Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage (2014)
"Discover the legend"
Sinbad is in love with the sultan's daughter, Firoozeh, despite her father's disapproval of their relationship. When an evil sorcerer known as the White Thief captures Firoozeh and holds her hostage in a black desert, Sinbad is informed that must save her within forty days and forty nights. So he and his crew set out to rescue Firoozeh and prove to the sultan that he is worthy enough of his daughter.
Oh how long I had been waiting for this throwback to the classic Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films of old! Having seen teaser trailers with glimpses of the stop-motion creatures in what seems like an entire lifetime ago, the anticipation built up and built up. I know I wasn’t the only one and a whole generation of film lovers like myself who grew up on the likes of Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad long before CGI monster movies were all the rage were in the same boat. In an era where the heart and soul of movie monsters has been lost to an endless supply of vacant CGI creations, a lot of older film fans still hark back to the good old days. How I longed for Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage to be a blast from the past, a shot across the bow to the big, soulless blockbusters and perhaps, just maybe, a sign that film makers would revisit some of the older techniques in conjunction with the computer effects they so lavishly splash around nowadays. The sense of nostalgia and magical feeling that the trailer gave me was second to none.
After the long wait, it pains me to see just how disappointing Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage turns out to be. In fact it’s not only disappointing, it’s abysmal. It is allegedly eighty-nine minutes (though actually runs at sixty-nine minutes for some reason) of incoherent narrative, terrible acting, special effects which should have been passionately developed a lot closer and a general sense of ‘well this was a complete waste of time.’ Shahin Sean Solimon, also known as, the writer, director and star of Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage clearly appeared to have a lot of love and affection for the old Sinbad films, hence why he almost single-handedly got this thing made. But having finished this, it begs the question of whether Solimon had actually seen any of the old school fantasy films. There are few clues to be had here because the film is such a mess.
For a start, although the older films were never the strongest on plot, there was at least a sense of direction and cohesion in the narrative with Sinbad (or any hero from Harryhausen’s fantasy films) chasing after a McGuffin of some kind and encountering monsters and magic along the way. Here, the story is all over the place and there were so many times when I literally had no idea what was going on or who was who. There are flashbacks galore, sometimes within other flashbacks, plot threads picked up and dropped moments later and editing which baffles the brain. What should have been a nice, simple plot turns into something overly complicated and needlessly so. The only consistent narrative is provided by the voice of Patrick Stewart, who narrates from the point of view as Sinbad as an old man. Quite how Sinbad’s voice manages to turn from squeaky Persian to broad Yorkshire when he enters his last years is beyond me. Stewart was plastered all over the promotion for this but you’ll not see his face at all.
Sinbad, as a character, has never been one for real depth but we could always root for him. He’s a dashing hero, goes off on perilous quests, saves princesses, slays monsters and battles evil magicians. He is rather one-dimensional at the best of times but even here, the character is literally rooted to the spot with a script which does him no favours. The supporting characters fair even worse, with no development for his crew of expendable sailors, an evil magician who is evil purely because he has a moustache and deep-set eyes and princess who spends most of the film in a sleep-induced state. Just who are we supposed to get behind as a character?
Despite the number of people working on the animation here, 1958’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is still light years ahead of this one and only one guy worked on that! Stop-motion effects quality seem to have regressed over the years and the creatures in here look to have been made long before the 1950s. The special effects are what they are and those who think they look awful aren’t the ones that this film was aimed at though. There are a number of different creatures on display, all of which hark back to one or more of Harryhausen’s classic creations of the past. There is a cyclops, a giant Roc, a statue, skeletons, ghouls and a giant crab but they lack any real sense of grandeur or importance. Worse yet, all of these stop-motion sequences take place in front of terribly-rendered green screens and are subjected to a filter of fog and haze to obscure the view of the creatures. This absolutely kills the stop-motion dead in its tracks – where was the classic matte work that Harryhausen used so effectively to blend live action with stop motion? It would have enhanced the special effects one hundred times over. Alas, the use of the green screen backgrounds gives everything a cheap, cartoony feel. There is no energy or excitement to the action set pieces as a result. The monsters move sluggishly, they hardly interact with the characters and they don’t last for very long when they occur. You never once feel that Sinbad is in any real danger.
One last point to make and it is an important one when looking back at what made the earlier Harryhausen films so universally and eternally popular: the music. Backed by scores from the likes of Bernard Herrmann and Miklós Rózsa, the films owed a lot of their popularity to some of the fantastic musical accompaniment to the action on screen. Herrmann’s scores for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts are two of the best fantasy soundtracks of all time, and my two favourite soundtracks to boot. They enhanced what you were watching on the screen, giving characters or monsters signature tunes to give them more importance and gravity to the story. The music in Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage is badly mismatched with the scenes they play in. The soundtrack isn’t bad but at no point did it enhance what was happening or create any more excitement.
Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage ends up more like an expensive fan-made homage to the Harryhausen Sinbad films of old than anything else. Whilst I commend the passion of those involved and recognise that this was a real labour of love, a little trip back to film school is needed to assemble the pieces into something coherent and exciting. You can’t just throw everything together in the hope that it sticks – you need real talent and sadly with Mr Harryhausen no longer with us, that fantasy magic of old seems to have died with him. Truly an awful experience from start to finish.
Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage
Director(s): Shahin Sean Solimon
Writer(s): Shahin Sean Solimon, Evelyn Gabai
Actor(s): Patrick Stewart (voice), Shahin Sean Solimon, Said Faraj, Lorna Raver, Mariam Vardani, Jon Jon Briones
Duration: 89 mins