Sunday, March 21, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

This interesting little potboiler, directed by Mitsuo Murayama, manages to balance its main appeal, that of a murder mystery with the appeal of not one but two “movie monsters,” one good and one evil. There were apparently a couple of Japanese “invisible man” movies prior to this one, but they seem to have followed the example of the H.G. Wells novel in making the unseen fellow a menace to society. FLY may be the first heroic version of the Invisible Man in feature films since Jon Hall’s INVISIBLE AGENT—and even the Agent was potentially capable of turning monstrous. FLY even predates the better-known British “Invisible Man” series that aired from 1958 to 1959.

A series of inexplicable murders baffle the police, particularly Inspector Wakabayashi. The inspector’s investigations eventually lead him to suspect that the killer is using some special scientific method to commit the murders, and this leads him to consult with Doctor Tsukioka, a specialist in cosmic ray research. Fortuitously the doctor reveals that one of his former collaborators, name of Kusunoki, went to prison for selling secrets, and that his super-science may be involved in the murders. Even the doctor doesn’t suspect the truth: that Kusunoki has created a special gas that turns a henchman into a “human fly,” a miniaturized human who for some unknown reason can flit around like a fly, enabling him to stab victims without anyone see him do the deed.

Even before the doctor supplies this information, though, he reveals that through his research he has created an “imperceptibility device,” with which he can render a man invisible. The process poses some danger for the subject of the experiment, but Wakabayashi volunteers to become an invisible avenger.

Though there are some appealing effects for both the Invisible Man and the Human Fly, the title is a bit of a fib, since the effects-budget wasn’t capable of depicting any sort of literal battle between two such fantasy-figures. The climactic conflict of cop and criminal is executed not with super-powers but with mundane firearms, except for one scene, in which an unexpected volunteer undergoes the invisibility process in order to thwart Kusunoki. Though no wheels are invented here, at least Murayama’s visuals have an appealing simplicity, even if the plot meanders somewhat and suffers from a few too many disposable characters.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2-3 (1999, 2000)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological, metaphysical*

The original FROM DUSK TILL DAWN was a fast-paced, balls-to-the-wall horror-fantasy easily summed up in one quick pitch: a motley crew of bikers, criminals and innocents fall afoul of a clutch of vampires who operate a Mexican titty-bar. I’ve not yet finished watching the teleseries spinoff, and so can’t judge how successful that show was in duplicating the movie’s pulp aesthetic. However, I didn’t really expect either of the direct-to-video follow-ups to come up to snuff. As it happens, I was only half right.

The sequel, subtitled TEXAS BLOOD MONEY, takes place in the same general area as the first film and occurs two weeks later. Though a small handful of characters from the first movie make appearances, in essence this is a sequel in name only. MONEY is first and foremost a heist film, in which career criminals Buck (Robert Patrick) and Luther (Duane Whitaker) plan to rob the safe of a Mexican motel with some accomplices. Things go south when Luther accidentally runs over a vampire bat with his car in the Mexican desert, not even knowing that he’s slain a real vampire. Luther’s car stalls out, and he walks to the familiar enclave of the vampires, the Titty Twister—and once the vampires learn that he’s killed one of their own kind, the bloodsuckers make it their business to track down all the heist artists, either to kill or to vampirize them.

Neither the crooks nor the vampires have interesting motivations, and though there’s a lot of chaotic violence in the film—particularly when the local cops try to stop the vampirized robbers—none of it proves memorable. The whole thing seems to be nothing but an indulgence in pointless ultraviolence, which seems appropriate since its director was Scott Spiegel, co-writer of Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD II. MONEY even starts off with a throwaway vamp-murder scene featuring Raimi favorite Bruce Campbell, getting killed in an elevator by some vamp-bats along with TV-star Tiffani Thiessen. Spiegel later went on to helm one outstanding work, SPIDER MAN 2, though this proved uncharacteristic of his directorial work as a whole.

