Jason and the Argonauts is generally considered Ray Harryhausen's best picture (personally, I prefer The 7th Voyage of Sinbad). Definitely, the writing and acting are better than usual for this type of movie. This is especially evident in its depiction of Mount Olympus. Instead of pomposity (or an equally predictable alternative like petulancy), the gods are portrayed as playful, with just enough relaxed smugness to denote confidence in their own power; in other words, it's in keeping with the Greek idea of gods having easily recognizable human traits. The movie also features an appropriately attractive Hera...which isn't surprising unless, like me, you find Hollywood's standards of beauty usually predictable and dull. (Hera was played by Honor Blackman, who unfortunately became famous more for her name than anything else).
The story opens with Pelias taking the throne from Jason's father. Twenty years later, Jason returns to claim his rightful place, but ends up taking on the quest for the Golden Fleece. The voyage itself consists of three extended sequences: the encounter with Talos, the meeting with Phineas and the harpies, and the attempt to navigate the Crashing Rocks. Eventually, Jason and his men land in Colchis to take the Fleece away from King Aeetes.
Some of the more effective details in the movie:
-- Somehow, Phineas has offended the gods and is being tormented by harpies. Like the casual mention of the Clone Wars in Star Wars: A New Hope, further details are not given; the writers wisely avoided unnecessary exposition.
-- A quick friendship is developed between Hylas and Hercules, which gives faces and voices to an otherwise interchangeable crew. Hercules’s departure — occuring unpredictably early in the quest — also has a certain poignancy to it. He is determined to search for the missing Hylas, even though Hylas's fate has already been revealed to the audience.
-- Hera favours Jason over Pelias. In the traditional story, Hera hated Pelias for his lack of reverence. In the movie, the extent of Hera's feelings are not revealed (Hera spends most of the movie smiling). Instead, Hera's championing of Jason is depicted as part of a (literal) chess game between Zeus and Hera. It makes the gods appear almost capricious. However, a look of disappointment crosses Hera's face when Jason and Medea kiss. It's only a fleeting moment, and it comes at the end of the film, but it adds depth to Hera's motives.
There are, however, three major problems:
-- Traditionally, Medea fell in love with Jason because she'd been put under a spell by Aphrodite. In the movie, Aphrodite is never mentioned. As a result, Medea not only falls in love with Jason too quickly to be convincing, but she betrays her nation of Colchis for him. It comes across as an unsympathetically selfish act, and a potentially destructive one, considering the good that the Fleece has brought to Colchis. Although love can make some people reckless, it's not likely the filmmakers meant for Medea to appear so shallow and impulsive.