A couple of months ago, I turned 50 years old! And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which came out in each year of my life (thus the “Old-New” terminology), and then write a bit about it. This is Post #18. Spoilers ahead.
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Release Date: January 25, 1974 (UK)
My age then: 3 years old
What it is about: Sinbad, a sea captain, finds a mysterious amulet which is the key to finding a fountain of youth. Sinbad and his allies race the evil magician Koura for this prize, facing many perils and doing battle with a variety of strange creatures along the way.
Starring John Philip Law as Sinbad, Caroline Munro as Margiana (a beautiful slave girl that Sinbad encounters and partners with, and a pre-Doctor Who Tom Baker as Koura. Douglas Wilmer and Kurt Christian play a couple of Sinbad’s allies. Strangely, Robert Shaw appears uncredited (and in strange make-up) as “the Oracle of All Knowledge,” a floating head that appears in one scene to deliver important exposition.
Incidentally, scriptwriter Brian Clemens was also a producer and writer for The Avengers TV, which I will eventually get back to viewing and writing about.
My impressions of this movie before I watched it: OK, full disclosure, I have seen part of this movie before. Years ago, it was showing at my college, and having heard that Tom Baker was in it, I went in and saw some of the end. I didn’t undersand what was going on, although now it makes sense to me. I remembering being super-confused because it was the bit where Sinbad is fighting some invisible guy who might have had Tom Baker’s voice, but beyond that, I knew nothing. I expected it, I suppose, to be a slightly cheesy fantasy action film, which I knew Baker was part of, and I think I also knew Caroline Munro was in as well. And I think I knew Ray Harryhausen had something to do with making.
Reality: My general impressions were pretty much on the nose, except that the movie isn’t “slightly cheesy”, it’s extremely cheesy. But it is also a light-hearted adventure fantasy that probably would have thrilled the kids of the day.
Certainly there’s a lot of respect due to cinema legend Ray Harryhausen, who in his career invented techniques never seen before and who used them to take audiences to places they never imagined they could go. In this film, we’ve got cute little homunculus that flies around and spies on people; a couple of animated statues that fearsomely swing swords, and a centaur and a griffin that duke it out at the end. The all look pretty cool and interactive impressively with the live-action elements on the screen.
Unfortunately, to my modern eye, they also fall short–or rather the film does, at crafting legitimate thrills out of them. It’s not that they “don’t look realistic”–no special effect continues to look realistic if you keep examining it. It’s more that they don’t move with the sort of swiftness or dexterity that you’d assume they would. For the most part, the creatures in this film creep forward a bit awkwardly, and although some due wield swords, they mostly fail to actually do anything with them. Instead, the effect is akin to watching stage combat, where people get bumped with the weapons and are generally stabbed at, but rarely seem to suffer any lasting consequences. Indeed, I’m not sure if any of Sinbad’s crew actually dies in the course of the story–one of them gets choked by an animated wooden figurehead from his own ship, but even that guy cries out when he is tossed into the ocean, so it’s possible that he’s rescued shortly afterwards.
None of this is to put down the coolness of what was being put together here–I just wish it was all put into a film that felt a bit more visceral and immediate for our characters.
Probably it would have helped if there had just been more to our characters overall. Tom Baker’s evil Prince Koura has probably got the most humanity going for him out of everyone–he seems so earnest, and he seems to be struggling so much toward his goals, that one occasionally wonders what is it that makes the guy so evil? There’s not much except for a generic desire to rule everything.
None of the other guys have much of a personality going or them, except for maybe the young, good-for-nothing Haroun, who whines and complains about everything. But then goes through a character arc between scenes, turning out to be the most awesome and helpful person in the crew, without any explanation–he bullseyes the little bat-sized homunculus with an arrow, straight up, from a long way away, and he’s instrumental in ultimately defeating a multi-armed statue that Koura has brought to life. So there’s personality, but no proper development.
So…when you get down to it, what did I think? It’s diverting and earns respect for impressive pre-CGI effects, but it’s not something I can I genuinely enjoyed.
See here for the Master List.