In marked contrast, HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER—a prequel to the original film, directed by P.J. Pesce—is almost as kinetically extravagant as the first movie. Scripter Alvaro Rodriguez—cousin of the first film’s director Roberto, who may have collaborated on the basic story of DAUGHTER—set the action in the Mexico of 1914, It was in this year that the celebrated author Ambrose Bierce disappeared during a trek to meet with Pancho Villa during the latter’s war with the Mexican government. DAUGHTER hypothesizes that Bierce and various other characters get mixed up with the vampiric residents of the Titty Twister. These allies of convenience include Johnny Madrid, a bandit who almost gets hanged, the local hangman Mauricio, and Mauricio’s daughter Esmerelda, whom Madrid kidnaps as a hostage.

In contrast to TEXAS BLOOD MONEY, where vampires and humans collide largely by accident, hangman Mauricio has a connection with the world of the undead. Although his daughter Esmerelda believes her mother Quixtla to be long dead, Mauricio knows that his former wife left him to join the undead, and though the hangman isn’t seen sexually abusing his daughter, an early scene, in which he whips Esmerelda for sympathizing with Madrid, suggests some transference of his hostilities toward his undead wife. Once events conspire to place these four characters, as well as a couple of side-victims, in the clutches of Quixtla, she engineers a ceremony designed to make Esmerelda into the new vampire queen, who will be seen under the name “Santanico Pandemonium” in the original DUSK. It’s not very clear as to what will happen to Quixtla once she lets her offspring take her place, but the matter becomes irrelevant once the humans find themselves battling tooth-and-nail against a species of vampires able to morph into all sorts of bizarre shapes, not just wolves and bats.

Pesce and the Rodriguezes conjure up a persuasive image of a Mexico constantly besieged by all sorts of natural evils, so that the supernatural ones merely seem a logical extension of the nation’s woes. As with the original film, DAUGHTER’s main goal is to please audiences with heaps and heaps of insane violence, and while the prequel doesn’t quite equal its model on that score, there are some fine moments, such as a scene in which Madrid kicks a vampire in the balls, and then has to wipe off his boot afterward. Madrid and Bierce are the main stars of the fracas and though Marco Leonardi does a creditable job giving life to the ruthless but not utterly unsympathetic bandit, Michael Parks is the real standout here. The actor only played the supporting role of a sheriff in the first two films in the series, but Parks’s unceasingly acerbic portrait of “Ambrose Bierce, Vampire Slayer” strikes me as being the role of a lifetime. Sonia Braga and Ara Celi are also memorable as the vampire mom and the daughter who inherits her bloodstained throne. While MONEY’s flagrant but disorganized violence results in a merely subcombative work, DAUGHTER musters a far better scenario for its vampire-human contentions and so qualifies for the combative mode.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

NISEKOI (2014-2015)


CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*

I am but a recent convert to the joys of Naoshi Komi’s 25-volume manga series NISEKOI. Having taken pleasure in all the intricacies of Komi’s apparently simple teen humor series, I thought it was unlikely that an animated television series would be able to duplicate Komi’s most significant talent: that of layering numerous major and minor plot-points throughout an episodic narrative that, on the surface, seems to be about nothing more complex than teen angst and wild slapstick violence.

It’s not that an animated show would not have the storytelling capacity to translate Komi’s masterpiece. Rather, because animation is so expensive, it’s often tough for such shows to stay on commercial television long enough to execute long narratives. For that reason, DANCE IN THE VAMPIRE BUND, one of the most intricate manga-serials of the 21st century, only received one season, adapting just a handful of stories from the serial’s first year. And that was the ideal outcome of such an adaptation, in comparison to how the long-running ROSARIO + VAMPIRE manga fared. Though the original ROSARIO manga had its share of silly humor and sexploitation hijinks, the series offered a number of other attractions as well—though a viewer could never have guessed that from the two-season ROSARIO anime, which was nothing but silliness and sexploitation. By the time I started reading NISEKOI in 2020, the anime teleseries—consisting of thirty-two regular episodes and four OVA—had long been completed, so it was a given that it couldn’t possibly recapitulate all the involved plots of Komi’s narrative. Nevertheless, I purchased a Season 1 Japanese DVD that included almost all of the animated material, excepting only the last-produced of the four OVAs.

