The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

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*. All criticism is grounded in the critic’s biography, at least to some extent. I wouldn’t be exaggerating by much to say I started writing these notes forty years ago.
*. I’ll always associate the stop-motion adventure films of Ray Harryhausen with a childhood spent watching such films on TV. I mean, for a seven-year-old kid what could be better than a giant one-eyed centaur carrying off a buxom belly-dancer, or a six-armed Indian goddess in a sword fight with a crew of heroic sailors?
*. Is it because of these fond childhood memories that I still doggedly prefer these effects to today’s CGI? Sure the movement of the monsters here is slow and clumsy in places, and the effects break down in a lot of the scenes (due to the burning around some of the figures, or the difficulty in synchronizing movement with the live actors), but isn’t this stuff a lot more fun than computer animation?
*. As a kid, the toys I played with were often little plastic replicas of fantastic creatures (or dinosaurs) like the ones I saw in films like these. Which means they were effectively the same thing (that is, miniature models) that you were seeing manipulated on screen. Flash forward fifty years and kids today play with images on video screens, so what they see when they go to the movies is much the same as what they play with on their tablets at home. I guess this is progress, but if I wanted to play a video game, I’d play a video game. My models were real!
*. Shot “in the miracle of Dynarama.” That was the trade name of Harryhausen’s stop-motion filming technique.
*. Is there anything to this movie aside from the monsters and Caroline Munro’s sweaty cleavage? Well, not much.
*. “Allah be praised!” The legendary Sinbad was a Muslim hero, a late addition to the One Thousand and One Nights who seems to have originated in the seventeenth century and whose tales are set at some point in the eighth (during the Abbasid caliphate). I wonder what the chances of Hollywood making a big-budget film with a Muslim hero are today. I can’t think of any recent ones. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time takes place around 1,000 years before the birth of the prophet Muhammad. Not that Sinbad is really representing Islam. “Allah” here just registers as some exotic-sounding pagan deity.
*. Of course the actors aren’t Arabs. Apparently they were told to roll their “r”s a lot when they spoke and tried hard to look tan. John Phillip Law is forgettable as Sinbad. Caroline Munro’s Margiana, as noted, has boobs coated in an oily erotic sheen. I was surprised to learn that Koura was played by Tom Baker, just a year before starting his stint as television’s Doctor Who (his performance in this film sold the producers on him). I didn’t even recognize him. For some reason Robert Shaw wanted to play Sinbad but was cast as the Oracle instead, an uncredited role with his face and voice distorted to the point where they didn’t even need to hire a professional. I’ve read that they wanted Orson Welles for the part. The next year Shaw would go on to play a sea captain in a different movie.
*. I still get mad at Koura taking his scimitar to the griffin’s hamstring. Damn, that’s dirty pool. He deserved a more spectacular demise.
*. The contemporary analog is Pirates of the Caribbean, and while those movies are fun in their own way, I wonder if they’ll last as long. On the other hand, does anyone who didn’t grow up on Harryhausen’s monsters love them as much as those of us who did?

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