Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Movie Review: "The 7'th Voyage of Sinbad" by David Pretty

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad has no pretensions or ulterior motives.  Its sole raison d'être is to thrill and entertain.  In that noble quest, the film succeeds admirably. 

The movie begins with the legendary explorer Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) leading his crew onto a seemingly deserted island to scrounge for supplies.  Almost instantly they're set upon by a giant cyclops who is intent on killing the ship's wizard, a shifty character named Sokurah (Torin Thatcher).  In order to facilitate their escape, the sorcerer calls upon a Genie in a magic lamp, but during all the chaos, the lamp is left behind.

Back on board, Sokurah tries to persuade Sinbad to return to the island and recover the lamp but, like a spawning salmon, our hero is intent on returning to Baghdad where he's set to marry (and subsequently knock pointy boots) with Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant).  Although the main impetus for this prearranged union is to unite two rival nations, the young couple are legitimately enamored with one another.   

As soon as they arrive in Persia, Sokurah asks the Caliph to bankroll an expedition back to the island.  Since putting the blocks to a hot princess is considerably more appealing then fighting with giant, one-eyed, club-wielding maniacs, Sinbad quickly nixes the idea.  Undeterred, Sokurah keeps on scheming.

After predicting doom for the marriage and war for Persia, the wizard is branded a heretic and banished from the city.  But when Parisa mysteriously gets shrunk down to action-figure size the Caliph is forced to crawl back to him for assistance.  Sokurah agrees to help, presumably out of the kindness of his own heart. 

Curiously, no-one questions Sokurah when he insists that the only place to find the restorative spell components is back on the island.  Willing to do anything to return the princess to normal (for obvious reasons), Sinbad immediately sets sail, braving crew mutinies, deadly storms, a giant roc, an animated skeletal bodyguard, a dragon and some more hot cyclops action along the way.

The special effects in The 7'th Voyage of Sinbad were pretty mind-blowing back in 1958, akin to the dinosaurs featured in Jurassic Park.  I remember watching clips of this on T.V. as a kid and being totally mystified as to how all of those fantastic creatures were moving around.  Although this isn't Ray Harryhausen's finest hour (Jason and the Argonauts probably deserves that particular distinction) there are tons of memorable monsters on display here that exhibit a startling amount of personality.

Chief amongst them is the cyclops.  Not only is he one of Harryhausen's most iconic designs, he's also brilliantly animated.  You actually start to feel bad for the poor bastard since all he wants to do is sit down and enjoy a quiet lunch.  Instead he gets slashed at, blinded, tricked into falling down a cliff and then rail-roaded into a Hardcore wrestling match with a fire-breathing dragon.

Beyond the film's technical merits and a rousing musical score by famed composer Bernard Herrmann, the picture does show its age occasionally.  Back then, directors weren't necessarily hired for their artistic eye, they were often retained to visually document the script as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Even for its time, Nathan H. Juran's direction here is pretty flat and workmanlike.  It's a woefully inadequate mismatch for such a visually dynamic film.  

The leads are also miscast.  Although Kerwin Mathews and Kathryn Grant are pretty to look at, they're about as Persian as Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth.  Some of the performances in the film are almost shamefully hammy.  I have no idea why Sokurah isn't immediately tapped as the prime suspect for the criminal enshrinkination since he spends the entire film mugging evilly like Jafar in Aladdin.

Regardless, The 7'th Voyage of Sinbad is the product of a simpler time and the stop-motion, er..."Dynamation" effects are top notch.  Although crude by today's standards, this regrettably obsolete technique still seems more substantial to me than a bunch of abstract ones and zeros shoehorned into a computer program.

Watch it on some rainy Saturday afternoon.  Your inner child will thank you.

  Tilt: up.

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