It’s with considerable relief that I can say that the NISEKOI anime was not bowdlerized after the fashion of ROSARIO. There’s no great surprise that the animators did a fine job of emulating Komi’s art; almost all commercial animation houses in Japan make a point of such fidelity. But getting the stories right is a more complex undertaking. The people producing the adaptation scripts must have known that they might not get a chance to execute the full Komi narrative. Komi’s overarching plot for the whole series involves high-schooler Raku Ichijo trying to learn the identity of his “first love,” a little girl he met when both of them were about five years old. This A-plot takes a dozen twists and turns before being concluded in Volume 25, but Komi staggers the A-plot by introducing numerous episodic stand-alone stories not strictly necessary to the main story. An animation house might have been justified in adapting only those stories that stood apart from the central plot. But then, that could have alienated fans of the manga, who would be expecting to see Raku encounter all the girls in his accidental harem—four of whom are candidates to be identified as his almost forgotten “first love”—precisely as he did in the comics.

It's probably fortunate that the teleseries ended where it did, before it could have got into the really tortuous developments of the later manga volumes. As it stands, the teleseries and OVAs serve as something of a primer for the manga’s virtues. Raku, the embodiment of the mostly passive boy-hero in such teen humor productions, spends most of junior high pining after a girl named Kosaki, who shares his feelings, though both of them are too timid to confess to one another. This reticence lays the groundwork for Raku to justify the manga’s title (“Nisekoi” = “fake love”) when his gangster-father talks him into pretending to date the daughter of a rival gang: half-American Chitoge Kirisaki. The two teens initially can’t stand one another, and the athletic Chitoge often shows off her prowess by slugging Raku whenever he ticks her off. Yet the theme of “opposites attracting” has never had a better exemplar than Komi’s NISEKOI, and the anime successfully captures the slow growth of the Raku-Chitoge romance, even if said romance doesn’t get much past the events of the teens’ first year in high school.

The only running plot-point with which the TV scripters tinkered relates to the density of both Raku and Kosaki, who are both psychologically incapable of seeing themselves as being attractive to the other. Other characters in the manga are aware of their mutual attraction, and Kosaki’s BFF Ruri even tries to directly tell Raku the truth. Yet Komi always finds ways to keep the duo ignorant, the better to push Raku closer to Chitoge. In a couple of adaptations, the writers violate this stricture, but then both Raku and Kosaki conveniently forget those revelations. To be sure, Komi has his own lapses, in that Chitoge notices Raku’s attentions to Kosaki a couple of times, and then she too gets convenience amnesia.

The manga only made occasional usage of marvelous metaphenomena, and the only marvelous story adapted here is “Shrine Maiden,” in which a Shinto priestess tells the girls that Raku is under a curse, and that they must do all sorts of crazy things to exorcise him. (There’s also an adaptation of a “side story” in which the series females transform into “magical girls” a la Sailor Moon, but this is pretty clearly “out of continuity.”) One marvelous phenomenon is not quite enough to make me label the series as dominantly marvelous. However, Chitoge’s guardian Seichiro consistently displays “superlative skills” in that she can leap long distances and shatter stone with a kick, so I can regard the teleseries as dominantly uncanny for that reason.

Ostensibly there’s been one live-action movie adaptation of NISEKOI. But the scope of Naoshi Komi’s work really needs the venue of a live action teleseries, wherein producers aren’t constantly faced with mounting animation expenses. Whether or not anything of the kind will surface depends entirely on the fortunes of the Japanese TV industry. (I for one hope that no one from any other country gets the idea of doing the same, since NISEKOI is IMO an idea too characteristically Japanese for anyone else to get right.)     



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

PANTHER SQUAD is one of those flicks that’s a little more interesting for its place in a given actor’s career than for anything one sees up on the screen. Until Sybil Danning synched with filmgoers in 1980’s BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, the Austrian/American actress had bounced around European and American films for over ten years without making a lasting impression on audiences. BATTLE made Danning a big enough name that she enjoyed a handful of headliner roles during her eighties heyday, usually either sexy roles like THEY’RE PLAYING WITH FIRE or action-parts like the character of Ilona in this film, lensed the same year as FIRE.

