The cinematic legend that is Ray Harryhausen, has had a impact that effects genre filmmaking to this day. Sure, the technique may be different with CGI essentially making stop motion animation all but extinct in live action movies, but the basic concept is still the same. Whether you’re using pixels or plasticine, it’s imperative that you infuse your fantastical creature with personality and weight otherwise the audience just won’t buy it. Be it the cave troll lurking in the Mines of Moria, the Creature From 20,000 Fathoms, or any of the incarnations of King Kong that isn’t a guy in a gorilla suit, personality is key.
Harryhausen, fresh from numerous 50’s invasion movies such as Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles To Earth, decided to make a shift into the realms of fantasy and myth which begat a string of movies that all remain iconic to this day – but it all started with Sinbad’s seventh voyage.
We join our seafaring hero as another adventure comes to an end (his sixth voyage, perhaps?), but en route back to Bagdad Sinbad and his crew stumble upon the Island of Colossa and promptly meet the shifty magician and part time Yul Brynner impersonator known as Sokurah who is currently being bothered by one of the island’s natives – a towering Cyclops. Quite why the man has chosen to settle on an island where his neighbours are hairy legged giants with bad depth perception is never revealed and he seems very upset at the loss of his magic lamp, but he agrees to leave with Sinbad who is on his way to marry the Princess Parisa. However, during the wedding festivities Sokurah turns out to be quite the nightmare of a wedding performer, making things exceedingly awkward by first turning a hand maiden into a belly dancing snake woman (beats a Take That tribute band, I suppose) and predicts that soon the kingdom will be consumed by a terrible war. He finally reveals his masterplan when he secretly casts a spell to transform the princess to the size of your average Smurf, but despite her ailment coinciding with the mysterious arrival of a fucking magician, nobody manages to put two and two together and when Sokurah suggests that they all return to his island to reverse the spell everyone seems cool with it. Further proving that Sinbad isn’t exactly Mensa material is the fact that he then choses to stack his crew with thieves and bandits and then looks stunned when they instantly mutiny, throwing his voyage off course embarrassingly early. Eventually regaining control of his ship and making it back to the Isle of Colossa, Sinbad has to run the gauntlet of the notoriously pissy Cyclops, a giant, two-headed vulture known as the Roc and Sokurah himself who boasts a nifty dragon bouncer and skeleton bodyguard. Can our hero supersize his lady love and thwart Sokurah’s aim to reclaim his magic lamp – somethin that’s going to be made infinitely more difficult by the fact that Sinbad’s crew are spectacularly quite shit.
The first of Harryhausen’s Sinbad trilogy (Golden Voyage Of… and Eye Of The Tiger followed in the 70’s) The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad is not only the best of the three but also has being a great shot of being the best showcase of his work that actually exists. Being very much a product of it’s time, the movie has that old, old school feel to it with leads Kerwin Matthews and Kathryn Crosby being endearingly wooden and sweet respectively, however, because of the period the film was made in, 7th Voyage features the whitest Arabians you’re ever likely to see and some understandably might balk at the large amounts of fake tan that are coated over numerous undisguised English and American accents – unless the character is a thug and then in that case they sound like they grew up on the streets of Brooklyn… In fact the only member of the main cast to even attempt an accent is Turin Thatcher rollocking villain turn as Sokurah but considering that’s in order to make him come across as sinister that’s not exactly something you would consider a good thing.
However, like the vast majority of monster movies ever made, the humans are just there to either steer the plot along, or just get murdered by the stop motion menagerie that’s waiting in the wings to stomp, peck or crush them all the way to meet Allah himself and this particular voyage turns out to be amazingly bountiful in this respect.
Kerwin Matthews may play the overly serious title character (seriously, the bugger barely cracks a smile) but the real stars of the show are obviously the mythical bastards that rampage awesomely through the film and chief of these are the Cyclops, awesomely rendered cloven hoofed giants who are a fetching shade of Trump orange and when they aren’t roasting their victims alive on spits, horde gold and jewels in a way that makes Smaug The Magnificent look like a fucking philanthropist in comparison. Personally I feel that the one-eyed brutes are among the most beloved of Harryhausen’s creatures and their distinctive roar and their habit of ripping trees out of the ground and using them to smoosh men to death make the creature the most distinctive of the animator’s pantheon. However, unlike one or two of the fantasy movies the legendary special effects artist made in the wake of this film, all the creatures featured are pure thriller with absolutely no filler. Joining the Cyclops is the dual-headed gargantuan carrion bird, the Roc (not to be confused with Dwayne Johnson), a dragon with Dennis Healey eyebrows and, best of all, a sword wielding skeleton that predates a similar legendary scene seen in Jason And The Argonauts by five whole years.
In fact, I’ve always been of the opinion that 7th Voyage is actually far more fun than it’s far more praised successor which, if I’m being honest, is rather stilted and slow compared to this rather more carefree adventure.
Of course, this being a fantasy film from the 50’s, there are a fair few noticable details that will no doubt cause some scratching of heads, like the fact it features possibly one of the most underachieving genies in cinema history. For example, when Sinbad and Parisa are trying to escape Sokurah’s creepy bachelor pad and are presented with a yawning chasm to cross they appeal for the Genie to help who responds not by rebuilding the wrecked bridge or teleporting them to the other side – no, what he does is give them a fucking rope and fully expects them to sort it out for themselves. Also it’s quite amusing quite how staggeringly awful Sinbad’s crew are. Barely capable of following a simple order or even a scrap of advice, these blatant dead men walking invoke instant karma wherever they go by attempting to steal the Cyclops’ gold, get blind drunk when their crew mates are being roasted alive and, most baffling of all, murder a giant, newborn baby bird and cook the bloody thing three feet from it’s fucking nest! For such wretched idiots, surely the terrible vengence wrecked upon them by understandably pissed mother bird is surely tantamount to a mercy killing.
Quaint, perfectly paced (at a mere 88 minutes it certainly doesn’t out stay it’s welcome) and boasting a magnificent score by Hitchcock regular Bernard Herrmann, The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad may be a little overly simple for a modern audience but when it comes to an exquisitely crafted slice of old school adventure it’s actually quite smooth sailing…