Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) * * *

Sinbad (John Phillip Law) while sailing comes across a golden tablet dropped by a mysterious flying creature. He wears the tablet as an amulet around his neck. That night, Sinbad has a strange dream in which he sees a man dressed in black, repeatedly calling his name. He also sees a mysterious girl with an eye tattooed on her right palm. The next day, a mysterious force brings his ship to a coastal town in the country of Marabia.

Sinbad encounters the Grand Vizier of Marabia (Douglas Wilmer) outside his palace. The Vizier, who wears a golden mask to hide his disfigured face, says that Sinbad's amulet is actually one piece of a puzzle, and the Vizier has another. He tells Sinbad about a legend that the three pieces, when joined together, will reveal a map showing the way to the Fountain of Destiny, hidden somewhere on the lost continent of Lemuria. The legend tells that he who bears the three pieces of the puzzle to the fountain will receive "youth, a shield of darkness, and a crown of untold riches."

Sinbad: Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel.

Sinbad agrees to help the Vizier find the fountain. They join forces against Koura (Tom Baker), an evil magician who wishes to conquer Marabia. Koura had locked the Vizier in a room and set it on fire, horribly burning his face. The creature that dropped the gold tablet was one of Koura's minions, a homunculus created by his black magic. Koura wants Sinbad's golden talisman to complete the spell.

Vizier: The more I study it, the greater the puzzle becomes.
Koura: He who is patient obtains.

Before leaving Morabia, Sinbad picks up two passengers for the journey. The first is Haroun (Kurt Christian), the shiftless hashish-addict son of a local slave merchant. His father wants to build the boy's character, and he thinks a few years on a sea voyage will do the trick. The merchant also throws in a slave named Margiana (Caroline Munro) to sweeten the deal. Margiana catches Sinbad's eye because of an eye-shaped tattoo she has on her palm, and he had a prophetic dream of the tattoo. However, Margiana never plays any vital part in the adventure, so Sinbad's dream was essentially fulfilling the role of a dating service. She, Haroun, and the Vizier board Sinbad's ship. Koura hires a ship and crew of his own and follows Sinbad, using his magic several times to try to stop Sinbad. However, each attempt drains away part of his life force and he ages noticeably each time.

Haroun: (wakes up) Are you a merchant? How long will we be gone for, a week?
(Sinbad raises his eyebrows)
Haroun: Two weeks? Three weeks? A month?
(Sinbad raises his eyebrows again)
Haroun: More than a month! How long?
Sinbad: Two or three years.
Haroun: Two or three years! That's horrible.
(the men laugh)
Haroun: We'll be ancient.
(the men laugh again)
Sinbad: Fill your heart with courage!
Haroun: My heart is filled with courage, but I have cowardly legs.
Sinbad: You pace the deck like a caged beast. For one who enjoys the hashish you should be more at peace.

Along his journey, Sinbad fights the wooden figurehead from his own ship, a six-armed Kali idol brandishing a sword in each hand, (both animated by Koura's magic) and an enraged one-eyed Cyclops centaur, against whom a winged griffin also fights. The undisputed highlight of the film is the swordfight between Kali and Sinbad with his sailors. Once they reach the fountain, Koura obtains all the pieces, assembles the puzzle, and drops it in the fountain. His health is restored and he becomes invisible: the "cloak of darkness". However, he is slain in a sword duel by Sinbad, who then takes the "crown of untold riches" that rises out of the fountain and gives it to the Grand Vizier. Sinbad explains to Margiana that he values freedom more, and a king is never really free. The crown's magic powers causes the Vizer's mask to dissolve to reveal his healed face.

The second of special-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen's three Sinbad epics has a plot that sends Sinbad and his crew on a quest for a valuable and magical golden tablet. It follows THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) and was followed by SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1979). Harryhausen's "Dynamation" highlights include a six-armed statue, a one-eyed centaur and a flying griffin. This Arabian fantasy shares only the title character in a new story. Although it has less stop-motion animation monsters than some of the other Harryhausen fantasy films, such as CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), and MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), this is one of the best. In most Harryhausen films the plot is merely something to be tolerated between animated sequences, but GOLDEN VOYAGE is entertaining throughout.

This entry in the Sinbad franchise is as good as THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD and better than SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER. Production values are quite good, and the set design, especially the scenes inside the cavern, is striking and inventive. But the story drags a bit at times, and Law's indeterminate accent sometimes wavers toward strange inflections. The action segments, though they're fewer and farther between than in other Sinbad films, redeem the movie with Harryhausen's incredible artistry. This is a rich, well-crafted fantasy movie the entire family can enjoy.

The cast also includes: Martin Shaw (Rachid), Grégoire Aslan (Hakim), Takis Emmanuel (Achmed), David Garfield (Abdul), Ferdinando Poggi (Kali stand-in), Aldo Sambrell (Omar), Robert Rietty (voices of Haroun / Omar / Koura's Ship Captain), and Robert Shaw (The Oracle of all knowledge). Miklós Rózsa composed the original music. Brian Clemens wrote the screenplay from a story by him and Ray Harryhausen. Gordon Hessler directed.

Columbia's DVD of THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD includes both a full-screen and widescreen version on opposite sides of the disc. The widescreen version is letterboxed at 1.85:1, cropping a small amount of extraneous picture information off the top and bottom of the image. Both versions look very good with solid mono soundtracks in English and Portuguese, along with subtitles in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai. The extras are led by three short featurettes (less than 10 minutes each) focusing on other Harryhausen films: MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960), and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956). No trailers for those films, but the trailer for GOLDEN VOYAGE is included, along with a colorful gallery of advertising artwork for the movie and short bios of Ray Harryhausen, director Gordon Hessler, and John Phillip Law.

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