To call SQUAD an action-film is something of a formal categorization, because in the hands of journeyman director Pierre Chevalier the flick is about as exciting as watching Chuck Norris register changes of expression. The script was clearly designed to be as simplistic as possible: when a confederation of environmental extremists, “Clean Space,” threatens to sabotage the world’s space programs, a U.N.-like organization calls upon a band of female commandos, the Panther Squad, to take out the raffish radicals. The squad consists of leather-clad Ilona and six mostly nameless hot girls, and they jaunt around various European locales seeking to root out the bad guys. The script wastes no time enlarging upon the ideologies of Clean Space, of the governments under fire, or of the mercenary girls. Despite a script free of nuance, though, Chevalier can’t mount an action-scene to save his life, and the girls look like they learned their fighting-and-shooting stunts the day before filming those scenes. Danning, while not a genuine martial artist, had already showed herself to be competent in her handful of fight-scenes for 1983’s THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS. Yet even though she’s the main attraction—and, BTW, one who remains fully clothed throughout the story—her execution of battles is no better than anyone else’s, whether in unarmed or armed combat. Only one “fight-scene” is slightly amusing. Toward the end, even though neither Ilona nor her compatriots have been shown using anything but conventional firearms, the queen panther whips out a clunky ray-gun and disintegrates a bunch of Clean Spacers. I’ll hypothesize that some writer threw in this unexplained SF-gadget so that American video stories might class SQUAD as sci-fi and give it more exposure on rental shelves, where it might profit by getting attention from fans of BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. But that hypothesis too is more entertaining than anything in the film.

There are a handful of familiar Euro-faces in the cast: Jack Taylor, Analia Ivars, and Karen Schubert, but they’re all just as boring as leather-clad Sybil. The only bit of acting that I liked was that of Spanish actor Antonio Mayans, though I didn’t know him from other films. Playing General Carlos, the leader of Clean Space, Mayans has one scene in which he rants uncontrollably at a bunch of his cohorts. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but he showed a lot of energy, and that was a lot more “panther-ish” than anyone else associated with this crapfest.    



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

I have explored none of the manga adaptations of this franchise, much less the light novels that gave rise to the concept, but after having been slightly entertained by the first season of the anime series, I decided to survey the second season and to review both.

The predominant trope of SHAKUGAN NO SHANA might be described as “Badass Otherworldly Girl Bonds with Ordinary Earth Schmuck.” In most if not all manga/anime executions of the trope, the girl and the boy are either teenagers or in their early twenties, the better to exploit any and all romantic possibilities. Just as a guess, the popular eighties franchise TENCHI MUYO might have provided SHANA with its basic template, although SHANA is atypical in that the Earth Schmuck here doesn’t get a whole harem of cute girls fighting one another for his attentions. The schmuck in question, Yuji by name, does have one Earth-female who’s warm for his form and so competes with otherworld-girl Shana. However, there are only two other female support-cast types in the show’s first two seasons, and neither of them is interested in Yuji.

This relative lack of constant romance-plots left the door open for other types of dramatic development, but I’ve the impression that the original author of the franchise wasn’t especially ambitious in this regard. The scenario at least makes a little more sense than, say, DATE A LIVE, in that Shana comes from a dimension whose hostile inhabitants raid Earth to gather human energies (called “power of existence.”) Shana is one of a group of sword-wielding knights called “Flame Hazes” who make it their business to rein in the raiders, called “Denizens.” Apparently human beings, though not directly tied to the otherworld, have parallel functions, for when Shana first encounters Yuji, she reveals that she deems him a “Torch,” a human with an intrinsic ability to stoke her own powers, though possibly at the expense of Yuji’s own existence. This contrivance provides Shana, a female with no understanding of human culture, with a motive to remain in Yuji’s company, while Yuji then seeks to find some way around the implied death-sentence he’s been given. Naturally, there’s a way out, for Yuji not only staves off imminent death but gains a measure of power to fight Denizens himself, even if Shana remains the dominant fighter of the two.

