‘The Sinbad Trilogy’ (Blu-Ray) Review

0

He’s Sinbad the Sailor man…

‘Fantasy’ – imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained. 

That right there is the official dictionary definition of the word fantasy (or the first of several, at least). And at the moment, in cultural terms, fantasy is a big deal. In it’s many and varied forms, fantasy is everywhere these days: Sci-fi? Undoubtedly. Comics and their related industries? Definitely. Horror? to a degree, although let’s not go crazy. Sword & sorcery? Now you’re talking… There’s a good chance that if you’re visiting this site, and indeed reading this piece, you like fantasy. And it’s fair to say that, taking into account what I’ve said above, when most people think of fantasy, it’s the sword & sorcery epics that immediately spring to mind. Hell, there’s even a movie called The Sword And The Sorceror, a minor cult-classic from 1982 that features Lee Horsley as three-bladed-sword-wielding warrior out to rescue a beautiful princess from an evil warlord and a powerful sorcerer. These tropes crop up time-and-again throughout the fantasy genre. Take, as an example, ‘The Beastmaster’ (animal-powered warrior battles evil sorcerer), ‘Krull’ (heroic warrior battles evil warlord/sorceror to rescue princess), or the daddy of 80’s fantasy, ‘Conan The Barbarian’ (mighty warrior battles evil warlord/sorcerer). All are fine examples of the fantasy genre, along with many others that I don’t have time to list here. And all have one other thing in common, namely that mainstream cinema really didn’t care for them that much. Although Conan did get a fair bit of attention, it’s mainly down to the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, a rising star at the time (and these days ‘The Terminator’ is considered his actual breakout role anyway). Fantasy film-making has long been treated like some sort of unwanted step-child, something that exists to keep a small section of the cinema audience happy, while ‘proper’ movies get all the credit and accolades. Thank god, then, for Peter Jackson who, dare I say it, made fantasy ‘cool’ with his beyond-epic adaptations of ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ and The Hobbit’. And Jackson, a proud and unashamed fan of fantasy, may not have even become a film-maker, were it not for the work of one Ray Harryhausen

It’s hard to overstate the influence of Ray Harryhausen on modern cinema. His pioneering visual effects work charmed generations of film fans, and continues to do so today. As well as Jackson, no less than Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and James Cameron have all cited his work as influences on their own careers. So that’s four film-makers, who are responsible for some of the most successful and beloved movies of all time, and they’re all saying that one man set them on the path to glory. Yes, Harryhausen is a bit important… The work that most defines him can be found across the whole span of his career, and includes success in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Particularly fine examples include ‘Jason And The Argonauts’ (1963), with it’s hugely exciting skeleton sword-fighting sequence, ‘The Valley Of Gwangi’ (1969), which features cowboys attempting to round up dinosaurs in Mexico, and ‘Clash Of The Titans’ (1981), his last credited film before retirement. All of these showcase the ‘Dynamation’ effects for which Harryhausen became so famous (he coined the name himself), and all are utterly delightful. And while some dismiss his effects work as cheap and cheerful, I couldn’t disagree more. Just watch the recent remake of Clash Of The Titans’ to see what I mean. It’s CGI beasties may look slicker and more expensive, but they don’t have half the charm of Harryhausens creations (I’ve seen several up close, so I know what I’m talking about). And this is equally true of his ‘Sinbad’ trilogy, which has just been released for the first time on Blu-Ray. And I couldn’t be more excited…

The first of the trilogy, ‘The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad’ (1958) could be one of the most important films in my film-viewing life. Before I ever saw Star Wars or Indiana Jones, there was The 7th Voyage…, a film that I first saw one Bank Holiday Monday (as we all did), and pretty-much changed my life. I found it’s blend of live-action and visual effects utterly mesmerising, while the tale of the brave hero, the wicked sorcerer and the beautiful princess completely draw me in. In actual fact the plot itself is fairly standard stuff, as Sinbad (Kerwin Matthews) and his crew rescue the  sorcerer Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) from an island, only to discover that that he will do anything to get back there, including starting a war between two cities (he’s very wicked). This involves a spell rendering the Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant) tiny, with the only cure, you’ve guessed it, back on that island. Unfortunately for our heroes, so are giant cyclops, the two-headed Roc bird, a dragon and a sword-wielding skeleton (a prototype for the army that turns up in ‘Jason & The Argonauts’ 5 years later), meaning the voyage itself is far from easy.

The real beauty of this is that everyone seems to be having an absolute blast. Despite his lack of Arabian-ness (is that a word?) Matthews is perfectly cast as Sinbad, being handsome and dashing enough to convince as the well-travelled captain, while Grant is great fun as the princess who, despite her tiny stature, is far from the traditional damsel-in-distress, at one point venturing inside a magic lamp to speak with the genie (Richard Eyer). But every great hero needs a great villain, and Thatcher doesn’t disappoint. You can tell from practically his first appearance that Sokurah is up to no good, and as he schemes his way back to the island and away from Sinbad and his men, you’ll be practically begging Sinbad to notice as well. Handsome he may be, but he’s not that sharp… The whole thing is beautifully directed by Nathan Juran, and there’s an excellent score by the legendary Bernard Herrmann to keep things ticking along nicely. Altogether, it all adds up to one of my very favourite films, and if I ever have kids (a long shot at this point…) it’ll be one of the first things they see…

