This feisty, lively mini-series, first screened in 2000 by the Hallmark Channel, has already seen the light of day on DVD in the UK back in 2004 but, like the legendary adventure it recounts, it happily bears and deserves another outing because some stories really are absolutely timeless. Not to be confused with Don Chaffey’s 1963 version, with its unforgettable Ray Harryhausen stop motion living skeletons and bronze giants, this is a more sprawling, visually ambitious and rather loose retelling of one of the great Greek myths.
Originally entitled Jason and the Golden Fleece, the two-part TV movie (helpfully edited together for UK home consumption) tells the same basic story of the heroic Jason (Jason London), disenfranchised from his home when it is invaded by the evil Pelias (Dennis Hopper) who kills the King, his brother Aeson (Ciaran Hinds). Rescued from certain death by one of his father’s guards, Jason grows up in exile but returns to his home and is challenged by Pelias to find and bring back to him the magical Golden Fleece. Jason seeks out a mismatched group of shepherds, farmers and heroes to become the crew of his specially-built vessel the Argos and together they set out across unchartered waters to find the Fleece. But their journey brings them into perilous contact with an assortment of terrifying creatures and sea monsters – and even mischievous Gods watching from high above – and perhaps even greater danger if they find the Fleece and bring it back to the devious Pelias.
This version obviously isn’t as memorable or iconic as the 1963 classic but at times it’s actually a pretty close thing. It’s a spectacular, star-studded affair, a good old-fashioned fantasy adventure romp which looks beautiful and is packed with thrilling action sequences and fantastic creatures, many of them realised with what might today be considered as fairly rudimentary CGI but which still looks pretty effective. Almost as soon as the Argonauts set sail they encounter the giant Sea God Poseidon and later encounters with bat-like Harpies, Jason’s battle with a mechanical bull and the appearance of the deadly man-eating dragon which guards the fleece certainly haven’t been disgraced by the passage of time and the giant strides made in special effects technology since the film was made. Only an attempt to replicate Jason’s fight with the dragon-tooth living skeletons disappoints and reveals the shortcomings of the available CG technology. They don’t look much like skeletons and Jason avoids them by indulging in backflips, somersaults and an assortment of rather dull gymnastics.
Jason London is a decent, if bland, Jason but there’s plenty of fun to be had star-spotting in the enormous supporting cast with the likes of Adrian Lester, Omid Djalili, David Calder, Mark Lewis Jones and John Bennett cropping up in key roles. The tale of Jason and the Argonauts may have been better told before but this version is no disgrace and is rattlingly good family fun for a rainy Sunday afternoon.
JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: NICK WILLING / SCREENPLAY: MATTHEW FAULK, MARK SKREET / STARRING: JASON LONDON, FRANK LANGELLA, DENNIS HOPPER, DEREK JACOBI, OLIVIA WILLIAMS, ADRIAN LESTER, ANGUS MCFADYEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW