Tuesday, May 21, 2013

#1,009. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Directed By: Gordon Hessler

Starring: John Phillip Law, Caroline Munro, Tom Baker

Tag line: "Dynarama Means Supreme Adventure!"

Trivia:  This film helped Tom Baker get the lead role in Doctor Who

Over the course of this challenge of mine, I’ve lauded the work of special effects master Ray Harryhausen, the wizard of stop-motion, who lent his talents to a number of excellent fantasy films (such as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans). His recent passing at the age of 92 caused me to go back and re-watch some of his movies, including the Sinbad films, which are personal favorites of mine. 1973’s The Golden Voyage of Sinbad was the 2nd in a series of three, and while not nearly as good as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, it features enough of that Harryhausen charm to make it worthwhile.

The story opens with Sinbad (John Philip Law) retrieving a golden amulet, which a mysterious winged creature dropped onto the deck of his ship. What he doesn’t realize is the creature was on its way to deliver the amulet to the evil sorcerer, Koura (Tom Baker), who’s anxious to get it back. When Sinbad travels to the city of Marabia, he’s told by the Grand Vizier (Douglas Wilmer) that there are three amulets in all, which, when joined together, will reveal the location of the fabled Fountain of Destiny. Accompanied by the Vizier, as well as a slave girl named Margiana (Caroline Munro), Sinbad sets sail to locate the remaining amulets (followed closely by Koura, who, with the help of his black magic, intends to find them first).

Sadly, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad isn’t a well-directed movie. Aside from a number of jarring close-ups Hessler utilizes throughout the film (which are often out of focus), there’s an early chase on horseback, with Sinbad fleeing from Koura, that’s poorly executed; the entire scene is shot with static cameras, set up at different points along the route, thus making the pursuit flat and uninteresting. Equally as “flat” and “uninteresting” is star John Philip Law, who seems bored through much of the film, and while Caroline Munro certainly looks great, she isn’t given a whole lot to do. Tom Baker delivers a colorful performance as Koura, and things pick up whenever he’s on-screen, but aside from him, the human characters in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad don’t amount to much.

Fortunately, thanks to Ray Harryhausen, we have some non-human ones to keep things interesting. Along with the tiny homunculus (the winged creature from the beginning of the movie), Sinbad also does battle with the masthead from his own ship (a female figure carved of wood), which is brought to life by way of Koura’s magic. This proves to be the film’s first truly exciting scene, and is followed a short time later by its second, a showdown with a 6-armed statue (carrying six swords). Late in the movie, Harryhausen gives us a fight to the death between a centaur and a griffin, easily one of the finest sequences he ever created.

While we can certainly mourn the passing of Ray Harryhausen, it’s nice to know we still have films like Jason and the Argonauts, Mysterious Island, and yes, even The Golden Voyage of Sinbad to fall back on, movies that will forever serve as a testament to his extraordinary skills.

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