The interactions of Shana and Yuji are moderately entertaining in the first season, but the writers seem satisfied to leave things in status quo for the second season, aside from a belated announcement that Yuji’s parents may have another kid, which I assume is a plot destined to be developed in the third and final season. The writers don’t develop any of the support-characters to make up for this lack, either. The only one who proves somewhat memorable is the winsomely named Flame Haze “Margery Daw.” In addition to her being older than Shana, Margery also proves cynical and bad tempered, a negative reflection on the life of being a knightly hero. This attitude does not keep Margery from making a vaguely defined compact with two of Yuji’s high school classmates, but the scripts are never clear about just what Margery gets out of the association, except that she doesn’t have a romantic linkage to them as Shana does with Yuji.

As for the main conflicts, some episodes offer some colorfully designed villains, but all the Denizens seem pretty much the same, without good character arcs to distinguish them. Shana herself is the most memorable looking character, and her voicework puts across a dynamic personality. However, everyone else in the show proves pedestrian, and episodes oscillate between bursts of fantasy-violence (featuring a preponderance of clockwork imagery for some reason) and lots of tedious talking-head scenes.

In short, I doubt I’ll ever invest any time in Season 3 of this low-interest endeavor.

Sunday, March 7, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological, metaphysical*

Sometimes, a critic’s opinion of a given work may change over time, due to changes in the critic’s evaluative priorities. On the other hand, sometimes just the act of having to justify one’s preferences in logical terms makes all the difference.

My recent back-to-back viewing of 2000’s JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and 1997’s THE ODYSSEY—both two-part telefilms produced by the Hallmark Company—proves apposite. When I first saw THE ODYSSEY broadcast, I thought it was about as good a translation of Homer’s epic poem as one was likely to see on television. In contrast, in 2000 I thought JASON incredibly bland. But in my review, I found the later telefilm a little more engaging, despite offering a mixed bag, while THE ODYSSEY proved, frankly, rather boring.

Director Andrew Konchalovsky, best known for his action-films like RUNAWAY TRAIN and TANGO AND CASH, co-wrote the script for this adaptation of the epic. The Russian director brought to the project a greater sense of visual style than one usually sees in overlong telemovies, so ODYSSEY never feels as calculated and antiseptic as the average Hollywood historical film. From the start of the film, we see the hero’s homeland Ithaca as a dusty rural community, where people’s clothes look lived-in and the women don’t all look like models. Odysseus himself (Armand Assante) looks more rugged than handsome, and he only reluctantly accepts the command of the goddess Athena to leave his people and pursue the heroic destiny of the Trojan War.

After the hero bids farewell to his faithful wife Penelope and his infant son Telemachus, ODYSSEY necessarily skips over the events of the ILIAD, aside from alluding to the centrality of Achilles to that narrative. After the Greeks maintain their siege of Troy for ten years, Odysseus conceives of the Trojan Horse stratagem—and at this point, Konchalovsky departs from tradition. The god Poseidon intervenes to make certain that the stratagem succeeds, resulting in the Fall of Troy. Yet Odysseus, a borderline skeptic despite his belief in the gods’ existence, fails to give thanks to Poseidon. Thus, the sea-god curses Odysseus to spend five more years at sea because of religious neglect, in contrast to what Homer says, that Odysseus incurs Poseidon’s curse after slaying the god’s Cyclops-son Polyphemus. (As if to efface Homer’s version, the telefilm script has the Cyclops allude to his breed being the offspring of sea-nymphs.)

For those next five years, Odysseus and his Ithacan sailors endeavor to return home, encountering one episodic menace after the other. Understandably, Konchalovsky omits some of these perils, putting the greatest emphasis on (1) the fight with the Cyclops, (2) the meeting with Aeolus, God of the Winds, and (3) Odysseus’ protracted dalliances with two sorceresses, Circe and Calypso. Personally, I would have left out Calypso, since she duplicates the temptation of the better-known Circe, offering the mortal hero a chance at immortality if he will forget his wife languishing on Ithaca.

