#551) The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

#551) The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

OR “Wonders of the Claymated World”

Directed by Nathan H. Juran

Written by Kenneth Kolb. Based on the Sinbad stories in “One Thousand and One Nights”.

Class of 2008

The Plot: While on the island of Colossa, Sinbad the Sailor (Kerwin Mathews) battles a giant cyclops, saving Sokurah the Magician (Torin Tatcher) in the process. Sokurah’s request to return to the island and retrieve a magic lamp is denied by Sinbad, who wishes to return to Bagdad and marry the Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant). Sokurah uses his evil magic to shrink the Princess and create a war between Chandra and Bagdad, forcing Sinbad to acquiese and take the sorcerer back to Colossa. Their journey is fraught with such perils as the giant Roc bird, a fire-breathing dragon, and a skeleton warrior, all brought to life through Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation!

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “one of the finest fantasy films of all time”, praising Ray Harryhausen’s “stunning” animation and Bernard Herrmann’s “thrilling” score. An essay by Harryhausen expert Tony Dalton provides many production details.

But Does It Really?: Like “Lost World” and “King Kong” before it, “Sinbad” is on this list by virtue of its kick-ass stop-motion technology, from no less than animation legend Ray Harryhausen. The rest of the movie is fine: ultimately harmless and kind of forgettable. The real star is the effects animation, which is strong enough to warrant NFR recognition. Some scholars will argue that “Jason and the Argonauts” should be the Harryhausen representation on this list, but “Sinbad” is an acceptable alternative.

Everybody Gets One: Like many of his generation, Ray Harryhausen was inspired to become an animator after seeing the original “King Kong”. Following the advice of “Kong” animator Willis O’Brien, Harryhausen studied sculpture and graphic art to hone his craft. After a brief stint with George Pal’s “Puppetoons”, Harryhausen got his big break as an assistant animator on “Mighty Joe Young”. From there he worked on stop-motion effects for such sci-fi films as “It Came from Beneath the Sea” and “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers”. “Sinbad” was Harryhausen’s first venture into the fantasy genre, and his first animation in color.

Wow, That’s Dated: I’m gonna go ahead and assume all of this is cultural appropriation of Arabic culture. There’s no brownface or god-awful accents, but it’s still a bunch of White people walking around in turbans and pantaloons. This whole thing is about as Middle Eastern as Carnac the Magnificent.

Title Track: Despite the title, “7th Voyage” takes more of its story elements from the 3rd and 5th voyages of Sinbad in the Arabian Nights tales. And like “Plan 9”, this title leads me to believe there are six movies I should have watched beforehand.

Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar love for “Sinbad”. For the curious, 1958’s Best Special Effects winner was another fantasy movie: “tom thumb”.

Other notes 

  • A lot of the marketing for “Sinbad” gave praise to the film process of “Dynamation”, Ray Harryhausen’s process of combining stop-motion and live-action. A portmanteu of “dynamic animation”, the term was coined by Harryhausen and producer Charles Schneer as a way to make stop-motion animation sound sophisticated. The name was partially inspired by Schneer’s Buick, which had a Dynaflow transmission.
  • I was ready to call out the hills of southern California in the background of a few shots, but it turns out “Sinbad” was filmed on location in Spain, primarily in Granada and Costa Brava.
  • I don’t know a lot about Ray Harryhausen, and it did not occur to me that he did not direct or write the movies we associate as his. In the case of “Sinbad”, Harryhausen was the special visual effects creator, and an uncredited associate producer. Despite being the creative muscle behind these movies, Harryhausen always shared credit with his colleagues in interviews, particularly his directors and writers, as well as Charles Schneer.
  • I was not expecting Bernard Herrmann to be the composer of a claymation movie. Apparently he scored a lot of Harryhausen’s movies. And he was already working with Hitchcock at this point, the man must have loved to work.
  • There’s nothing too exciting about how Kerwin Mathews or Kathryn Grant got cast as the leads: they were both under contract with Columbia at the time. Side note: “Sinbad” was released a year after leading lady Kathryn Grant married legendary crooner Bing Crosby. She would eventually start using his last name professionally.
  • I do not feel comfortable having the genie being played by a child. I don’t care if he’s immortal, this is child labor.
  • Sokurah is giving me some Albert Finney in “Annie” vibes. I hope they don’t make him sing.
  • Speaking of cultural appropriations, you can’t show me a shrunken Kathryn Grant in Arabian garb and a tiny living space and not make me think of “I Dream of Jeannie”. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sidney Sheldon caught a matinee of “Sinbad” and started taking notes.
  • There are a few instances where the claymation figures double for the live actors, and it somehow looks more convincing than when they try to do that with computers today.
  • Yes, the Princess is sidelined for most of the movie, but at least she actually contributes to one of the plot points, and improves upon the ideas of the male hero.
  • The highlight of this movie is definitely Sinbad fighting a skeleton soldier. No wonder Harryhausen recreated it for “Argonauts”. Watching a bit of claymation fight a flesh-and-blood actor – and give him a legitimate run for his money – is still a sight to behold 60 years later.
  • More movies should end with a dragon fighting a cyclops. Just saying. Imagine “Kramer vs. Kramer” if it was a custody battle between a dragon and a cyclops.
  • I’m confused: when does Sinbad fight Popeye?

Legacy 

  • “Sinbad” was a surprise hit in the theaters, and the sequels started rolling out…fifteen years later. Harryhausen and his team returned to the Sinbad tales with 1973’s “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” and 1977’s “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger”. I believe Survivor did the score for the latter.
  • Ray Harryhausen would follow-up “Sinbad” with such fantasy movies as “Mysterious Island”, “One Million Years B.C.”, and the aforementioned “Jason and the Argonauts”. Harryhausen’s last stop-motion animation can be seen in 1981’s “Clash of the Titans”.
  • Proof of this film’s popularity: The 1953 Soviet film “Sadko” has nothing to do with the Sinbad legend (it’s based on a Russian folk tale), but when the film was re-released in America in the early ’60s, it was re-titled “The Magic Voyage of Sinbad” and completely re-dubbed as an attempt to cash-in on this movie. This dubbed version is the one shown on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”.
  • Like Willis O’Brien before him, Ray Harryhausen influenced a generation of filmmakers who would use visual effects to tell their stories. Among them, George Lucas, John Landis, Peter Jackson, and Rick Baker. As Harryhausen said later in life, “there is no greater accolade than that.”
  • And finally, comedian David Adkins goes by the professional name Sinbad as an homage to the sailor. And no, he never played a genie in a movie. Stop asking!

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