Saturday, June 24, 2017

OSR Saturday Retro Old School Campaign Set Up Second Reel With Ray Harryhausen's 1963 Jason & The Argonauts

In Eighty One on a baking hot Saturday afternoon a bunch of kids myself included were treated to a bunch of classic films including this one. I had read about the Nineteen Sixty Three Jason & The Argonauts picture numerous times in Famous Monsters of Filmland. But to see it on the big screen is something entirely different. The experience blew my mind as a kid & I've loved the film ever since.

So let's talk classic sword & scandal mythological pictures with 'Jason & the Argonauts' from 1963. 
"Jason and the Argonauts (working title Jason and the Golden Fleece) is a 1963 independently made American-British fantasy film, produced by Charles H. Schneer, directed by Don Chaffey, that stars Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Honor Blackman, and Gary Raymond. It was distributed by Columbia Pictures." There are films that are classics & then there's the ones that have a special place in millions of folks hearts. Jason & The Argonauts falls into the latter I think.

Even as an infant Jason has been a pawn on the chess board of the gods. This view is interesting because it up points the symbolically divine relationship between the gods & mankind especially those chosen by the gods.
"Pelias (Douglas Wilmer), misinterpreting the prophecy given to him by the god Zeus (Niall MacGinnis), usurps the throne of Thessaly, killing King Aristo and most of his family. The god Hermes (Michael Gwynn), disguised as Pelias' soothsayer, holds back his army long enough for the infant Jason to be spirited away by one of Aristo's soldiers. Pelias slays one of the king's daughters, Briseis (Davina Taylor), as she seeks sanctuary in the temple of the goddess Hera (Honor Blackman). Because the murder has profaned her temple, the angry Hera becomes Jason's protector. She warns Pelias to beware "of a man wearing one sandal".
Twenty years later, Jason (Todd Armstrong) saves Pelias from drowning (orchestrated by Hera), but loses his sandal in the river; Pelias recognizes him from the prophecy. Learning that Jason intends to find the legendary Golden Fleece, he encourages him, hoping Jason will be killed in the attempt."

In this scene you get the feeling that this is a game this couple has played many,many times. Something that goes back thousands of years under different guises. There is an undercurrent throughout the picture that there were many worlds before this one & its only now that things have gotten a bit interesting again for them. These are gods that play the long game with mortals something that DM's might want to consider doing in their own campaigns. Jason is an agent of the gods willing or otherwise, like many characters of fiction before or after him. He's a reluctant hero but a competent one whose doing a great public relations campaign for the gods of Olympus. There's also something caprice,cruel and more then slightly chaotic about these gods they have a bit of an undercurrent of menace about them.

"Jason is brought to Mount Olympus to speak with Zeus and Hera. Hera tells him Zeus has decreed he can only call upon her for aid five times. She directs him to search for the Fleece in the land of Colchis. Zeus offers his direct aid, but Jason declares he can organize the voyage, build a ship, and collect a crew of the bravest men in all Greece.
Men from all over Greece compete for the honor. Because their ship is named the Argo after her builder, Argus (Laurence Naismith), the crew are dubbed the Argonauts. Among them are Hercules (Nigel Green), Hylas (John Cairney), and Acastus (Gary Raymond), the son of Pelias, sent by his father to sabotage the voyage.
Hera guides Jason to the Isle of Bronze, but warns him to take nothing but provisions. However, Hercules steals a brooch pin the size of a javelin from a treasure building, surmounted by a giant statue of Talos, which comes to life and attacks the Argonauts. Jason again turns to Hera, who tells him to open a large plug on Talos' heel, to release the giant's ichor. Talos falls to the ground, crushing Hylas, hiding his body. Hercules refuses to leave until he ascertains the fate of his friend. The other Argonauts refuse to abandon Hercules, so Jason calls upon Hera again. She informs them that Hylas is dead and that Hercules will not continue on with them."
Yeah & this is another picture with one of the classic 'oh crap' moments in movie history & also this is a film with lots of side quests that all dovetail back into the main thrust of the adventure. Even the side characters or NPC's are engaging. Is there room however for other adventurers to pick up some of the slack in the plot holes that get left behind. Take for example the valley of statues that is found on the island of Crete. Hercules is still there looking for Hylas.