Meanwhile, back at the homeland, Penelope and her fifteen-year-old son Telemachus cope with multiple suitors who intrude upon the hospitality of Odysseus’s estate. Penelope holds fast to the belief that her husband will one day return, despite the fact that other Greek survivors have long returned to their hearths. Telemachus feels irate with the uninvited guests, and eventually Athena counsels the youth to go forth looking for his father. However, since father and son are not fated to meet until Odysseus returns to his island, this doesn’t work as well in the telefilm as it did in the epic.

Though Konchalovsky handles the physical action of Odysseus’s trials well, he proves incapable of giving the more fantasy-based sequences a sense of visual enchantment. The respective palaces of Circe, Calypso and Aeolus look cheap, lacking the panache of even simple sword-and-sandal productions from the sixties. An even more regrettable failing is that someone in production made some very poor choices in casting. Quirky types like Bernadette Peters and Michael J. Pollard just don’t fit period fantasy-films, and although some actors transition to the ancient world better, Konchalovsky doesn’t give them good dramatic arcs of their own. They all exist to enhance or impede Odysseus’s course, nothing more—and though Assante makes a good Odysseus, he can’t do it all alone. Even the 1955 ULYSSES gave the supporting players more vigor.

The closest Konchalovsky comes to realizing a theme come toward the end, when he nears Ithaca, but is once more prevented from reaching his home by Poseidon. Odysseus has a Job-like moment—nowhere in the epic—where he demands the god tell him what he wants. Poseidon speaks from the waves and tells the mortal what he wants Odysseus to say—but then the god simply breaks off and allows the hero to reach Ithaca without demanding full contrition. After this inconclusive confrontation between god and man, the conclusion, in which Odysseus and Telemachus slay the impertinent suitors, proves a letdown. Konchalovksy is at his strongest when he has his hero speak of his devotion to his family. But when he has to navigate the strange shores of fantastic domains, he’s even more lost than Odysseus.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological, metaphysical*

 Though the 1963 JASON will probably always be the best regarded movie adaptation of the Classic epic, this Hallmark TV-version has one advantage over the Harryhausen film: the latter actually finishes the story, however much the in-between narrative is changed.

Neither film is particularly in tune with the deeper mythology of the epic, which some view as a mortal hero’s voyage into the Realm of Death in order to bring forth a talisman of healing magic. Because ARGONAUTS appeared in the form of two two-hour telefilms, this allowed writer Matthew Faulk and director Nick (NEVERLAND) Willing to expand on the generally sketchy characterizations of the epic, though the creators aren’t quite able to articulate their own myth-theme.

ARGONAUTS’ opening resembles that of the 1963 JASON more than the Classic epic, as evil warlord Pelias (Dennis Hopper) invades the kingdom of his brother, killing former king Aeson and forcing his queen Polymele to become Pelias’s wife. Polymele does manage to help her first son Jason escape Pelias’s tender mercies. Some years later, Jason (Jason London) emerges from his hiding place and journeys to his father’s kingdom to demand his patrimony. The goddess Hera, looking down with favor upon the young hero, advises him that Pelias hungers for the legendary Golden Fleece and its healing properties. When Jason arrives at the court of Pelias, the ruthless king denies the young man's demand and even forces Polymele to deny her first son. However, Jason’s mention of the Fleece convinces Pelias to allow the youth to attempt the quest to the mysterious land of Colchis.

As in every adaptation, Jason assembles a group of doughty heroes to become the ancient world’s Justice League. Of those assembles, Hercules (Brian Thompson) is the most celebrated. The next best-known are the female archer Atalanta and the magical lyre-player Orpheus, though in this telling Orpheus is played by a black actor. (Possibly a shout-out to the 1950s film BLACK ORPHEUS?) One character stows away and joins the expedition without Jason’s knowledge of his true identity: that of Acastus, son of Pelias and Polymele. Classical lore offers conflicting motives for Acastus’ joining the expedition, but in the epic, he doesn’t betray Jason, while the Hallmark film suggests that he intends to do so. His conversations with Polymele suggest that he’s jealous of his mother’s affections for her first son.

