Mythological movies

When I was young, I was fascinated by the fantastical stories of Greek and Roman mythology. Many of you may relate. I would read books and examine scenes of captivating monsters. I would anxiously read on to discover how the heroes were able to strategically destroy the hazardous creatures: How Odysseus managed to outwit Polythemus, the giant, man-eating Cyclops, or how Bellerophon slew the three-headed, fire breathing creature known as the Chimera.

Yes, the colorful, imaginative tales interested me, and in turn, got me to use my own imagination. I spent many hours outside, jumping around the hillside and running through the woods, pretending I was Jason having to hack my way through an army of sword-wielding skeletons. It just proves that some things can resonate and produce inspiration, causing others (like me) to want to create as well.

Several weeks back, I suggested the movie Clash of the Titans, which is the adaptation of the Greek myth of Perseus and his quest to destroy a giant sea monster. The magic of the myth was brought to life by special effects master, Ray Harryhausen, who made a career of recreating such tales of make-believe.

The two movies available this week – tonight as a matter of fact – are two of Harryhausen’s greatest achievements. After years of creating stories about giant oddities, wreaking havoc on civilization, Harryhausen decided to change up the game and bring life to some of the mythology that interested him as a boy. The fruits of his imagination are our pleasure to watch tonight.

Jason and

the Argonauts

(1963, PG)

The movie retells the Greek myth of Jason, a potential prince, who gathers a crew of the finest soldiers and sailors to man his ship, the Argo (hence Argonauts). Jason’s mission is to sail to the ends of the earth and claim the Golden Fleece. It’s an object of unimaginable power and it hangs on a tree in the den of the menacing Hydra. Along the course, Jason and his men must battle their way through obstacles of mythical proportions. They encounter a colossal bronze statue that comes to life with a hot temper, winged devils called harpies, and the sinister seven-headed dragon, the Hydra.

This is as fun and exciting as movies get (especially to an eight-year-old boy).

Unlike the majority of movies from this era that used special effects as a crutch, Jason and the Argonauts was already a quality movie before Harryhausen’s touch added to the storytelling.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, creatures are shown from many different angles and often interact with live characters. Harryhausen went the extra mile and his artful efforts show in this masterpiece.

Set sail with Jason tonight at 6 p.m. on TCM.

The 7th Voyage

of Sinbad

(1958, PG)

Continuing the stop-motion feast, this visionary tale also serves up high adventure and fantastic creatures. The story is borrowed from Middle Eastern folklore, pieced together from the numerous escapades of Sinbad the Sailor. In this movie, in order to rescue his soon-to-be bride and prevent war, Sinbad must reclaim a magic lamp from a giant Cyclops’s treasure trove, fetch a piece of shell from a Roc’s egg, and ward off a fire-breathing dragon.

The detail and design of the creatures are what makes this movie so captivating. The Cyclops that Harryhausen brought to life here is iconic (eye-conic) and perhaps the most popular creature of his career. Notice that toward the end of the film, Sinbad duels with a single skeleton. While in Jason, the characters are outnumbered by an entire army of bones. This is a testament to Harryhausen’s efforts to raise his challenge with each project.

After you journey with the Argonauts, voyage alongside Sinbad, tonight at 10 p.m. on TCM.

Though he never directed a feature film, Harryhausen had a huge amount of developmental input. Upon establishing himself as a master craftsman, stories were constructed around Harryhausen’s ideas, abilities, and creations.

Harryhausen passed away last year, and although he stopped contributing to movies in the early 1980s, his impressive body of work has inspired countless people and filmmakers. Tim Burton (Beetlejuice), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) and John Lasseter (Toy Story) have all been inspired and prompted to create by Harryhausen.