Saturday, July 8, 2017

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger' is the final installment of Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Shneer's Sinbad trilogy.  If they had made a fourth movie I bet the title would have been 'Sinbad and the Thrill of the Fight.'  'Eye of the Tiger' didn't do as well as the previous two installments, possibly because it features less impressive monster fights, but also because it had unexpected competition from a certain little indie space adventure called 'Star Wars' that was released the same year.

'Eye of the Tiger' is a fun movie with a story that holds together pretty well, but I doubt any fan of the series would call it their favorite installment.  It's great as an adventure movie...but as a Sinbad movie?  Not quite so much.  Only the first third feels like an Arabian Nights inspired story.  The other movies had monsters like the Cyclops, the two headed Roc, and a six armed Indian idol.  This time around Sinbad faces Bug People, a giant Walrus, and a Sabre Tooth Tiger.  The previous Sinbad movies had exotic locals evocative of the far east.  This time around they're searching for the mythic land of Hyperborea in the Arctic.  And while there is an evil Sorceress, there's a much bigger emphasis on science and alchemy then there is on magic.

The movie starts with a coronation.  Prince Kassim, brother of this incarnation of Sinbad's love interest Princess Farrah, is being crowned Caliph.  But the ceremony is interrupted when their evil stepmother Zenobia places a curse on the prince.  Turns out she's a Sorceress in her spare time - which should be obvious because she wears all black just like all evil Sorcerers do - and she wants her son Rafi to rein instead of the rightful heir.

We switch to Sinbad, who is coming in to port to see his Gal Pal, but is surprised to find that the city gates are locked and the kingdom is under curfew.  A 'friendly merchant' (actually Rafi in disguise) tells Sinbad that the city is under quarantine and offers to let him stay in his camp until the gates open.  He serves Sinbad and his men poisoned wine, but Sinbad realizes that it's a trap.  Zenobia shows up and summons three Bug People to finish Sinbad off.  Okay, apparently they are supposed to be Ghouls, which ARE from Arabian mythology, but the movie never comes out and says that, and I think they look like Bug People. 

So Sinbad escapes from the Bug People, and meets up with Princess Farrah who sneaked out of the city to see him.  She warns him of Zenobia's treachery.  Her spell transformed Prince Kassim into a Baboon, and if they don't reverse the transformation within a certain amount of time he: A). Can't be crowned Caliph, and: B). Will be stuck in a Baboon body forever.  So our heroes seek out the fabled Greek alchemist Melanthius to see if his powers can reverse the transformation.  One think I feel this movie actually does better than the other two Sinbad movies is the romantic relationship between Sinbad and Farrah.  For one thing Farrah is a more rounded character.  There's more to her than 'Being in love with Sinbad'.  Between her concerns for her brother and her relationship Zenobia she has a lot of emotional stake in this movie.

Zenobia catches wind of Sinbad's Voyage and she and her son build a clockwork Minotaur than they dub 'the Minoton' to help stop our heroes.  As far as Monsters go, the Minoton really should have a talk with his agent.  He has a brief encounter with the palace guards, but for the rest of the movie he's a glorified galley slave who spends most of his time rowing Zenobia's boat.  He's a walking wasted opportunity for a good monster fight.

So after sailing through a thick fog, our heroes land on the island where they hope to find Melanthius.  I recently heard that this film actually had the highest budget of all of the Sinbad movies, which surprises me, because in these scenes it's painfully obvious that our heroes are superimposed over the background.  The other movies look like they're filmed on location, but this one uses very blatant greenscreen effects that haven't aged well at all.  After a brief attack from the island locals, our band of heroes are met by Dione, who is the daughter of Melanthius.  Here's a bit of trivia I found interesting: Dione, played by a Taryn Power, is apparently the real life daughter of actor Tyrone Power who stared in a bunch of Swashbuckler and Pirate movies in the 1940s.

Melanthius is stumped as to how to reverse Prince Kassim's transformation, but agrees to try and help.  Dione takes sympathy on and Kassim, and the two form a bond.  Meanwhile Zenobia and Rafi are delayed as their ship is damaged when they try to trace Sinbad's footsteps through the fog.  Melanthius reveals some sort of Alchemy Mumbo Jumbo about how an ancient civilization in Hyperborea harnessed the power four elements and the Aurora Borealis, and that by going to an ancient Shrine of the Arimaspi they can cure Kassim.

