The Sinbad Trilogy Blu Ray & DVD Limited Edition (Indicator)
Bank holiday nostalgia
If you’re of a certain age, you will likely have fond memories of watching Ray Harryhausen’s films, complete with his signature “Dynamation” stop-motion monsters, on Bank Holiday TV. Amongst the best loved of these were his three Sinbad movies.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
When Sinbad (Kerwin Matthews) gets lost sailing on his way to Baghdad to wed Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant), he arrives at a mysterious island where he and his men encounter a dangerous cyclops. A sorcerer living on the island named Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) saves their lives by summoning a genie, who puts a barrier between them and the creature.
When they get back to Baghdad, Sokurah tries to persuade the Caliph (Alec Mango) to fund an expedition to kill the beast with a crossbow and take its vast hoard of treasure. When he refuses, Sokurah secretly sneaks into Parisa’s bed chamber at night and casts a magic spell to shrink her. The next morning, he tells Sinbad that the only way to return her to normal size is to revisit the same island and retrieve a piece of the eggshell of a mythical bird. Reluctantly, Sinbad sets sail with this untrustworthy magician, an equally untrustworthy crew of cutthroats and his now-shrunken lover in tow.
This is one of the finest Harryhausen productions. His stop-motion creations (a cyclops, a Kali-like creature, two-headed birds, an animated skeleton and a fire-breathing dragon) are as fantastic as ever, with a wealth of character and detail. At the same time, the other storytelling and visual aspects of the film hold up well. Okay, so the acting is somewhat hammy, but the plot is well-constructed and the characters’ actions have believable consequences. The whole production has a wonderfully rich colour palette and playful sense of imagination, but occasionally throws in a dark and violent edge that lends it a palpable feeling of danger without being too disturbing for young children. The effects involving the shrunken princess are also neatly done.
Runtime: 88 mins
Dir: Nathan Juran
Script: Ken Kolb, Ray Harryhausen
Starring: Kerwin Matthews, Kathryn Grant, Richard Eyer, Torin Thatcher, Alex Mango, Danny Green, Harold Kasket
Watch a trailer:
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
Sinbad (this time played by John Phillip Law) spots a mysterious flying creature soaring above his ship. When one of his crew members shoots an arrow at it, it drops a golden amulet. When he reaches shore, he is pursued on horseback by the black magician Koura (Tom Baker) who wants the object for his own purposes.
He flees into the safety of the citadel of the gold-masked Grand Vizier (Douglas Wilmer), who reveals that the amulet is part of a larger item, which turns out to be a sea chart pointing at the island of Lemuria. The Oracle of All Knowledge resides there, and whoever brings the amulet to him will be granted great powers. Since Koura is also after this amulet, he races against Sinbad and the Vizier to obtain its magic.
This one improves on The 7th Voyage in some aspects, but is slightly weaker in others. The acting is better, in particular from Tom Baker as Koura - a villain who is undeniably ruthless, but manages to retain a feeling of tragic humanity due the manner in which his use of the dark arts causes him to gradually wither physically. The stop-motion is also more seamlessly integrated with the live action, and looks incredibly convincing even now. Gordon Hessler’s deliriously atmospheric, horror-influenced directorial style is more distinctive than Nathan Juran’s competently conventional approach. Seeing Caroline Munro in an array of cleavage- and midriff-friendly outfits is also a nice bonus (at least from my male perspective).
However, the pacing is somewhat slow for the first two thirds, while the visuals don’t quite match The 7th Voyage’s Technicolor charm. Still, the final third is stirring stuff, featuring a thrilling sword fight with a living Kali statue and a classic centaur-vs-griffin showdown.
Runtime: 105 mins
Dir: Gordon Hessler
Script: Brian Clemens, Ray Harryhausen
Starring: John Phillip Law, Caroline Munro, Tom Baker, Douglas Wilmer, Martin Shaw, Kurt Christian, Robert Shaw
Watch a trailer:
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)
In this third entry, Sinbad is once again played by a new actor: John Wayne’s son Patrick. Prince Kassim (Damien Thomas), the brother of Sinbad’s fiancee Farah (Jane Seymour), is about to be crowned as Caliph when he is transformed into a baboon by the scheming sorceress Zenobia (Margaret Whiting). She plans to have her own son Rafi (Kurt Christian - who played a different, rather more heroic character in The Golden Voyage) put on the throne instead.
Our hero learns that a wise Greek magician named Melanthius (Patrick Troughton) may be able to reverse the curse placed on Kassim. He sets sail to find him and enlist his help. Unfortunately, Zenobia hears of his quest, and follows him with Rafi and Minaton - a golden minotaur she has created - by her side.
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger is the dullest and tattiest of the three movies, despite having been made on a considerably higher budget. The blue screen work is surprisingly shabby, which is a major issue since it’s used frequently throughout. There isn’t enough excitement either: both the Dynamation creations and their human counterparts tend to come a cropper out of sheer ineptitude (such as getting crushed under a huge stone slab they just lifted, or tripping down a staircase to their death) more frequently than than via thrilling confrontations. The script’s blatantly racist treatment of the one black sailor in Sinbad’s crew is also rather uncomfortable to watch nowadays.
On the plus side, Patrick Troughton is wonderful as Melanthius (even if this supposedly wise character’s actions are uncharacteristically dunderheaded during a scene where he interrogates a shrunken Zenobia), the stop motion effects are still impressive, and the final showdown between a sabre-toothed tiger and a troglodyte is desert island Harryhausen. The giant wasp scene is also a distinctively satisfying spectacle when watched during the summer months.
