Monday, May 29, 2017

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad' is the second installment in a loose trilogy of Sinbad movies produced by Charles H. Schneer with stop motion visual effects by Ray Harryhausen.  I say a loose trilogy because the only thing these movies have in common is the title character, and the fact that they all feature stop motion effects by Ray Harryhausen.  Each movie has a different actor playing Sinbad, each movie has a different love interest, and in each movie Sinbad gets the girl in the end.  So the way I see it there are five options to explain the inconsistency. 

Option #1.  All of these movies are about the same Sinbad, who has a harem.  Recasting the character is acceptable because they made the first movie 15 years prior to this one in 1958. 

Option #2.  Similar to Option #1, but Sinbad goes through a messy divorce in between each film.  This theory explains why Sinbad is constantly searching for lost treasure, because otherwise he has trouble paying that alimony check every month. 

Option #3.  Each movie is set in a parallel universe.

Option #4.  Each movie is a soft reboot of the franchise.  Somebody needs to go back in time and stop this franchise from happening, because apparently Charles H. Schneer and Ray Harryhausen invented the reboot. 

Option #5.  Each movie is set in the same universe, but that universe has three different sailors named Sinbad who go on separate adventures and fight monsters while searching for treasure independently of each other whilst opposed by three different evil sorcerers and winning the hearts of three different fair maidens.  In between movies they go searching for treasure that one of the other Sinbads has already found.  Arriving too late, they shake their collective fists in the general direction of the other Sinbads, who are equally skilled treasure hunters and monster fighters.  I'm sure there's some Sinbad fan-fiction out there where the Kerwin Mathews Sinbad, the John Phillip Law Sinbad, and the Patrick Wayne Sinbad all have to team up and fight Monsters and Sorcerers together (And if not there should be).

The movie starts at sea.  One of Sinbad's men sees a flying creature and he shoots at it with his bow for sport.  While he missed, the creature drops a golden tablet it was carrying.  Sinbad (Played by John Phillip Law) picks up the tablet and sees a surreal vision of treasure, a mysterious figure dressed in black, and a dancing girl with an eye tattooed to her hand.  The first mate is convinced that the tablet is cursed and urges Sinbad to toss it overboard.  Sinbad decides he likes seeing surreal images of dancing girls, so he ignores the council of his first mate.  From the get-go, the first mate is probably my favorite character.  He's the voice of wisdom who everyone ignores.  And he's very deadpan snarky and 'I told you so' about it the whole time.

Sinbad spies a distant figure watching them from the shore.  He decides to swim for it and confront the sinister cloaked figure.  Turns out it's the same cloaked figure from his vision.  He's a sorcerer named Prince Koura, but since he's played by Tom Baker and I grew up with the BBC version of 'The Silver Chair' I choose to call him 'Evil Puddleglum'.  Evil Puddleglum has and impressive skill set with the abilities to control little flying gargoyle creatures and cause statues to come to life, but unfortunately tapping into the dark arts is slowly draining his life forces.  Evil Puddleglum claims that the gold tablet is rightfully his and tries to take it from Sinbad, but Sinbad steals a horse from Evil Puddleglum's henchmen (guess that makes 'our hero' a horse thief as well as a tablet thief), and the two race for the nearby walled city.

The city guards try to capture Evil Puddleglum - even though Sinbad is the one we just saw commit a crime - but Evil Puddleglum uses magic to close the portcullis on the guards and escape.  Sinbad meets a gold mask wearing Grand Vizier who has been at odds with Evil Puddleglum.  Turns out that Evil Puddleglum cast a spell that horribly scarred the Vizier's face whilst trying to acquire the second fragment, which is in the Vizier's possession.  The Sinbad figures out that the tablet is actually a sea chart.  It's a treasure map that leads to the 'Fountain of Destiny' a magic spring that can restore Evil Puddleglum's youth, making him a presumably unstoppable evil.  Unfortunately Evil Puddleglum has sent one of his little gargoyles to spy on Sinbad, and he learns where they're going next, setting up a traditional 'Race to the Treasure' type movie.