As the quest begins, the script quickly diverges from both the epic and the 1963 film, when the ship accidentally falls afoul of the gigantic sea-god Poseidon. In terms of FX this is the telefilm’s best scene, but I’m tempted to see the scene as combining aspects of two gigantic beings in the Harryhausen movie: the gigantic robot Talos, and the colossal merman-version of Poseidon, who helps the 1963 heroes navigate the Clashing Rocks. While the heroes flee the titanic deity, the viewer gets to see both Hera and Zeus looking down upon the mortals. Zeus, it seems, doesn’t like the fact that Hera admires Jason, and swears to make the Argonauts’s journey miserable. He never does all that much, though apparently either Faulk or Willing wanted to get something of an “Iliad effect,” with two gods opposed regarding the outcome of Jason’s fortunes.

The telefilm does adapt a section of the epic that the 1963 film did not attempt: the sailors’ sojourn among the women of the isle Lemnos. The Argonauts first encounter the Lemnian women wearing armor and bearing arms, but their queen insists on making the travelers welcome. For a time, the men are all ensorcelled by female charms, and some consider making their home on the hospitable island. But Atalanta is not subject to said charms, and she exposes the truth; that the women killed their previous husbands and plan to sacrifice the Argonauts as well.

The heroes escape, but they need the guidance of a seer. Seeking out the prophet Phineas, they rescue him from tormenting harpies in a generally unexceptional sequence. The sailors can only reach Colchis by passing through the Clashing Rocks, and Jason’s men navigate this peril much as they do in the epic.

The Argo reaches Colchis, and Jason asks King Aeetes for the Fleece. Aeetes sets the heroes impossible tasks in the hope of killing them off, but the king’s daughter Medea fancies Jason and lends him her magical help. The FX-scenes during the Colchis segment are no more than adequate, and some of the developments are confusing at best. The most puzzling is a scene in which Hercules is wounded to death, and his body simply evaporates in Jason’s arms, implying that he’s been transported to Olympus. In the epic and in the sixties film Hercules, doomed to perish in another manner, simply leaves the expedition, but apparently the scripter thought a heroic but uncanonical death was more dramatic.

Jason, Medea and the surviving Argonauts return to the kingdom of Pelias. On the way Zeus tries his version of “what’s good for the gander is good for the goose,” attempting to seduce Medea, though the young witch remains true to Jason. Once the ship makes landfall, Acastus steals the Fleece and takes it to his father, but this ploy doesn’t work out well for him given Pelias’s treachery. Now Pelias has the Fleece, but it doesn’t seem to work its healing magic on him. Medea apparently expects this to be the case, for her next action is to infiltrate the king’s court, claiming to have great regenerative powers. In the epic Medea runs a similar scam, deceiving Pelias’s daughters into killing the king with the false expectation that he’ll come back to life. Here, the idea seems to be to have Medea distract the king while the other heroes invade the palace. Pelias pays for his crimes (including the offscreen death of Polymele), while Jason and Medea marry and become the reigning monarchs. In a strange coda, Zeus and Hera—both of whom had lustful intentions toward the two mortals—look down on the marriage like doting parents.

I considered that Faulk might have been trying to “Freudianize” the comparatively simple characterizations of the 1963 JASON, but if so, he didn’t succeed in his aim.

Performances are all over the place. London and Blalock are horribly bland and have no on-screen chemistry. Brian Thompson, who because of his size often gets stuck with one-dimensional heavies, brings a nice level of moxie to his interpretation of Hercules, but all of the other Argonauts are one-note figures, as are the characters essayed by Hopper, Derek Jacobi, and the actors playing Zeus and Hera. Frank Langella, playing Aeetes, has a nice death-scene after he loses the Fleece, and the scenes between Polymele and Acastus are somewhat affecting even though they don’t add up to anything.