Sunday, May 12, 2013

El Professore Movie Reviews: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

Director: Gordon Hessler
Starring: John Phillip Law, Caroline Munroe, Tom Baker
* * * *
With the sad passing of Ray Harryhausen, it felt right to travel back in time to the film that started my lifelong affection for all things stop motion animated.

Full review after the jump.

It was late spring of 1974. I was seven years old and in the 2nd Grade, anxiously awaiting summer vacation. At home and plopped in front of the always in use b/w 13 inch boob tube, I caught a commercial for a new movie about to hit theaters, 'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad'. My eyes widened as the commercial unfolded, showing sights and creatures I had not seen before (except possibly for a couple of airings of King Kong). I was obsessed and wouldn't leave my mom and grandparents alone until they agreed to take me to see it. I still remember the incredible excitement I felt in the days leading up to that fateful evening and my date with destiny at the Harwan Theater. The fam and myself entered and hankered down for the wonders that had been promised in that saturated T.V. commercial that ran incessantly through my mind. Could this movie live up to the incredible hype that had been building inside of me? Oh yes, it could!

In the film, Sinbad and his crew intercept a homunculus (an artificial dwarf, created through alchemy) that was carrying a golden tablet. The creature's owner is a wizard named Koura who now pursues Sinbad in a bid to retrieve his prized tablet. Sinbad in the meantime, visits the Vizier who also happens to have a tablet. They discover that both tablets are actually pieces of a map that will guide them to untold riches, setting up a race between them and the evil wizard which ultimately will lead them to the Fountain of Destiny.

It's hard for me to convey just how incredible this experience was. Harryhausen's effects ("filmed in Dynarama!" which I later discovered was a snazzier retitling for the previous moniker, Dynamation) were as great as advertised; the aforementioned homunculus the siren-like masthead, the six armed Kali, the cyclopean centaur and the griffin were all fantastically realized creations. The film also offers a wonderful feeling of exotica, what with it's Arabian Knights characters and distinctly Indian feeling in both it's sets and animated creatures. I found (and still find) the whole experience dazzling and intoxicating.

The cast were all note perfect. John Phillip Law (who played 'Diabolik among may others) was an ideal choice for Sinbad. He struck just the right balance of hero and exotic rogue that the part called for. Caroline Munroe (as the slave girl; a tattoo of an eye on her hand) was certainly pleasant on the eyeballs (hey, even at seven I knew a good thing when I saw it). In the role of Koura, Tom Baker plays the part with great menace as well as a surprising level of pathos (he ages each time he summons the black arts to do his bidding and is so withered that by the time all parties reach the Fountain of Destiny, that you almost want him to succeed... almost). So good was Baker in this part that because of it, he landed the famed role as T.V.s' Doctor Who (yes, it's THAT Tom Baker).

With 'The Golden Voyage of Sibad' being such an overwhelming experience, I quickly familiarized myself with Ray Harryhausen and his magical effects work. I made sure to check my T.V. listings for any and all movies that featured his work (this was afterall, a good ten years before the vcr craze) as well as revival showings of his earlier films (7th Voyage of Sinbad was actually shown at the very same theater the following year, lucky me). Looking back, if I were forced to pick a fave Harryhausen film, the slight edge would have to go to 'Jason and the Argonuats'. But for sheer childhood nostalgia, nothing compared to experiencing 'Golden Voyage of Sinbad' on a big screen. Thank you Ray Harryhausen and R.I.P.

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