The cast has some notable curiosities: as well as John Wayne’s son Patrick, we get Tyrone Power’s daughter Taryn, who plays Melanthius’s on-screen daughter. While 1973’s The Golden Voyage featured Caroline Munro - who went on to become a Bond girl in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, this one conversely features Jane Seymour - who was previously a Bond girl in 1973’s Live and Let Die. While The Golden Voyage featured a future Doctor Who in Tom Baker, this one featured Patrick Troughton - an erstwhile Doctor Who.
Runtime: 113 mins
Dir: Sam Wanamaker
Script: Beverley Cross, Ray Harryhausen
Starring: Patrick Wayne, Jane Seymour, Taryn Power, Margaret Whiting, Patrick Troughton, Kurt Christian, Damien Thomas
Watch a trailer:
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The 4K restoration of The 7th Voyage is the best of the bunch; the colours are spectacularly good, and everything is so warm and shiny that it’s a delight to watch. Some of the blue screen shots look grainy, but that was always a limitation of this kind of process. The Golden Voyage is almost as impressive. The Eye of the Tiger is the weakest, with some noticeable picture defects at times. Even here however, the colour and detail is impressively rich.
Audio is generally fantastic; I especially loved the hefty background sounds the centaur’s stamping hooves made in The Golden Voyage, lending it an incredibly ominous presence even when not yet visible on screen. That Bernard Herrmann orchestral score on The 7th Voyage ravishes the ears. Again, The Eye of the Tiger draws the short straw in the audio department, with much of the dialogue sounding too faint.
Highlights amongst the extras
There’s an incredible wealth of extras spread across the three discs plus accompanying book, and any fan will be kept happily occupied for several evenings after watching the three films. Here are the best:
7th Voyage of Sinbad audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen, Phil Tippett and Randall William Cook
As you might have guessed (since Harryhausen passed away in 2013), this is a recycled commentary from a previous release. We get a lively and good-humoured discussion, focussing heavily on the classic Bernard Herrmann score, the stop-motion creature work and the film’s surprisingly low budget given its lavish look. We learn that many of the elaborate costumes were actually leftovers from an unmade Rita Hayworth picture, and that the sea storm sequence involved buckets of rather disease-ridden water being thrown at the cast - making star Kerwin Matthews ill for a couple of days. The early palace scenes were shot in The Alhambra in Spain - a location no longer open to filming as one crew caused some damage to the structure’s walls.
Remembering The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
Ray Harryhausen discusses how he created the effects for the film. This documentary is a veritable treasure trove as the great man reveals concept drawings, talks about how he constructed his creatures and how he worked the scenes with actors who, during filming, couldn’t see what they were fighting. A particular highlight is when he presents the still-intact skeleton warrior, which was reused as one of the several featured during the climax of Jason and the Argonauts.
A curiosity: an insanely catchy jazz song entitled “Sinbad May Have Been Bad, But He’s Been Good To Me” which was intended as a promotional piece for The 7th Voyage, to be played in cinema foyers. Good luck getting it out of your mind after listening!
Golden Years - Time travelling with Tom Baker
A 37-minute interview with an actor would, more often than not, be a chore to sit through. That’s certainly not the case with Tom Baker. He’s engagingly eccentric, well-spoken and self-effacing in a dryly humorous way. He discusses his career, from his first major role as Rasputin in Nicholas & Alexandra, through The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, to his iconic tenure as Doctor Who. Highlights include him recalling that he accidentally cut John Phillip Law’s hand while filming the sword fight scene (“he never spoke to me again”) and some eye-opening discussions of his Roman Catholic upbringing.
Golden Girl - Looking back with Caroline Munro
Caroline proves to be charming company as she discusses her time on the Golden Voyage set. The most interesting moment is when she reveals how the famous Kali fight was choreographed, using three Spanish swordsmen who were taken away, one by one, until John Phillip Law was ably fighting thin air.
Princess Diaries - Interview with Jane Seymour
Jane discusses her involvement in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. She mentions that half of the role she was originally written was given to Taryn power - so that it could be hyped up as a “son of John and daughter of Tyrone” film. She spent most of her time on a sweltering Maltese sound stage, and during the Arctic scenes she fainted while wearing an untreated fur. She’s a lively interviewee who clearly had her misgivings about the shoot and Taryn, but still manages to enjoy talking about it in retrospect.
The Harryhausen Chronicles
If you get round to watching just one extra on this set, make it this 1998 documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy. It follows the great man, from his early days when he was inspired by the 1933 King Kong to create some 16 mm prehistoric shorts, to his 1992 lifetime achievement Academy Award presented by Tom Hanks. The best parts are the glimpses of rare shorts and test footage, but the anecdotes and interview snippets with some of the great man’s old friends plus a few animators inspired by him are enjoyable throughout.
There are plenty more extras on the discs, including 16 mm versions of both The 7th and The Golden Voyage, more interviews (including lengthy audio recordings) with Harryhausen, trailers, galleries and so on.
As per usual with Indicator releases, we get an enclosed booklet - this time 80 pages in length. For each of the three films we get a production essay by Michael Brooke, as well as oral histories featuring snippets from interviews with Ray Harryhausen, Charles Schneer and some of the films’ various writers, cast members and directors. The most interesting essay here is one featuring snippets from interviews related to a proposed-but-unmade fourth film entitled Sinbad Goes to Mars, including some differing accounts as to why it never came to fruition.
While some of the attitudes in the films are dated (for example, having American and British actors playing Arabic characters) and some of the acting isn’t great, they have a certain magic about them. Both The 7th and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad are superb fantasy adventures, while The Eye of the Tiger at least has its moments. The amount of extras is, frankly, ridiculously generous, and the whole package is a must for those who are nostalgic about the films, and for younger film buffs who want to find out what made Ray Harryhausen so cherished.