Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Movie Theater: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Old school special effect extravaganza

I know it's the first day of Chinese New Year today, but it's been a while since the last appearance of this segment, and watching movies is one way to have fun during the festive season too, ^^ so I don't see any harm of this posting today. ^^

The second entry in the "Sunday Movie Theater" series takes a different turn after the pilot posting last month on "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2004). ^^

Movie Poster from IMDB.

Trailer of the movie.
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

"The Golden Voyage of Sinbad", a 1973 movie directed by Gordon Hessler. Technical movie details can be seen on IMDB.

The story tells of Sinbad the sailor (played by John Phillip Law) and his quest to help the Grand Vizier of Marabia (played by Douglas Wilmer) to reach the Fountain of Destiny, located on a place that is partially revealed through a gold tablet broken into three pieces. Throughout the voyage, Sinbad and his crew members encounter numerous obstacles, including strange creatures summoned by the evil magician Koura (played by Tom Baker) who wishes to reach the magical fountain himself. Upon arriving at the island where the fountain is located, Sinbad and his crew members have to face even more obstacles and mystical beasts, and Koura himself before they can reach the Fountain of Destiny.

Very much like "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963) that was mentioned in the first posting in the review of Sci-fi Revoltech Skeleton Army, "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" is a movie that fitted nostalgically awesome into my childhood. ^^

When I was a kid growing up, I love reading storybooks featuring creatures, monsters, magic, mysteries and fantasy. Apart from classic Chinese literature work like "Journey to the West" (西游记), "The Investiture of the Gods" (封神榜) and "Flowers in the Mirror" (镜花缘), through storybooks translated into Chinese, I was able to read many classical stories from the West as well, and I was fascinated since then by stories from Greek, Norse and Persian mythologies. Sinbad as a prominent legendary figure in Persian stories is of course not a stranger to me. ^^

This is actually not the first Sinbad movie that I watched. "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" which came out in 1958 was also one of my favorite movie as a kid, but of course back then, I have no idea about their release years and technical production details. They were truly fascinating and inspiring to me back then, they are still very enjoyable watch from time to time now. ^^

Together with "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963) as mentioned at the beginning, the creature effects as seen in this movie were the work of the great Ray Harryhausen. If you're impressed by the skeleton warriors, Talos, Hydra and Harpies in the aforementioned Greek mythology movie, you're going to enjoy even more creature effects in this movie. ^^ From the trailer posted above, you can see the living, flying homunculus, the figurehead on Sinbad's ship that was brought to life through black magic, the six-armed goddess Kali, the one-eyed centaur and the griffin are all part of Sinbad's adventure. In terms of creature animation, this movie is even more exciting than "Jason and the Argonauts" in my opinion, obviously because there was a ten-year difference between the two. The effects look even more realistic, and the arrangement of scenes is a lot more richer as well. There are human versus creature scenes including Sinbad and his crews' fight against Kali and creature versus creature fight scenes involving the one-eyed centaur and the griffin, which is equally amazing in my opinion. ^^ On top of the the effects themselves, interaction between the actors and creatures seem a lot more seamless as well. That was already well taken care of in "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963) with that iconic skeleton warrior fight, but the effect is even more realistic with this movie. ^^

Even when creature effects were not involved, special effect scenes using camera or lighting tricks like Sinbad's final duel with Koura and the Fountain of Destiny's change of water color were pretty good. ^^

Sinbad's character was very one-sided in this movie. He's the very definition of a hero from the beginning till the very end. XD He is an extremely intelligent and skillful sailor and is respected by all his crew members. He is also extremely brave and a master of scimitar combat as a fighter. While the setting of an untainted hero through and through is not a bad thing to have in a movie, it's not too interesting at the same time because I know that in whatever dire situation, Sinbad will be able to count on his own intelligent and courage to solve all the problems. With the mysterious girl Margiana (played by Caroline Munro) on board his ship for the same journey, I thought she would become Sinbad's love interest and help develop his character more, but she didn't at all. As a result of that, Margiana was a very one-sided character in this movie too. ^^;

Come to think of it, almost all the characters on the same side as Sinbad are pretty one-sided. Except for the "literal" change experienced by the vizier, which isn't the change I'm taking about here at all, the only character with any sort of character development is actually Haroun (played by Kurt Christian), the son of a rich man who paid Sinbad to take him along on his voyage. He started out as a lazy bum but managed to pull through and become a useful member of Sinbad crew in the end.

Despite having very minimal personal development for the characters as mentioned above, everyone in the movie still performed their roles superbly, so being one-sided characters doesn't impact my enjoyment of the movie much.

One outstanding point that I do like about the character design is the arrangement for the villain, Koura. He's not all invincible and almighty as most other typical villains in other movies. Each time he uses black magic to do his bidding, his would grow older and weaker. This not only demonstrates that he has a point of vulnerability, it makes his determination and desperation to reach the Fountain of Destiny more believable as well. ^^ When he did reach his destination and uses its power to his evil intention, the effect of the fountain not only rejuvenating him but granting him special magical ability also validates the fountain's own existence. Since its power could only be mentioned in the characters' dialogue during the journey, there has to be a dramatic effect that can be used to support that story setting to really prove that the journey is important in the first place, and I think the arrangement with Koura was certainly very clever and well done in that aspect.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable movie with extensive old school special effects. The effects are definitely dated as compared to modern days motion capture and computer graphics, but it doesn't mean that they are poor. Whatever technologies used in movies to create those special effects are only just tools for a bigger purpose - to support the story. For that, I think they are definitely very well done. ^^

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