When the Princess he was supposed to marry is shrunk by a scheming magician, Sinbad has to set sail for a distant land where he can find the rare ingredient to make a cure work. But he must overcome a multitude of problems including a mutinous crew, a man-eating cyclops, a fire-breathing dragon, a giant two-headed bird and then come face to face with the evil magician himself, Sokura.
I can’t exactly write an impartial review here as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is my favourite film of all time. I was really into monsters and dinosaurs in my childhood so, when I watched this for the first time as a young boy, seeing these creatures come to life was amazing. It’s been etched on my mind up until this very day. After celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2008, with special effects that may look a bit creaky nowadays and with dozens of continuity problems, it still manages to enchant me in its magical grip from start to finish. I’ve watched it that many times that I can recite lines of dialogue before they happen. I can imagine myself being there on the island, fighting alongside Sinbad and his crew. It may sound a little nerdy but when you love a film so much, it’s hard not to get caught up in it all.
Historically, the film is of great significance and as such, was selected for preservation in the USA in the National Film Registry. As of 2008, there were around five hundred films in there and it joins the likes of The Godfather, Citizen Kane and Casablanca in the archives. A pioneering film in the special effects field, without it you wouldn’t have got the likes of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As an adult I can now fully recognise the importance that this film holds but the reason I love it so much as it that it takes me back to my childhood. This film makes me feel forever young!
The acting is from the golden age of Hollywood where the hero had to look dashing, the Princess look charming and the bad guys just look evil and the three main characters do just that. Kerwin Matthews makes for a very serviceable Sinbad and his interaction with the special effects is top drawer. This is back in a time when these sorts of effects-driven films were few and few between and actors had little to no experience of acting out scenes with effects that would be inserted later. Kathryn Grant does what she has to do with the role of the Princess but she’s only there to act as the plot driver and get Sinbad to go to the island. Also worth mentioning is Alfred Brown as Sinbad’s faithful second-in-command, Harufa. The guy gets all of the best unintentional ‘comedy’ lines in the film but unfortunately things don’t work out especially well for him at numerous times in the film! It’s Torin Thatcher who steals the show as Sokura, the evil magician. He hams it up in places and then acts deceitful and thuggish in others. He knows how to chew the scenery in certain scenes, giving wry smiles of disapproval or casting menacing looks to Sinbad. The rest of the cast is filled with suitably rough-looking Spanish actors who are simply there to provide the fodder for the various monsters that Sinbad encounters.
However, they all know that they’re taking second place to the special effects. Nothing is going to upstage Ray Harryhausen from working his magic. His painstakingly-detailed stop-motion animation is just breathtaking when you think there was no team of animators working on a computer – just him on his own working around the clock. It’s a labour of love and you can see clearly the passion he had for making these creatures come to life. He was inspired by King Kong to become a special effects maestro and it’s a fitting tribute to him that countless special effects gurus (and just filmmakers in general) have entered the business inspired by Harryhausen. From the moment the cyclops comes raging out from the cave, you can’t help but be amazed. My favourite Harryhausen monster, its got personality which is something CGI has a hard time conveying. It looks badass, pummels men under huge tree trunks in fits of revenge and its unique roars and cries will echo in your head for a long time after watching. The camera angles also make the monster seem more terrifying with wide-shots adding to the sheer scale of the beast and numerous close-ups of its face giving you a glimpse into its mindset. One of my particular favourites is a subtle moment when it’s roasting a sailor on a giant spit. For a brief moment it licks its lips in anticipation of its upcoming meal.
The fire-breathing dragon looks awesome but it doesn’t have a lot to do except provide the token monster versus monster fight at the end. The only criticism that I’d have with Harryhausen’s work is that they all look the same as his other monsters – the cyclops being a re-working of the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth, the fire-breathing dragon being The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and so on. I’m guessing it’s a practical reason that he just re-used old models but it’s a bit obvious, especially in his later films. The skeleton duel here set the standards that Harryhausen would blast later on in Jason and the Argonauts.
One final positive is the musical score by Bernard Herrman. It’s a pounding, pulsating piece which gives each of the monsters its own signature tune. He would work with Harryhausen on a number of effects films but it’s the soundtrack to this one which really stands out.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is my favourite film of all time and it’s easy to see why. With its eternal child-like innocence and sheer escapism, it’s hard to dislike in any shape or form. Forget Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Nothing beats this fantasy film for sheer thrills and entertainment. It would be cliché to say that they don’t make them like this anymore but it’s true.