After several years away (mainly working on other movies), Harryhausen returned to the Arabian Nights in 1973 with ‘The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad’, this time with John Phillip Law in the title role. Law is still probably best known for his turn as Pygar, the blind angel in ‘Barbarella’, but he turns in an impressive performance here. Like Matthews before him, he manages to pull off the handsome and dashing side of things, while also cutting an imposing figure as the legendary captain (he was 6ft 4in, and it shows). The plot follows the standard route that we’ve come to know and love, as Sinbad and his crew are enlisted to help a peaceful Vizier (Douglas Wilmer) defend his city against the evil sorcerer Koura, played by Tom Baker in a performance that, despite being heavy on villainy, contributed to him being cast as The Doctor in 1974. This involves a quest to find a mysterious golden tablet, a beautiful slave girl (Caroline Munro) and the requisite amount of monsters, including a statue of Kali, which comes to life armed with plenty of swords, a griffin and a one-eyed centaur that could be the most unpleasant thing Harryhausen ever created (and I include Medusa in that). It also features a few familiar faces in the supporting cast, including Martin Shaw as Sinbad’s trusty second-in-command, who is cautious to the point of paranoia at times, and Robert Shaw in an uncredited appearance under some serious prosthetics as The Oracle Of All Knowledge.

The Golden Voyage… has always seemed like a bit of an anomaly to me, in that the plot takes slight precedence over the spectacle, at least to a degree not seen in any other Harryhausen movie, and that’s by no means a bad thing. The monsters are there certainly, but the story itself, under the direction of Gordon Hessler, develops naturally towards a satisfying conclusion. This is helped by strong performances throughout, particularly Baker, Law and Wilmer. Only Munro feels slightly underserved by the script, being given little to do other than gaze longingly at Sinbad and get captured by some primitive tribes people. But she does it well, and always feels like part of the group, never just a pretty hanger-on… Although 7th Voyage… is probably my favourite, I have a great  deal of affection for this one. It has the bank holiday nostalgia of the others, certainly, but I think it’s the performances that sway it for me. Baker is great fun as always, while Law is, for me, the best screen Sinbad. As well as his not inconsiderable physical presence, he’s the only one to actually attempt an Arabian accent. This may not seem like much, but it’s the little things that add up to a greater whole. For me, Law absolutely nails his performance, and the movie is so much better for it.

The final movie in this loose trilogy, ‘Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger’ (1977), is probably the weakest of the three. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still enormous fun, but it lacks a certain something that the others possess. There’s plenty of spectacle, with Harryhausen (working on his penultimate film) pulling out most, if not all of the stops, and unleashing a dizzying array of monsters, including some weird insect/demon hybrids (there’s no other way of describing them), a giant walrus, a giant (relatively) bee, a troglodyte, a saber-toothed tiger and the iconic Minoton (played in non-stop motion scenes by an uncredited Peter Mayhew). The plot is very, very familiar, as Sinbad and his crew head off on a quest to lift a curse that has turned the noble Prince Kassim into a baboon (another gorgeous stop-motion creation). Joining them is the prince’s sister, the beautiful Princess Farah, played by a young Jane Seymour, as well as the wise Melanthius (genre favourite Patrick Troughton) and his daughter Dione (Taryn Power), who develops an oddly close relationship with the prince/baboon. Of course, these movies need good leads, and this is where is falls down slightly. This time around Sinbad is portrayed by Patrick Wayne (son of John), who is undeniably handsome but, compared to his predecessors, is seriously lacking in the charisma department. Thank god then for the villains, who are the best thing on display here, with Margaret Whiting positively eating up the screen as the evil Queen Zenobia, a sorceress determined to get her son Prince Rafi (Kurt Christian) on to the throne, the reason for that whole ‘man-into-baboon’ thing.

As mentioned before, where this film really wins is on the spectacle front. Where the previous films involve voyages around warmer climates, this one sees Sinbad and his crew heading into the frozen north (hence the walrus) in search of the mythical land of Hyperborea, where a magical shrine can cure the prince of his simian ailment. And this is kind-of the problem, the plot mainly feels like a loose device linking the set-pieces together, rather than the other way round. You find yourself waiting for the next creature-moment, which is fine in itself, but a slight disappointment compared to the previous efforts. Having said that, Whiting and Troughton both seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, while Power also acquits herself well, in a role seemingly designed to be secondary to Seymour, although she has much more of an impact on the story. And despite the shortcomings it’s still hugely enjoyable, and will evoke many happy memories of bank holidays past. What more could you want…

To put it bluntly, I bloody love these films. They form a very important part of my movie history, and will carry on that way for many years to come. And they now have a release that truly does them justice. Each film in the set comes on both DVD and Blu-Ray, and all have been remastered beautifully, with 7th Voyage… looking particularly stunning. They’re all packed with extra features, including trailers, making-of’s and numerous featurettes looking at the history of thee movies and Harryhausen’s career. And just to cap it off there’s a limited edition book containing essays and pictures from all three films. It’s the perfect way to view three genuinely magical movies, while also serving as a tribute to one of Cinemas genuine legends and some of his finest work. Do yourself a favour and seek it out.

 

Our Rating

Happy Bank Holidays10
10

About author

TheMetalHead

Long-time fan of all things geek-related. Comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, Warhammer, video games, mythology, you name it, I probably like it. This also extends to pro-wrestling and heavy metal, hence the name. Particular loves would be the Star Wars sage, Game of Thrones (books and TV), Judge Dredd, Assassins Creed, and many more. Born and raised in Essex by parents who have broadly supported these passions over the years, so much so that they now share many of them.