Sinbad and company are about to set sail when a rich merchant offers Sinbad a deal.  He wants Sinbad to take his useless lay-about son to make a real man out of him as a sailor.  Sinbad refuses, even as the merchant offers him more and more gold to take the boy off his hands.  Finally the merchant offers Sinbad one of his slave girls, Margiana, in addition to the gold.  It just so happens that she's the dancing girl with the eye tattoo from Sinbad's vision.  Intrigued, Sinbad agrees to the deal. 
Personally I find the Merchant's son to be really annoying for most of the movie, as he's mostly just used as a punchline to jokes that may or may not be funny, but he does become a legit member of the crew by the end of the story, and plays a crucial role in at least one of the monster fights.

Our heroes set out to sea, but soon discover that Evil Puddleglum is following close behind.  They loose him in a patch of fog, but Evil Puddleglum uses magic to animate the ship's figurehead - giving us our first real monster fight - and uses it to steal the chart showing Sinbad's course.  Fortunately Sinbad has a photographic memory and they proceed as if nothing had happened.  They arrive at the island of the 'Oracle of all knowledge' who can give them the clue to the third and final fragment of the tablet.  By the way, the Oracle looks a bit like a cross between the floating green head from 'The Wizard of Oz' and the German folktale creature 'Krampus'.

The Oracle speaks only in riddles and Evil Puddleglum arrives just in time to overhear the clue.  He also blows up the entrance to the temple, temporarily burying our heroes alive.  I'm not sure I understand Evil Puddleglum's evil plan at this point, as he needs all three fragments of the tablet to find the Fountain of Destiny and he's just buried two of them under all that rubble.  But our heroes mange to escape through a hole in the ceiling as Sinbad taps into his inner MacGyver, using a lamp stand, turban cloth, and a bow to make a makeshift grappling hook.

But Evil Puddleglum arrives at the location of the third tablet first.  He's capture by green skinned (...???) natives who try to sacrifice him to a statue of Kali.  But he uses his powers to make the statue come to life, and now the natives worship him.  When Sinbad and company arrive he uses Kali to fight them off while he searches for the final tablet.  This scene is not only one of the most impressive stop motion sequences of Ray Harryhausen's career, it's probably one of the best sword-fights in movie history.  First Sinbad fights the six armed statue on his own, but as the creature proves too strong for him his crew-mates join in.  So we have multiple fighters barely holding their own against this six armed opponent.  The movie is definitely worth watching for this scene alone.

Eventually our heroes overcome the stone monstrosity, and discover that the third part of the tablet was hidden inside.  But Evil Puddleglum returns with his army of natives and says that our heroes must die as they destroyed the image of the native's goddess.  'Now excuse me while I find that fountain...' he cackles as our heroes are on a literal chopping block...

But Margiana, who really hasn't had much to do until this point, raises her hands to stop the sacrifice.  The natives catch an eyeful of the eye tattooed on her hand and decide SHE'S the one they should be sacrificing.  So they drop her in a pit where she's taken off 'King Kong' style by a one eyed centaur.  Centaurclops?  Cycentaur?  Something like that.  One really cool effect is how they show us things from the Centaurclops' point of view, and the camera switches to this fish-eye effect.  It's a fun detail I don't think everyone would have thought of.

So our heroes escape from the natives, using the Vizier's hideously scarred face as a distraction, and follow Margiana into the pit rather than stop Evil Puddleglum from finding the Fountain of Destiny.  Margiana calls Sinbad out on this when he saves her.  'You came after me?  And let Koura have the prize?'  'No. Not the Prize.'  Although Sinbad's romantic chemistry with Margiana has been rather lacking up until this point, the delivery here is actually really sweet.

So they rush to stop Evil Puddleglum, but after a fight between the Centaurclops and a Griffin that comes out of nowhere, they discover they are too late to stop evil Puddleglum.  He's gained eternal youth, and the power to make himself invisible.  This movie is filled with pretty good special effects for the time, but invisibility isn't one of them.  It's like they took an eraser and slowly removed parts of Tom Baker from the frame until a poorly superimposed floating sword is all that's left.  As far as invisibility effects from the 70's go, I think Wonder Woman's invisible plane is more convincing.  This is particularly depressing as it's following that awesome fight with the six armed statue.

Anyway, Sinbad defeats Evil Puddleglum, and they use the magic of the fountain to heal the Grand Vizier's face.  They all sail off into the sunset, and the merchant's son has proven himself as a true sailor, although they use him for one last unfunny punchline before the credits role.

And that's 'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad'.  It's a fun little adventure movie and most of the special effects that hold up pretty well, and those that don't have a retro charm to them.  If you check you brain and don't mind the occasional plot hole, you should have fun with this one.


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