“A VERY STRANGE TRIP, THIS ONE…” THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD

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Pros: Harryhausen’s creations; Tom Baker!; Munro running around in skimpy clothing; handsome production

Cons: Pacing issues; Law as a bland hero; doesn’t quite have the energy of the best films Harryhausen was involved with

Second of three films based on the Persian legend of Sinbad the Sailor which featured stop-motion special effects by the great Ray Harryhausen (preceded by 1958’s The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad; followed by 1977’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger), 1973’s The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the legendary sailor and his crew across the globe in search of the “Fountain of Destiny” that not only offers its discoverer eternal youth, but also a “shield of darkness and a crown of untold riches.” Sinbad isn’t the only adventurer in search of this treasure however: he’s being pursued by an evil wizard named Prince Koura, a “great black bat of a man” who’s not above using trickery to not only find out what Sinbad knows, but also to slow down his progress. After decoding a riddle about where the fountain is located, Sinbad sets off for the lost continent of Lemuria with his loyal crew and a few new companions, including the spoiled son of an Arabian merchant and a now-freed slave girl named Margiana. As might be expected, both these minor characters wind up causing problems down the line, but the real issues begin when Koura conjures up various bizarre creatures that Sinbad and his crew have to deal with. Will Koura get the power and renewed vigor he so desperately craves, or will Sinbad be able to use his ingenuity derail his plans?


Promotional photo showing Law as Sinbad in battle with Tom Baker’s Koura while Caroline Munro looks on.

Most viewers over the age of about six would be able to figure out where this film is going within about fifteen minutes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the film isn’t enjoyable to watch. Made in Britain for a very meager budget of just under $1 million (for comparison, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which showed up a few years later, had a budget 18 times that amount), The Golden Voyage is an incredibly elaborate, colorful production that’s really a feast for the eyes. The film boasts a number of wild sets and actual locations, including a bustling Arabian bazaar and a medieval castle, exotic islands filled with ancient ruins, and even an apparently full-size ship. Costumes seen in the picture are quite vibrant and indicate a character’s affiliations just by how they look: Sinbad and his crew are dressed in bright, flashy colors, while the villainous figures are clothed in flowing black robes – Koura really does resemble a bat with how he looks in the film. Cinematography by Ted Moore is pretty exquisite throughout, and I especially like some of the long shots in which split screen backgrounds combine with actors in the foreground to create the illusion of standing in front of massive stone temples, huge statues, and even the Fountain of Destiny itself.

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Strange – for a “crown of untold riches,” that thing looks suspiciously like something I made in 7th grade shop class…

Tom Baker (who later gained fame as the fourth Doctor Who) is deliciously diabolical playing Prince Koura, capable of chilling a viewer to the bone just by giving us a hypnotic stare and maniacal grin. Baker’s obviously having a good time in the film; his performance has just the right mixture of campiness and ferocity. John Phillip Law, on the other hand, seemed to me a bit bland as Sinbad. Sure, the guy looks like a rugged sailor, but Law was never quite interesting enough to push the film along – it’s a good thing the art department and Ray Harryhausen were around to pick up the slack when the drama involving the hero started to drag. The supporting cast is led by Caroline Munro, looking perhaps more gorgeous than ever as she’s paraded around in a variety of revealing outfits, who appears as the slave girl Margiana. The scene in which Margiana (wearing a cleavage- and midriff-baring purple ensemble) and Sinbad discuss her status on the ship was rather eye-opening – when Munro tells Sinbad “You own me” in about as seductive a voice as would be imaginable, I nearly started drooling on the floor. Douglas Wilmer (wearing a gold mask throughout most of the film in order to hide his character’s horribly disfigured face) plays a royal adviser who initially clues Sinbad in on the legend of the Fountain, and Robert Shaw has a non-credited role as the “Oracle of All Knowledge.” Shudder in horror as the camera peers into his slathering, grody mouth!

backstabbers
(What they do) / They smile in your face / All the time they want to take your place /The back stabbers (back stabbers)

