Via this supplemental source: “The gods will forsake mortal men, letting bitter sorrows fall upon them; and being defenceless like children in the wilderness, they will not find any help against all evil they themselves created.”)

For the next phase of our project, we’ve chosen three films set in the Heroic Age: Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, and Troy.

Each of the films represents a different aspect of the age – Clash of the Titans is about the dealings of the immortals on Olympus, Jason and the Argonauts is about a quest undertaken by demigods in the regular world, and Troy is about a wholly human war (though it does include the barest hint of immortal influence).

So why is Clash of the Titans crossed out on our list?

Well, reader — we’re both currently in the middle of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, a contemporary re-telling of the myth of Perseus. As you can probably tell by now, I’m a big fan of stories that let me put a face to the name, so to speak, and Percy Jackson does this exceptionally well.

The books are full of action, but they’re also quite funny. They bring the demigods and immortals effortlessly into the modern sphere, and I love how they’re shown to fit into the world today:

“Come now, Percy. What you call ‘Western civilization.’ Do you think it’s just an abstract concept? No, it’s a living force. A collective consciousness that has burned bright for thousands of years. The gods are part of it. You might even say they are the source of it, or at least, they are tied so tightly to it that they couldn’t possibly fade, not unless all of Western civilization were obliterated. The fire started in Greece. Then, as you well know—or as I hope you know, since you passed my course—the heart of the fire moved to Rome, and so did the gods. Oh, different names, perhaps—Jupiter for Zeus, Venus for Aphrodite, and so on—but the same forces, the same gods.”
“And then they died.”
“Died? No. Did the West die? The gods simply moved, to Germany, to France, to Spain, for a while. Wherever the flame was brightest, the gods were there. They spent several centuries inEngland. All you need to do is look at the archi tecture. People do not forget the gods. Every place they’ve ruled, for the last three thousand years, you can see them in paintings, in statues, on the most important buildings. And yes, Percy, of course they are now in your United States. Look at your symbol, the eagle of Zeus. Look at the statue of Prometheus in Rockefeller Center, the Greek facades of your government buildings in Washington. I defy you to find any American city where the Olympians are not promi nently displayed in multiple places. Like it or not—and believe me, plenty of people weren’t very fond of Rome, either—America is now the heart of the flame. It is the great power of the West. And so Olympus is here. And we are here.”

However, the books also preserve the spirit of the mythic tradition — the immortals are cold and powerful and impenetrable. They have their spats, and humans are unwittingly dragged into them, whether they like it or not. (This is something which the movie version of the first book completely and totally ignores. Avoid the movie version at all costs.)

Ever since reading the books, I keep spotting Greek symbols everywhere. It’s like that scene in Alan Moore’s From Hell where a character points out Masonic symbols all over London, which drives the coach driver insane.

You know, in addition to all of our politics, language, mathematics, philosophies and government, these peeps are all over the place!


Looks oddly familiar, eh?

I did jury duty recently, and the judge described the scales of Justice (– okay, she’s Roman. But based on the Greek goddess Dike!) The American Medical Association still uses the (highly stylized) Rod of Asclepius as their symbol.


It’s actually pretty cute.

The Olympics. Marathons. Nike.


I did a 5k pretty recently. I couldn’t walk straight for three days after.

We even use descriptive terms based on Greek locales: Brazen, Spartan, Thespian, Lesbian.


Yay…aww….

But perhaps the most definitive example is that even now, thousands of years later, we’re still telling their stories — and embracing them as our own.

 

 

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