Monday, November 15, 2010

Jason and the Argonauts (2000)

Hallmark Entertainment's Jason and the Argonauts mini-series was directed by Nick Willing (Alice in Wonderland, Tin Man).  It originally aired in two parts on May 7 and 8, 2000.  It's very long at about 180 minutes.
It has an all-star, international cast including Jason London as Jason, Jolene Blalock as Medea, Dennis Hopper as Pelias and Frank Langella as Aertes.  It also stars Ciaran Hinds, Brian Thompson, Derek Jacobi and Natasha Hesntridge.  Most of the cast is quite strong.  London is a decent Jason, Langella is excellent as always and Thompson makes a great Hercules.

Structurally, the film bears a lot of resemblance to the 1963 Jason and the Argonauts.  Some story points that are not in the original myth are even lifted from that film.  The story begins with Jason as a child.  Pelias and his army attack King Aeson's palace.  Pelias kills his brother, Aeson, but a soldier rescues Jason and escapes before he can be killed.  Pelias then marries Aeson's wife, Polymele, and later has a son with her.
The events of Jason's life are carefully watched over by Zeus and Hera (who are too young-looking for my tastes).  Hera becomes a protector of Jason while Zeus is jealous of the attention she gives him.  Jason is raised by the centaur, Cheiron, who eventually tells him who he really is.  As a young man, Jason returns to Iolcos to meet his mother and reclaim his birthright.  The kingdom is in ruins, destroyed by his uncle's burning desire to locate the Golden Fleece.  Pelias agrees to let Jason live if he brings the Golden Fleece back within 6 months.  Otherwise, both he and his mother will be killed.
Jason puts together a motley crew for the Argo.  Pelias' son, Acastus, is among them. He tells Jason that he hates what his father has done to the kingdom.  None of the crew is thrilled with the idea of sailing under an untested youth until Hercules arrives and says it is his destiny to follow Jason to the Fleece.  Then the voyage is underway.  Zeus has Poseidon waylay the Argo at sea.  One crewmember is lost but Acastus saves Jason's life, thus proving his loyalty. 
Jason has gotten a clever star chart and instructions to find a prophet called Phineas on an island shaped like a table.  Having survived the bout with Poseidon, the crew sails on to the island of Lemnos which is ruled by warrior women.  They offer the Argonauts materials to make repairs for the Argo and the queen, Hypsiyle, offers Jason her hand in marriage.  The Argonauts are trapped under the spell of the women until the female Argonaut, Atalanta, makes Jason realize the trap.  The Argonauts barely escape from Lemnos alive and resume their voyage to find Phineas.
After sailing for days without sighting land, his men are starving and thirsty and ready to turn back.  Jason manages to chart a course by remembering the stars and they soon arrive at Phineas' island.  There, they find a temple full of food and two Argonauts cannot help themselves.  As soon as they touch the food, they are attacked and eaten by Harpies.  Phineas explains this is a curse from the gods who were jealous of his gift of sight.  He offers to tell Jason where the Golden Fleece is if he will kill the Harpies.  The Argonauts succeed in freeing Phineas from his curse and he tells them to sail to Colchis to find the Fleece.
Meanwhile, on Colchis, King Aertes' daughter, Medea, has foreseen the coming of the Argo.  Aertes orders his son, Aspyrtes, to take a ship to meet them and stop them from arriving.  Aspyrtes' ship is destroyed by the Black Rocks.  When the Argo arrives at the Black Rocks, they rescue Aspyrtes and he encourages them to go on to Colchis.  Jason sends a dove through the deadly rock channel which makes the rocks clash together, then, the Argonauts row the Argo through the channel quickly when it opens again.  They make it through and sight Colchis on the other side.
Upon their arrival at Colchis, Jason is thanked by Aertes for saving his son.  When Jason reveals that he is there for the Fleece, Aertes takes him prisoner.  The king sets Jason a task he believes it is impossible to complete.  If Jason can fight and tame a giant mechanized bull, then use the bull to plough fields and plant dragons' teeth, the Fleece will be his.  Medea comes to Jason at night and gives him an oil to protect his skin from the bull's fiery breathe.  Astonishingly, Jason is able to master the bull and plant the teeth.  From the teeth spring strange, vine-like warriors which Jason is also able to defeat.  Aertes offers Jason the Fleece but also offers him Medea's hand in marriage.  When Jason accepts the latter, Aertes informs him that he and the Fleece must both stay in Colchis.
Of course, Jason refuses and he and the Argonauts are pursued by Aertes' men. Medea leads them quickly to the Fleece which is guarded by a dragon.  Several Argonauts are lost in battling it but Orpheus eventually manages to soothe it with music from his lyre and Jason sets a trap, pulling the dragon over a cliff.  The Argonauts retrieve the Fleece and make their way to the Argo.  Aertes' men are ruthless and they catch up with the party.  Hercules holds them off while the others escape.  He tells Jason that it is not his destiny to go further.  He is in service to Hera and bound to protect Jason.
Without the fallen Hercules, but with the Fleece, the Argonauts return home.  In Iolcos, they find that Polymele has killed herself, thinking that Jason had been lost. Overcome with grief, Jason drinks and seeks out a shrine to Hera to ask the goddess why she did not protect his mother.  While the other Argonauts also enjoy a feast and drink, Acastus steals the Fleece and takes it to his father.  When Jason returns, the Argonauts tell him the news and they set off to the palace through a secret passage.  Meanwhile, Acastus has been murdered by Pelias whose only desire is for the Fleece.
The Argonauts defeat Pelias' men, but the false king takes Medea hostage.  She and Jason are, by now, deeply in love and Jason cannot let her die.  Pelias tries to convince Jason that he was overcome with madness by the Fleece and that he is repentant.  When Jason embraces him, Pelias tries to kill him but Jason is faster. Pelias dead, Jason is rightful king.  He and Medea marry and together, they mourn the fallen Argonauts.
Though the cast is great and the visual effects are really good, I find this film too long to sit through comfortably.  It feels like there's a bit of padding in the script to fill it out.  I think some of that could easily be removed to make this an excellent film.  As it is now, it's still good.

These Hallmark Entertainment films, produced by Robert Halmi, Sr. and Robert Halmi, Jr. are really great.  Ambitious for television, this film had a budget of about 30 million dollars.  A lot of that does end up on the screen.  The costumes, make-up and hair are all great.  The visual effects are very good and the production design by Roger Hall is subtle and nicely done.  Hall was even able to re-use Odysseus' ship from The Odyssey (1997) as the Argo.  It's an enjoyable film if you have the time to spend with it.  But I don't think it will be as memorable or long-lasting as the 1963 Jason and the Argonauts.
The DVD has one brief featurette about the making of the film.  It has interviews with Jason London, Nick Willing, production designer Roger Hall, Jolene Blalock and Dennis Hopper.  It's really a teaser for the film.


  1. Amazing.

  2. this is an awesome movie.
    one of the best that I've ever watched!