For the most part, I thought the cast did an OK job, but the real stars of the show are Harryhausen’s stop-motion creatures. Though somewhat hindered by The Golden Voyage’s modest budget, these remarkable effects scenes include a figurehead that pulls itself from the bow of a ship and battles a group of sailors, a showdown between a one-eyed centaur (half man, half horse) and a griffin (half eagle, half lion), and best of all, a sword fight sequence between Sinbad and a deity with six arms (and six swords!). The process involved with having to create these sequences had to be immense: stop-motion is incredibly time-consuming and expensive to pull off, and this Sinbad film again solidifies Harryhausen’s position as a master of his craft. It’s really annoying to me that whenever films like this are introduced or discussed, there has to be some sort of concession about how these special effects “aren’t up to today’s standards.” Gimme a break – despite the fact that today’s youth don’t get off on any effects work unless it’s of the overbearing digital variety, by my count (and honestly, by any standard of quality), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad has magnificent special effects. Sure, there are some artifacts that surround the clay figures being manipulated and they don’t always interact perfectly with the live action, but there’s personality to the work in films like this. I’d take this sort of practical FX work any day over today’s phony CGI overload.

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This six-armed statue not only can “walk like a Egyptian,” but is pretty good with a blade as well.

Decent as it may be, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad falls short of being as outstanding as it could or perhaps should have been. Director Gordon Hessler never quite is able to effectively ratchet up the intensity, thus the script by Brian Clemens (which has some issues of its own) sort of stagnates on occasion. The pacing of the film frequently seems off – I was a bit surprised that Sinbad’s journey by ship is completed relatively early on in the film, yet not much seems to happen for quite a while after that point. Clemens throws a few nifty sequences in (including one where Sinbad has to find a way to escape from a collapsed temple), but these moments pale in comparison to earlier (and later) action-oriented scenes. In my opinion, this whole middle section really needed to be tightened: at 105 minutes, this film could easily have been twenty minutes or so shorter. Composer Miklós Rózsa, an Oscar-winner for his soundtracks for such films as Ben-Hur, turns in a majestic but also kind of tiresome workmanlike music score that didn’t do much to help the languid pacing. I almost think this film would have been better served had a “new school” composer been recruited to do the score: Rózsa’s music is fine, but it never has any real “pop” to it.

Great visuals highlight a film that certainly gets the most out of its meager budget.

Perhaps the thing I most noticed about this film is that a picture like this would/could never be made in today’s film industry. The frequent declarations of “Allah be praised” would alone be enough to raise red flags nowadays from some people. More alarming is the fact that, despite this movie being based in Arabia and featuring (I would assume) Islamic characters, there doesn’t appear to be even one genuine Arab in the film: all the actors here are Caucasian. By today’s standards, this is not only a distasteful but also potentially offensive – one can only imagine if a contemporary film tried to pull something like this off. In the end, we’re left to view The Golden Voyage of Sinbad today as the gloriously old-school adventure film that it is. It’s not a flawless picture, but it has plenty of aspects that make it worthwhile, not the least of which are the fabulous special effects. I wish that a making-of documentary had been included on this DVD since I’d love to know how they pulled this film off with so little money – this has to be one of the handsome and impressive-looking low-budget films ever produced. I’d definitely recommend it to those who aren’t instantly put-off by “primitive” special effects.

Blu-ray (limited issue from Twilight Time) and DVD (from Sony Pictures) release contain the feature in widescreen format. Also included are three decent (but misplaced) featurettes dealing with other films that Harryhausen did special effects for (namely, Earth vs. The Flying SaucersMysterious Island, and Three Worlds of Gulliver). Somewhat strange that there are no special features actually related to the Sinbad film, but I guess take what you can get.

2/10 : Mildly violent scenes: a few swordfights and monster battles with just a bit of blood

0/10 : Nothing objectionable

2/10 : A few suggestive remarks; a few women (including the stunning Caroline Munro) prancing around in skimpy clothing

4/10 : Worthwhile to see Harryhausen’s amazing stop-motion creatures, but the film overall isn’t as fun as it should have been.

“There’s an old proverb I choose to believe: Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel.”

Tie up your camel, indeed!

Trailer:

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