When cataloging the history of fantasy films, it’s difficult to find a more exemplary piece of cinema than THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. With its magical mix of fairy tale yore and spectacular special effects, the film has become a favorite of theater kiddie matinees (even receiving a prominent re-release in the mid 1970s) and holiday-time TV airings, and its images frequently graced the pages of many a monster magazine. It’s really hard to believe, but THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is now celebrating its 50th Anniversary, and Sony is commemorating this landmark event with a new deluxe special edition, which is also being made available on Blu-ray DVD.
In exotic Baghdad, the brave Captain Sinbad (Kerwin Matthews) is to be married to the beautiful Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant, the future Mrs. Bing Crosby). Interfering with the couple’s future happiness is the evil baldheaded magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher), who shrinks the princess down to miniature size upon their wedding. Setting sail with a crew mostly made up of thieves and murderers, Sinbad heads to the Island of Colossa, as the sneaky Sokurah talks him into the dangerous trip in search of potion ingredients. In Colossa, Sinbad and company soon encounter a giant man-eating Cyclops, a two-headed bird creature and a fencing skeleton. A boy genie (Richard Eyer) who lives in a magic lamp, helps our heroes, but Sinbad’s biggest challenge comes in the form of an irritated fire-breathing dragon.
Earlier in the 1950s, stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen helped bring to life a number of monsters and aliens in a series of modestly budgeted but highly memorable black and white sci-fi programmers. SINBAD marked a new era for Harryhausen, one of epic creature-filled fantasies, all of them shot in color with mostly lavish production values. This film also was the first time Harryhausen was faced with the challenge of animating so many different (and now iconic) creatures for a single film, and the results are terrific – from the horned centaur-like Cyclops to the swift and flexible sword-happy living skeleton (a precursor to a much larger-scale scene in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS). Even the various non-“Dynamation” visual effects are top notch and seamlessly integrated with the stop-motion magic.
As far as costume fantasy films go, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is near perfect, holding up as timeless family entertainment a half a century after it was made. As Sinbad, the late Kerwin Matthews makes the character a handsome, likable and heroic swashbuckler, though it pretty much left him typecast and he retired from films in the 1970s. Torin Thatcher makes a great sly and conniving villain, and he and Matthews would revive the formula in JACK THE GIANT KILLER, also directed by Nathan Juran. Producer Charles H. Scheer would again team with Harryhausen for two more Sinbad adventures (THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER), but Matthews would not return in the title role.
THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is offered here in an attractive new High Definition transfer. The Technicolor photography looks better than ever on home video, with rich, vivid detail and occasional fine grain present. This new transfer is anamorphic in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, and it's better framed and given more head room than the previous 1.85:1 DVD transfer. English audio is available in 5.1 and mono, both crystal clear and rendering Bernard Herrmann’s stirring score to good effect. A French language 5.1 track is also on hand, and optional English and French subtitles are available.
A commentary features the man himself, Ray Harryhausen, along with visual effects experts Phil Tippett and Randall William Smith, Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven Smith and documentary producer Arnold Kunert. The conversation remains lively and focused throughout, as all facets of the film are touched upon. Harryhausen aptly answers all questions about the visual effects, as well as recalling specific details about the production, as if SINBAD was filmed yesterday. “Remembering The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (23:36) has Harryhausen on camera discussing everything from his initial sketches and four-page story treatment to the cast, location and studio shooting, and of course, the special effects. “The Harryhausen Legend” (25:34) contains interviews with Bob Burns, Rick Baker, Joe Dante, Forrest J. Ackerman, John Landis and many, many others discussing the influence of the great man’s work. “The Music of Bernard Herrmann” (26:51) has Steve Smith talking about the legendary composer’s film career and the techniques he utilized for SINBAD and the other Harryhausen titles he did the music for. “Sinbad May Have Been Bad, But He’s Good To Me” is actually a pop tune that was released as 45 pop record (played here with accompanying poster art images) which was issued to theaters to promote the film in their lobbies! “A Look Behind the Voyage” (11:39) contains excerpts from the 1986 special “Aliens, Dragons, Monsters and Me” in which Harryhausen, Scheer and Matthews are interviewed. “This Is Dynamation” (3:17) is a vintage featurette hyping the animation process. An 11-minute interview with Harryhausen by director John Landis is mainly on the subject of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and it was shot in 1995. Rounding out the great package of supplements is a lengthy still gallery and several trailers for other Sony DVD titles. (George R. Reis)
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