The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). 88 minutes, Columbia Pictures. Directed by Nathan Juran. Special Effects by Ray Harryhausen.

From the land beyond Beyond,
From the world past hope and fear,
I bid you, Genie: Now appear!

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is the ultimate Saturday afternoon matinee movie. Within five minutes, a giant horned centaur is stalking a magician and throwing rocks at a ship. Soon afterward, a servant is transformed into a half-snake, half-human dancing demon. A princess is shrunk down to the size of a tiny doll. More giant horned cyclops, a two-headed giant baby bird and its angry parent, a fire-breathing horned dragon, a giant crossbow on wheels, a genie in a lamp and a sword-fighting skeleton! I don’t know about the kids today, but when I was ten years old, it just didn’t get any better than this.

Later, I saw Jason and the Argonauts, and realized there was a name in common: Ray Harryhausen. When I was 12, I bought my first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland – which contained a whole feature on this Ray Harryhausen fellow. I learned about stop-motion animation, and how another favorite film of mine, King Kong, was done in the same style – and was in fact the inspiration for Harryhausen’s devotion to the field of film special effects.

As a teenager, I became fascinated with everything Ray Harryhausen had done. Just to prove this, during the summer of 1977, the movie I was anticipating most was not Star Wars, which was made by a bunch of people I’d never heard of, but Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, the latest Harryhausen epic. As it turned out, Star Wars and the rise of the modern science fiction / special effects film spelled the end for old effects masters like Harryhausen, and he would make only one more film (1981’s Clash of the Titans) before retiring.

Back before there was home video (yes, kids, home video didn’t arrive for the masses until the 1980s) , there was Super 8 film. You used to be able to buy 6 to 8 minute clips of movies on Super 8 sound film, to watch at home. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was unique in that there were four 200-foot clips available. I had all 4, and had spliced them together into the proper order, so I had about a half-hour edited version of this movie. From the age of 15 until I finally got the film on laser disc in the late 80’s, I must’ve watched that Super 8 compilation dozens of times. As did all of my friends.

Now, 50 years after the film first appeared in theaters, 36 years after I first saw it at the local Saturday Matinee Movie, and long after that old Super 8 film copy crumbled to dust, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is available in a gorgeous new Blu-Ray edition. I popped it in a few nights ago and watched it straight through, without even pausing once. I have never seen it look this good. The colors practically leap off the screen, and even the fine grain from the film is visible, just like in a real theater. I felt transformed back to my childhood, back to a time when animated rubber monsters – although never actually scary – thrilled me down to my toes, and made me wonder over and over: How did they do that?

To be fair, of course, the dialogue in this film is weak at best, and apart from the three leads and the boy genie, the acting is the worst sort of wooden. And especially in this new high-definition edition, it’s quite clear when a matte shot appears, since the film quality radically changes seconds before the monster or whatever appears on screen. And the plot is pretty much just an excuse for the characters to wander around encountering various monsters.

But you know what? This still works. It really does. I still love the cyclops and the dragon. I still love the hokey dialogue (“He has the eyes of an owl! I see nothing!”) And the skeleton sword fight? Oh my stars and garters. I know the multiple skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts usually get more attention, but I’ve always preferred The 7th Voyage of Sinbad‘s solitary, evil skeleton.

And the music! My god, the music! This may be Bernard Hermann‘s best score, better than Psycho, better than North by Northwest. The opening credit music, which evokes Rimsky-Korsakov‘s Scheherazade, is instantly recognizable. The evocative tone continues throughout the entire film. And finally – the music underlying the skeleton sword fight is, without a doubt, one of the best pieces of film music ever. Ever.

If you have a Blu-Ray player, pick up The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Watch it in the dark, if you can. Make a bowl of popcorn and eat it during the movie. I guarantee you: Even if you’ve never seen it, I bet it will make you feel like a kid again.

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