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I remember it so well. It was shown, I would guess from the evidence, on a Sunday evening and I would make a small bet it was on ITV, their Sunday evening schedules always being more fluid than the BBC's.

Sunday evening, and we settled down to watch a film called Jason and the Argonauts." I'd never heard of Jason, either the original myth or of the film. In fact, The name "Jason" only suggested to me at the time Peter Wyngarde being louche -- I had never heard the name in any other context. I had seen no trailers, I had no preconceptions. I had just been told it was an adventure film with "monsters in it."

That was enough to make me excited, but then the film delivered all that and so much more.

Next day at my primary school, it was all any of the boys in the playground were talking about. We just kept riffing through our favourite bits again and again. There were skeletons! And the big statue! And the flying things! (Nobody got very excited about Poseidon, as he was obviously just a bloke, and not magically animated). And the hydra! And the skeletons! And the big statue!

Talos, the Big Statue, was my favourite at the time, and the sheer nightmarish implacability of the great bronze man as it methodically hunts and kills the terrified Argonauts is a striking image to this day. I think Jason and the Argonauts started my fascination with Greek myth and the legends and folklore of many nations in and of itself. I certainly remember reading a children's retelling of the tale at about the age of nine and being disappointed that, in the original, they only encounter Talos on the way back and not, as in the film, a dramatically more satisfying encounter en route. The film also skips all the subsequent unpleasantness with Medea as well as perhaps the most humiliatingly mundane and ironic death for a hero in any of the myths of Ancient Greece (if you don't know it, I'll let you find out for yourself. Suffice to say, it isn't glorious).

The original story is also inferior in lacking a Bernard Hermann soundtrack. Those silly Ancients Greeks.

As an adult, although the lead-up and staging of the Talos sequence is undoubtedly brilliant (the foreboding valley of the monuments raises the hackles before Talos moves even a millimetre), it's the sheer intricacy of the skeleton fight -- the Children of the Hydra -- that is probably my favourite scene.

And now I screech to a halt, because the man who raised those skeletons, who made Talos step down from his plinth, that made the harpies bedevil poor blind, Patrick Troughton, has gone, and I can't quite believe it. Yes, Ray Harryhausen was 92, good innings, la la la and all that. But... somewhere inside myself, I was sure he'd turn out to be immortal. I mean, he did all the grunt work for Zeus in Jason and the Argonauts, and again in Clash of the Titans. He attacked San Francisco with a giant octopus (actually a hextapus, because there wasn't enough budget to animate eight legs) and Rome with a Venusian. He knackered the Washington Monument by whacking it with a flying saucer, and made Tom Baker look cool by animating a statue of Kali. How can a man who does all this just die like a normal person?

Of course, his work has made him immortal for the foreseeable future, the clear adoration with which film-makers have spoken of him has marked him out as one of the greats, and the sheer imagination and energy he put into his creations will continue to delight for a very long time to come.

But I don't know. Can a man like that ever really die? I have a belief, held more seriously than an atheist should, that up on Mount Olympus, Hephaestus has cleared space at his workbench and he and a new god are making plans.

"That's a lot of legs."

"Is that a problem?"

"No. Not if we have the budget for them." 


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
8th May, 2013 14:21 (UTC)
Hear, hear! We'll never see his like again
8th May, 2013 23:28 (UTC)
he probably faked his own death so he can start again under an assumed identity before anyone noticed his "old age" was just clever makeup and lighting.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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Jonathan L Howard

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