The hands of the gods is constantly meddling in the voyage of Jason & his crew. You can almost but not quite sense the amusement of  the gods as Argo faces down its next peril. Take note her DM's at the fact that the gods are always but not quite close at hand.

"The Argonauts next reach the realm of King Phineus (Patrick Troughton), who has been blinded and is tormented by harpies for his transgressions against the gods. In return for his advice on how to reach Colchis, the Argonauts render the harpies harmless by caging them, whereupon Phineus tells them to sail between the Clashing Rocks, which destroy any ship in the narrow channel, and gives Jason an amulet. Arriving at the Clashing Rocks, the Argonauts witness another ship suffering that fate. When the Argo tries to row through, the ship appears doomed. Jason throws Phineus' amulet into the water, and the sea god Triton rises up and holds the rocks apart so the Argo can pass them. The Argonauts rescue a survivor from the other ship, Medea (Nancy Kovack), high priestess of Colchis.
Challenging Jason's authority, Acastus engages him in a duel. Disarmed, Acastus jumps into the sea and disappears. Jason and his men land in Colchis and accept an invitation from King Aeëtes (Jack Gwillim) to a feast. Unknown to them, Acastus has survived and warned Aeëtes of Jason's quest for their prized Golden Fleece. Aeëtes has the unwary Argonauts imprisoned, but Medea, having fallen in love with Jason, helps him and his men escape.
Meanwhile, Acastus tries to steal the Fleece, but is killed by its guardian, the Hydra. Following right behind Acastus, Jason is able to kill the beast and retrieve the gift of the gods. Aeëtes, in pursuit, sows the Hydra's teeth while praying to the goddess Hecate, producing a band of skeletal warriors. Jason, together with Phalerus and Castor, hold off the skeletons while Medea and Argus escape back to the Argo with the Fleece. After a prolonged battle in which his companions are killed, Jason escapes by jumping into the sea,[2] and he, Medea, and the surviving Argonauts begin their voyage home to Thessaly. In Olympus, Zeus tells Hera that in due time he will call upon Jason again."

Medea (Nancy Kovack), high priestess of Colchis is an interesting characters in her own right. She represents a much older order & cult. There's also the fact that these skeletons have inspired the look of many other undead, skeletons, etc over the years this includes the Deadites in Army of Darkness. This was something that my buddy Peter used to connect the history of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis back to the cult of Colchis. There's also the undercurrent of the younger divinities using their knight Jason to murder the old goddess Colchis & steal her treasure the Golden Fleece for themselves. A very interesting way of using an artifact.

Ten Ways Of Using The Classic
Ray Harryhausen's 1963 Jason & The Argonauts
For A Campaign Build 
  1. The cult of Colchis isn't going to take the loss of the Golden Fleece lying down. cult assassins, spies, etc are ripe to throw at an older Jason. The PC might have to step in to be the heroes. 
  2. There were treasures of the gods left behind on the Island of Bronze isn't it time for some PC's to go back for them. 
  3. The gods are fickle at best and there are certainly other adventures connected with them that the PC's can enter into and over lap with the events of  Jason & the Argonauts.
  4. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First edition's Deities & Demigods  has many of the treasures, gods, etc described in this film. Its quite easy to dovetail other Greek myths into the mix for an old school campaign. 
  5. There's a very dark undercurrent about the cult of Colchis. Could there be a far more sinister Lovecraftian connection to their doings? Could the PC's stumble into their secrets and more? 
  6. There are vast differences between this film and the actual mythology that a DM could exploit for even more old school adventures.
  7. Are there other islands out there where the gods of Olympus have be experimenting with their creations? What weirdness could the PC's find? 
  8. Was there more happening in the lands of King Phineus? Are there dungeons of ancient lands below his realm? Did the hydra simply guard the fleece or was there more to its cult? 
  9. The gods are not done with Jason indeed. The PC's might need to lend a hand in his next adventure! 
  10. The god's glory is fading and its up to the PC's to once again journey into the realms of the gods.

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