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Reviews

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

Nathan Juran

USA, 1958

Credits

Review by Thomas Scalzo

Posted on 18 May 2006

Source Sony Pictures DVD

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Featuring Cyclops, dragons, giant two-headed birds, enormous crossbows, miniature princesses, evil magicians, underground palaces, pre-pubescent genies, snake women, sword-wielding skeletons, and a man being roasted alive on a spit, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, first in the timeless Sinbad trilogy, melds all the magical-monster-adventure-movie moments you could ever want into one ceaselessly entertaining fantasy yarn. Employing the legendary special effects talents of Ray Harryhausen, and the musical genius of longtime Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann, the film succeeds both visually and aurally in creating a rich, colorful world of the imagination.

The tale begins with Sinbad, the mighty sea captain, on his way to Bagdad [sic], where he is to marry the lovely princess Parisa; a move that will at once unite him with his true love and bring peace between two rival caliphates. Before the promised nuptials can take place, however, Sinbad and crew find themselves lost in an unnatural fog. Relying on his legendary intuition, Sinbad guides his vessel to the mythical island of Colossa: home to innumerable oversized beasts and the bellicose race known as the Cyclops. Before long, Sinbad and his men have run afoul of a singular member of this one-eyed tribe, and enmeshed themselves in the devious machinations of Sokurah the magician. It seems Sokurah has made it his life’s goal to obtain the magical lamp of the Cyclops—a golden treasure housing a diminutive genie of questionable powers—and he needs Sinbad’s help to obtain it.

From the death-defying adventures on Colossa to the opulent splendors of Bagdad and back again, the story unfolds at a snappy pace, introducing us to one wonderful set piece after another rife with the creations of Harryhausen. Whether depicting the miniaturizing of the princess, the unsettling origins of the snake woman, the revenge of the two-headed Rocs, the skeleton sword fight, or the epic Cyclops vs. dragon battle, Harryhausen’s effects are simply a delight to behold. And if we allow ourselves to step away from the action, and linger on the untold hours it must have taken to create such stop-motion magic, we cannot but feel profound respect for the vision and patience of such a pre-CGI craftsman.

But of course, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is not all monsters and magic; the flesh and blood saga of our human characters serving as the thread holding this movie together, and the raison d’être for Harryhausen’s fantastic creations. After narrowly escaping from the Cyclops’s clutches, Sinbad and company return to Bagdad in hopes of a well-earned rest. Sadly, Sokurah’s lust for the lamp drives him to shrink the princess into an inch-high sprite and inform Sinbad that the only remedy is back on the island of the Cyclops. And so a new crew is assembled and the return journey initiated.

Viewed with an eye toward the critical, each of these plot-advancing sequences, many laden with ludicrously overblown language, are nothing more than wooden actors getting through their lines, entirely bereft of moving performances. Sinbad in particular delivers his flowery speeches in a tone so flat and distracted I can only imagine he was reading from cue cards held slightly offscreen. However, the point of the film is not to elicit emotions, but to entertain. We laugh at the trite, one-dimensional characters because we know it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be eaten by a giant bird, or squashed by a Cyclops. We revel in the ridiculous lines and the hammy theatrics because they draw us ever further into a magical alternate reality: a place where the absurd, the unbelievable, and the fantastic thrive.

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