Though that talking ship's figurehead in 1974's "Golden Voyage of Sinbad" was pretty cool, a stronger villain and a superior assortment of Ray Harryhausen creatures makes "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958) the best of the old Sinbad films.
Of course, in the broader context, that's probably not saying much. After all, these were B-movies, starring mostly no-names and shot on the cheap. The dialogue was often so clunky that you couldn't tell if it was the line or the delivery that made it so campy--which is to say, unintentionally laughable. It was a guy named Ray Harryhausen who made the films fun. Without his stop-motion antics, those movies wouldn't have spoken to a generation the way that they have.
Harryhausen, who collaborated with "King Kong" stop-motion animator Willis O'Brien on a 1949 variation, "Mighty Joe Young," and went solo four years later with "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," pioneered a technique he dubbed Dynamation. Essentially, Harryhausen split the background and foreground so that the stop-motion could be "sandwiched." And Harryhausen's "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963), with its battling skeletons, had to have been the inspiration for the bony battles in Disney's first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie. Filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas also have been clearly influenced by Harryhausen's special effects, and if you've watched "Monsters, Inc." perhaps you noticed that John Lasseter & Co. paid tribute to the King of Creatures by naming a café that the monsters eat at "Harryhausens."
As John J. Puccio pointed out in his DVD review, though this may pale in comparison to the 1940 remake of "The Thief of Bagdad," it's hard to resist "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad," in part because the villain is so diabolically credible. Torin Thatcher plays an evil magician who shrinks Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant, who would become Mrs. Bing Crosby) down to pocket size. Needless to say, this doesn't sit well with Sinbad the Sailor, especially because he's supposed to marry the princess. He learns from the magician, Sokurah, that the only way to restore her to her proper height is to obtain pieces of eggshell from a rare two-headed bird that's only found on the island of Colossa. Now, this just happens to be the island fortress of the evil magician, who accompanies Sinbad and his sailors on a journey that includes screeching sirens and a tug-o-war with a magic lamp that houses a boy-man Genie (Richard Eyer), who can help their cause.
The two-headed Roc is probably one of the coolest of Harryhausen's island menaces. Also on the island is a gigantic one-eyed, one-horned, giant (purple) people eater--though I'm kidding about the color. This guy will eat anyone, and he grabs one of Sinbad's sailors and pops him on the rotisserie quick as you can say "Help me" (which this guy does, sounding a lot like Vincent Price in "The Fly"). Other dangers on the island include a sword- and shield-wielding skeleton who would become the prototype for the legion of skeleton warriors in "Jason and the Argonauts," and a fire-breathing dragon. But for sheer laughs, it's hard to beat the screaming men aboard the ship as they pass by sirens. B-movies were good for as many unintentional laughs as they were cool monsters, and this one scores big on all counts. Kids saw them in the movie theaters with friends, and the best way to watch these films is still with a group of friends.
A bad script made "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger" (1977) a real burden for stars Patrick Wayne and Jane Seymour to bear, but this screenplay from Ken Kolb (who would go on to write a number of episodes for "The Wild Wild West" TV show) at least gives us a structure that has plenty of dramatic tension built into it. The lines may be no better than any of the B-movies, but with strong characters and a strong plotline you hardly notice . . . or care. And the direction is capably handled by a B-movie giant by the name of Nathan Juran, whose resume of campy films is almost mind-boggling. This is the same guy who, after directing Ronald and Nancy Reagan in their only film together ("Hellcats of the Navy," 1957), gave us "The Deadly Mantis," "20 Million Miles to Earth", "The Brain from Planet Arous," and "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman." Not surprisingly, he also would go on to direct 13 episodes for the campy "Lost in Space" TV series. This guy knows how fun B-movies are supposed to be, and "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" is all the better because of it.
In 1080p (AVC/MPEG-4 codec) "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" looks better than ever. This was a low-budget film and the film stock and camera equipment wasn't exactly top-of-the-line, but there are plenty of places where figures in the foreground display an astounding sharpness and edge detail. Then there are those exteriors where the atmospheric grain is so heavy you just have to remind yourself this is an old film and a cheap film that's been lovingly restored and preserved. I've seen the restored and remastered DVD as well, and the Blu-ray has significantly more detail and a nice 3-dimensionality.
Sony has gone with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 on the Harryhausen titles, and this one has English and French audio tracks plus a Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 and (for purists) the original Mono track in English, restored. The TrueHD does a good job of channeling effects so that the rear speakers feel a part of the action, though the volume isn't so loud that they compete with the dialogue and music that dominates the front center and mains. The bass is strong but not overly pulsing, and the treble is bright, though perhaps a little on the metallic side.
Like the other films in the Sony Harryhausen collection, this one contains some nice bonus features. Harryhausen offers a commentary with visual effects experts Phil Tippett and Randall William Cook, author Steven Smith, and Arnold Kunert. Like the other commentaries, there's some overlapping, but if you like Harryhausen's work you enjoy just listening to the master speak. Then there's "Remembering the 7th Voyage of Sinbad," a roughly 23-minute feature in which Harryhausen is shown talking alone in front of a black-and-white sketch screen, with plenty of rough sketches and models-the coolest photo showing the models on the floor of Harryhausen's house, with the special effects master kneeling down by them. He talks about how studios told him "costume pictures were dead," and that he filed away his models and got the film made years later when Columbia Pictures acquiesced. Those are the coolest features. Rounding out the extras are short features on "The Harryhausen Legacy" and "The Music of Bernard Herrmann," a photo gallery, a repeat of the John Landis interview with Ray Harryhausen, a "This is Dynamation" teaser and three-minute feature, and an audio presentation of "Sinbad May Have Been Bad, But He's Been Good to Me," set to a full-color sideshow of lobby cards and movie posters.
Harryhausen has to be pleased with the treatment his films have been getting from Sony Pictures. The studio has recognized him as the bona fide star of B-movies that he is, and have remastered and restored some of his best loved films. This title is part of the "Ray Harryhausen Blu-ray Collection," but like "20 Million Miles to Earth" it's also available singly. I suspect that the other two films in the collection will be too. If you're into adventure and wanting a good old-fashioned family film, rather than being diehard Harryhausen fans, then this film is a great place to start.