Aug 222012
 

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HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word.  So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.

Rewind reviews the second of the three Ray Harryhausen Sinbad adventures!

 

HCF REWIND NO.72. THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD [1973]

AVAILABLE ON DVD

RUNNING TIME: 95 mins

 


While sailing, Sinbad obtains an amulet carried by a small winged creature and has a strange dream in which he sees a man dressed in black, repeatedly calling Sinbad’s name, and also a mysterious girl with an eye tattooed on her right palm.  A storm throws his ship off course, and the next day Sinbad and his men find themselves in the country of Marabia.  After an encounter with the evil Koura, who wants the amulet back, Sinbad meets the Grand Vizier, who says that Sinbad’s amulet is actually one piece of a puzzle; the Vizier has another.  The three pieces, when joined together, will reveal a map showing the way to the Fountain of Destiny, hidden somewhere on the lost continent of Lemuria. Supposedly he who bears the three pieces of the puzzle to the fountain will receive youth, a shield of darkness, and a crown of untold riches.  Sinbad sets sail, taking with him the Vizier and a slave girl called Margiana, the girl he saw in his dream…..

The second of the three Sinbad adventures which were collaborations between Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer is almost as good as the first.  In fact, in some respects, you could say it’s better.  It has a more authentic Middle Eastern atmosphere, better dialogue and mostly better acting, while it ties with the great Jason And The Argonauts as representing the artistic and technical peak of Harryhausen’s Dynamation effects.  It isn’t quite as much fun as 7th Voyage though, takes rather too long to get going and lacks some of its childlike sense of wonder.  It’s all down to taste though; Golden Voyage is certainly more mature, even adult, in tone, and I’ll happily watch both every couple of years.  Unlike many sequels, they succeeded in making a picture which had a very different feel to the original yet still retained many of its characteristics and obviously came from the same creators.

Harryhausen first thought of doing a second  Sinbad film in 1964, just after Jason, when he made some sketches of some random ideas he had;  a giant guarding the lost city of Petra, the six-headed  Indian goddess Kali, a Centaur [half-man, half-horse], an oracle, and a magician creating a Homunculus [tiny winged creature created by man].  After several treatments it was Brian Clemens, best known for The Avengers, who wrote the final screenplay, though for a while Harryhausen also considered a project entitled King Of The Geniis, which would feature Sinbad and dinosaurs!  How exciting does that sound?  Sadly the commercial failure of The Valley Of Gwangi put paid to that idea.  At least two major sequences were dropped; a valley of giant snakes and a rather scary- sounding pre-credits scene showing how the Vizier, who later shows up wearing  a mask, was disfigured, shot from the low point of view of the Homunculus, who creeps up on him while he’s asleep and pours burning liquid onto his face.  Other ideas, like a man being turned into a baboon, a Troglodyte and a giant stone face, later made their way into the third Sinbad film.  Though plans to film in India failed to work out and production had to relocate to Spain which was where 7th Voyage was filmed, the film came in under budget.  Released at a time where family flicks were thin on the ground, Golden Voyage was a huge hit and 7th Voyage was profitably re-released.

7th Voyage begins with a big action scene involving Sokurah the magician, the Cyclops and the Genie.  Golden Voyage, by contrast, opens in a more low-key fashion with the brief encounter with the Humunculus and Sinbad’s dream, which is surprisingly dark in tone.  In fact, the whole film is a bit darker, with much of the action taking place either at night or underground, and the tone is more serious and even uncanny too, actually a lot closer to the horror movie in places. The colours are also more muted and naturalistic, offering little of the brightness of 7th Voyage.   Unfortunately, except for a few exciting moments, the first half of Golden Voyage is a bit too slow for the type of films it is, with the exposition becoming a little heavy, and one can imagine young kids shifting in their seats waiting impatiently for the good bits!  Still, the writing is often quite sharp, with the many references to Allah really helping to give the impression one is in a Moslem world, and the script incorporates Islamic sayings such as “trust in Allah….but tie up your camel”. It certainly feels more convincing than 7th Voyage.

Originally there was to be no major set piece on Sinbad’s ship but fortunately they decided to add one at the last moment and it’s good that they did, otherwise it would have been over an hour before any creatures bigger than the Homunculus arrived!  The ship’s figurehead breaking free and attacking the crew is a tremendously exciting and vivid set piece, enhanced greatly by Miklos Rozsa’s thrilling music, and the scene after of Koura resurrecting his dead Homunculus is fascinating and even a little eerie.   The tiny monster’s struggle into subservient life actually creates a bit of sympathy for it, with it even letting out an agonised yell as he is brought to life, as if he is in pain and just wants to be left dead.  I can’t help thinking of Frankenstein’s Monster whenever I watch this scene.  Of course the film’s highlight is the incredible battle with the six-armed Kali, a truly remarkable sequence which is almost on a par with Jason’s skeleton battle.  The animation is incredible, co-ordination is near-perfect in a scene which took several months to do, and of course Rozsa’s scoring, a kind of phantasmagoric Indian dance, is the icing on the cake.  Classic cinema action that is always a delight to watch!

With such wonders as a duel between a Gryphon [yes, they play fast and loose with mythology here] and a thing which is half-Cyclops and half-Centaur, and a sword fight where the baddie is invisible, Golden Voyage certainly ends up delivering the action you’ve been patiently waiting for.  The plot, constructed almost like a series of puzzles, is reasonably strong and makes use of such interesting ideas like Lemuria, which was a legendary continent that may have existed millions of years ago, though Sinbad does seem to find this supposedly hard-to-find place far too easily. The characterisation of Sinbad feels right, with him depicted properly as a sailor who prefers the freedom of the sea rather than the semi-nobleman who is attempting to marry into royalty as in the other two films, and Koura’s habit of aging every time he uses black magic, as if he made a Faustian pact, makes Koura an interesting villain.  Hakim, the lazy young man who Sinbad is talked into taking with him on his voyage, provides some chuckles.

John Phillip Law is for me the most charismatic Sinbad and even, like most of the cast, attempts a reasonably-sounding Middle Eastern accent while Tom Baker is a splendidly malevolent villain.  Caroline Munro is the most glamorous of Sinbad’s women though interestingly the DVD has altered a shot which made its way into cinema, TV and video versions where you see one of her breasts popping out, and her character probably wouldn’t be as scantily-clad in a Moslem environment as she is all the time in this movie, though I doubt few male viewers would complain!  Rozsa’s score is every bit as good as Herrmann’s for 7th Voyage; his orchestration is less inventive but the music is more melodic and maybe more appropriate for the settings.  Sadly the score was mucked around with in places, sometimes replacing music with music taken from earlier cues.  Rich in atmosphere [check out the evocative lighting in many of the caves in the final third] and put together with thought and care unlike some sequels, Golden Voyage may not, in the end, match 7th Voyage, but it’s another classic fantasy adventure from Schneer and Harryhausen, and it’s rather sad that, though these films have delighted children for decades since 1973, it seems to be happening less and less these days, with modern kids neither having the interest in, or more importantly, being given a chance, to enjoy them.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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