So they set sail for Hyperborea.  Zenobia uses her powers to transform herself into a seagull, sneaks aboard Sinbad's ship, and changes back into a six inch version of herself so she can spy.  She's detected and captured by Kassim, and Melanthius puts her in a glass jar for questioning.  He deduces that she uses a vial of fluid that she keeps around her neck to transform.  Thinking he can use this fluid to cure Kassim, he tries it out on bee.  The bee grows to the size of a large watermelon, and starts chasing Melanthius around the cabin.  In the chaos Melanthius knocks over the jar holding Zenobia prisoner.  She transforms back into a seagull and escapes, but not before taking a peak at the map leading to Hyperborea.  Unfortunately, she doesn't have quite enough fluid to change 100% back into her human form.  Zenobia will be spending most of the rest of our story with one webbed foot.

So our heroes reach this ice tunnel that will take them right to Hyperborea, but their ship is too big to take the shortcut.  So they build a sledge and continue their journey over the ice flows.  And it's here that they meet up with that aforementioned Walrus, and we get our second real monster fight of the movie (The giant bee doesn't count in my opinion).  Sigh.  Like I said, the Minoton really needs to have a talk with his agent.

Meanwhile Zenobia and Rafi find the tunnel, and their ship is just the exact right size to go through, because life isn't fair sometimes.  So, our villain's get to take the shortcut to the shrine.  While that's going on, our heroes reach the semi-tropical interior of Hyperborea.  They run afoul of a giant caveman type creature, but it turns out that he's just as afraid of them as they are of him.  Because, we apparently REALLY DON'T GET TO HAVE MONSTER FIGHTS IN THIS MOVIE.  They communicate with the creature, whom they name 'Trog' - short for the Troglodyte - using pictograph line drawing in the sand, and he leads them to the Shrine of the Arimaspi. 

But Zenobia found the shrine first, she uses the Minoton to force the entrance open.  He's crushed by a rock in the process, and Zenobia heartlessly states that he's 'Served his purpose'.  WHAT?  NO HE HASN'T!!! MINOTON!  FIRE!  THAT!  AGENT!  NOW!!!  Anyway, forcing the entrance harmed the structural integrity of the shrine, and when the heroes enter it begins to collapse around their ears with giant ice-cycles falling from the ceiling.  They notice a Sabre-Tooth Tiger encased in ice at the foot of the shrine, and Melanthius comments that it must be a guardian of the temple. 

Some people speculate that the entire climax of 'Eye of the Tiger' is a tribute to the 1935 film adaption of H. Rider Haggard's 'She'.  'She' also features a lost city at the north pole and a Sabre-Toothed Tiger trapped in the ice.  Ray Harryhausen was an avid fan of 'She', and he one of his final projects was the restoration and digital coloration of the classic adventure film. 

Our heroes are attacked by Rafi, but he's bitten by Kassim and breaks his neck falling done the stairs.  Sinbad and Melanthius rush to restore Kassim to his true form while Zenobia morns the death of her son.  She uses one last spell to enact her revenge.  Transferring her consciousness into the body of the Sabre-Tooth Tiger, she breaks free of the ice just as Kassim is restored to his human self.  Fortunately Trog returns to fight the beast.  We FINALLY.  GET.  A.  REAL.  MONSTER.  FIGHT.  Trog is no match for Zenobia, but he sacrifices himself so the others can escape, and Sinbad is able to impale the Tiger using the Minoton's dropped spear.  The film ends with the actual coronation of Prince Kassim, who exchanges meaningful glances with Dione.

And that is 'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger'.  Is it as good as the other two installments?  Well, that's obviously a matter of opinion.  Personally I think it fails as an Arabian Nights style Sinbad adventure, but that doesn't make it a bad movie.  It's a solid globetrotting adventure story set inside the Arctic circle, which isn't something you see everyday.  If you're a fan of Pulp adventure stories and swashbucklers, give this a watch.  But if you just came for the monster fights, you may be disappointed.