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The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

by on 2012/02/03

“Dynamation, the new miracle of the screen.”

* * *

As far as I’m aware, I’ve never seen this movie before, and yet it felt surprisingly familiar. It was an oddly nostalgic experience and, by the end, I was struck by the idea it all resembled my childhood imaginings. When I played with my toys — action figures, cars, and LEGO in particular — what I created was fairly close to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

To others, I would understand if they simply thought of King Kong, the 1933 film which inspired Sinbad’s mastermind, Ray Harryhausen (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms). Hardly surprising, given the strong influence Kong was said to have had on him as a boy. The latter piece resembles the former beyond just its effects.

It opens with Captain Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews), whose ship sets port at the Island of Colossa. There, a party goes ashore and runs into Sokurah (Torin Thatcher), a magician who is pursued by a giant cyclops. They manage to escape but, when Sinbad’s bride Parisa (Kathryn Grant) falls victim to a mysterious curse, they must return to concoct an exotic cure.

Wow, this is one “theatrical” production. Far-flung and colourful, with a mix of sources, and over-the-top performances, it has little competition in the race for big-screen Exotica. The writing is slightly discomfiting, with its depiction of the Middle East. The scene-chewing antics of Thatcher were like Robert Shaw doing Bela Lugosi. And the score by Bernard Herrmann is great enough to seem overkill.

Then there are the special visual effects. Pioneering, yes. Labour-intensive, no doubt. Impressive? Well, it’s probably a matter of perspective. I definitely respect the painstaking effort, but its theory being doesn’t ensure a smooth execution. The indoor and outdoor shots don’t match each other. The integration of actors real and unreal dictates a deliberate, turn-taking pace.

At the risk of sounding a luddite, I thought it could have worked better in black and white. Colour being added later might cover the flaws. Here, unfortunately, we get distinctive looks which don’t integrate well at all: colour, grain, and lighting keep oscillating back and forth in an optical tug-of-war.

In fact, the so-called Dynamation exhibited some of the same drawbacks viewers complain about with CGI. It looked cleaner than the rest of its surroundings, eye-popping in its clarity and polish. The fantastic elements don’t feel part of their world.

If you can get past this distraction, however, and let loose your inner child, you’ll find a charming mythological, swashbuckling fairy tale, nearly psychedelic in appearance. Just remind your outer adult the obvious craft on display is not so much antiquated as endearingly quaint.

* * *

Rated G

88 minutes

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  1. R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen (1920 – 2013) | Geek vs Goth

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