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The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad(1958)

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Growing steadily dissatisfied with destroying major cities (New York in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, San Francisco in It Came from Beneath the Sea, Washington D.C. in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Rome in 20 Million Miles to Earth) in a string of monster-on-the-loose sci-fi films, creature creator and stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen dusted off an old outline and accompanying conceptual sketches for a screenplay centered around the mythical figure of Sinbad the Sailor. (Most English-speaking readers were introduced to the character in the mid-19th century via Sir Richard Burton's 16-volume translation of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, aka Arabian Nights.) Even though the then-recent RKO costumer Son of Sinbad (1955) with Dale Robertson and Vincent Price had tanked at the box office (despite the twin gimmicks of 3D and SuperScope), Columbia gave Harryhausen and his producing partner Charles H. Schneer the green light for what would come to be called The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). Hoping for the broadest possible appeal, Harryhausen and Schneer passed on an initial outline from 20 Million Miles to Earth scribe Bob Williams (which they felt was too intense for general audiences) before accepting one from Kenneth Kolb (a writer on the Richard Boone series Medic and Have Gun Will Travel), which they felt struck the perfect balance between visceral thrills tailored for adult audiences and the kind of storybook whimsy that would play at kiddie matinees. Working with a modest budget (the final tally came to $650,000), the filmmakers and their director, Nathan Juran (another 20 Million Miles alum) set sail for Spain to begin principal photography.

For MonsterKids growing up in the staid, buttoned-down Eisenhower era, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad remains a seminal fantasy text. Fifty years down the line, the fallout of its one-damn-thing-after-another adventure aesthetic can be seen in such contemporary entertainments as the Indiana Jones films and Pirates of the Caribbean and its sequels. In retrospect, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad might seem to newcomers to look like a poor relation. To keep the budget workable, Harryhausen and Schneer had dropped a number of scripted sequences and big effects; that and the use of Spanish actors for all but the principal players gives the film a decidedly modest aspect. (The "beautiful" interior of the Genie's lamp is communicated via red paint and a lot of dry ice.) But it's not the scope of the film that wins the day but the personality of Harryhausen's stable of make-believe creatures, from the fierce Cyclops whom Sinbad and his men battle throughout the film (and who roasts one of the sailors on a spit, albeit non-fatally) to the revived skeleton conjured up by the villainous magician Sokurah to fight our hero for possession of the lamp. Leading actors Kerwin Matthews, Kathryn Grant (aka Mrs. Bing Crosby, who had played a small role opposite Matthews in Phil Karlson's Five Against the House a few years earlier) and Torin Thatcher are all well suited to their onscreen assignments; only pint-sized Richard Eyre is a letdown as the juvenile Genie of the lamp. (The under-age Eyre was doubled by a Spanish child in all of his scenes shot abroad and his close-ups filmed in the postproduction phase.) Bernard Hermann's rousing score more than picks up the slack of any casting deficiencies, becoming almost a character in and of itself as it follows Sinbad and his crew from spectacle to spectacle.

Columbia-Tri-Star released a then nice-looking DVD of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in 2000 but this 50th anniversary special edition from Sony-Columbia betters that transfer with improved colors and a tighter framing more faithful to Ray Harryhausen's vision for the film. (Harryhausen had been unhappy with the studio-mandated widescreen, preferring to work in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio honored on this release.) Wilkie Collins' cinematography reveals a high degree of grain (particularly in process shots combining live actors with stop-motion armatures) which is wholly consistent for a production of this vintage. For purists, the stripped-down monaural original soundtrack is offered alongside a more robust Dolby 5.1 remix (in French as well as English). English and French subtitles are optional. The roster of bonus features is generous, even if some of them have been ported over from the earlier disc.

A Ray Harryhausen audio commentary is guided by visual effects artist Phil Tippett and others, while a 3-minute promo reel introduces Harryhausen's patented "Dynamation" process to moviegoers ("Anything that the mind can conceive can now be brought to the screen!"). A 10-minute photo gallery is underscored by Bernard Hermann's compositions while Hermann biographer Steve Smith hosts a 26-minute tribute to "The Music of Bernard Hermann." John Landis interviews Harryhausen in a sweet 12-minute bonus feature and astutely points out that the pioneer effects man enjoyed a unique sovereignty that met the criteria for auteur theory. Rounding out the extras are a circa-70s "look back" at the making of the film (featuring Harryhausen Schneer and Kerwin Matthews, who died last year), an audio track of the novelty single "Sinbad May Have Been Bad But He's Been Good to Me" sung by Ann Leonardo and used to promote the film in 1958, a new 23-minute look back at the film guided by Harryhausen himself and a 25-minute tribute to "The Harryhausen Legacy," which features talking head testimonials from directors Frank Darabont and Joe Dante, special effects master John Dykstra, monster make-up man Rick Baker, special and visual effect genius Dennis Muren, former Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman and the late monster maker Stan Winston, to whose memory this featurette is dedicated.

For more information about The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (50th Anniversary Edition), visit Sony Pictures.To order The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (50th Anniversary Edition), go to TCM Shopping.

by Richard Harland Smith