Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday with Sinbad: Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)



I first saw Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) in theaters when I was seven or eight years old.  I absolutely loved it as a kid, and have thought of the film fondly for decades since...but without actually re-visiting it.

A recent re-screening of the film, however, for this Saturday series, reveals Eye of the Tiger to be the least successful of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad trilogy.

In Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, Sinbad (now Patrick Wayne) must stop a diabolical sorceress -- "as malicious as a shark" --  named Zenobia (Margaret Whiting), who has turned the soon-to-be-coronated Caliph, Prince Kassim, into a baboon.  She has done so in hopes that her own son may assume the throne in Kassim's place. 

Engaged to Kassim's sister, Farah (Jane Seymour), Sinbad sets sail to find a cure for the transformed Kassim.  He meets up with a legendary Greek scientist, Melanthius (Patrick Troughton) and his lovely daughter, Dione (Taryn Power), and together they make for the foreboding ice cliffs of Hyperboria, where a cure may await. 

Meanwhile, Zenobia pursues Sinbad with her frightening automaton, the Minoton...

Directed by Sam Wanamaker, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger was released in American theaters just six weeks after Star Wars premiered in 1977, and so it's clear that a dramatic shift was occurring in terms of movie fantasies.  Unfortunately, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger looks old and tired compared to Star Wars, with several disastrous scenes featuring unnecessary rear projection. 

I'm not certain what occurred here, but in several scenes it looks as though the major cast members (Wayne, Seymour and Troughton) never went on location, and so all of the exterior scenes on Melanthius's island reek of visual phoniness.  It's so bad as to take you out of the movie's reality for several minutes.

Secondly, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger is the only Sinbad movie where the stop-motion animation itself proves a little tiresome.  The first fight in the film -- Sinbad against three insectoid/skeleton creatures from the underworld -- is dire. 

As Clash of the Titans also revealed, stop motion animation works less well in night-time settings (something about the mismatch in lighting between live and animated elements, I presume...). 

But what makes this battle with the insectoids worse than anything in Clash is the monsters' relative size compared to Wayne's.  They look just a tad shorter and smaller than Sinbad.  Not small enough to be homunculi or some other diminutive fantasy creature, mind you, but just short enough to make it appear as though the perspectives in the mating of the footage are wrong.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger would have also worked a lot better, in visual terms, if a real baboon had been used as Kassim, instead of a stop-motion figure.  The same thing with the Minoton.  There are instances here wherein a full-scale statue/person-in-suit (seen briefly, I think....) could have more effectively brought the creature to life for longer spells.  The poor visuals involving the baboon and the Minoton give one the impression that the Sinbad movies have fallen into a creative rut; one where the creators seem to think stop-motion animation is the only solution to a special effects problem.  No one was thinking outside that particular box. 

On top of these flaws, we've gone back to the 7th Voyage of Sinbad's non-ethnic, western portrayal of Sinbad, and Patrick Wayne seems to lack the intensity of John Phillip Law.  He's cheery and kind of bland.   This film is also the longest of the Sinbad features clocking it at nearly two hours, and the plot is so simplistic that much of the film feels like a drag.  Then, when we finally get to the happy conclusion (Kassim's delayed coronation), the film displays end credits over the footage so the audience can't make out what's happening.

God, I hate writing any of that, because Joel (my five year old son) enjoyed the heck out of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and it was for kids like him that the movie was made.  I understand that, and I'm thrilled he loved the film.

Therefore, I'm going to try to focus now on the things I liked most about the film.  First and foremost is the  Troglodyte creature of Hyperboria. 

This humanoid "monster" remains one of Harryhausen's greatest efforts, perhaps, and is absolutely brimming with humanity and personality.  The creature gives up its life to save Sinbad and his group in the climax, and it's a sacrifice you really feel.   It's amazing to countenace the idea that a "miniature" or sculpted model can make you feel strong emotions, but that's precisely what occurs with this sympathetic monster.

Secondly, the Minoton is an absolutely awesome villain and creation, and represents Joel's big imaginative "takeaway" from the movie.  More than anything in the world right now, my son wants a Minoton action figure.  The Minoton is actually a kind of golden bull robot, and cuts quite the imposing figure in the film.  But again, I must note that something goes amiss with the character's use: he's killed removing a brick from a pyramid (!) and never given the chance to challenge Sinbad in combat. 

Bummer. 

This is a villain that absolutely required a more fitting and dramatic end.  The film's climax should have involved a brawl between Sinbad and the Minoton.  Even Joel, at five years old, knew something wasn't right.  He kept asking if the Minoton was going to pop up at the end.  But he didn't.

The other monsters in the film are a little underwhelming, a giant bee, a smilodon and a giant walrus, among them.   They look fine, but somehow lack an overt sense of menace.  The scene involving the bee happens to be spectacularly bad.  Troughton's character creates a giant bee to test Zenobia's transformation serum, and then it promptly runs wild, and allows for Zenobia to escape.  Ugh.

After having watched all the Sinbad movies now, I must say that Golden Voyage stands out as the best, with Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger bringing up the rear.   This film's most eye-opening (and unexpected effect), at least for a forty-something dad, is a nude scene by the gorgeous (and apparently never aging...) Jane Seymour.   

Somehow, as a seven year old, I didn't pick up on that.

I must have been too busy ogling the Minoton.

Next week on Saturday with Sinbad, a real classic from Harryhausen: Jason and the Argonauts (1963).

6 comments:

  1. Y'know, I've seen most of the Sinbad movies through the years, but never this one. And with that Jane Seymour scene that I missed, I'm kicking myself for that very fact! Man, she is one gorgeous woman (a fact I'm sure your dad must have appreciated, John).

    Looking forward to your look at 'Jason and the Argonauts'. I just recently showed the Blu-ray to my daughter and she was fairly entranced with it. Many thanks, my friend.

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  2. Hi Michael!

    The Jane Seymour scene is worth the price of admission, speaking purely in terms of being a Dad! :)

    Joel, Kathryn and I watched Jason and the Argonauts on Blu-Ray too, and it looked absolutely spectacular. It still holds up as a fantasy adventure movie, I think.

    Great comment!

    best,
    John

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  3. Well, what can I say. I suspect I would have a similar experience here. The trailer you posted gives us a sample of that non-location footage that never troubled me as a child, but you're right. An approach like that never ages well. That's just terrible especially when we know there's rarely a classic effort in the book that takes that kind of shortcut and holds up. What a bummer.

    But, you know, I never noticed that smashing Jane either. She was primed and ready for Battlestar Galactica. She's a delight. You know, I actually crossed paths with her in Bath, England back in the late 80s. Me and a friend both double-taked and said, "shoot, that was Jane Seymour." Bath has a lot of British stars like that [Kate Bush, Roland Orzabal, Peter Gabriel]. I digress.
    You have noted my two strongest memories as the real highlights: The Troglodyte. I completely felt for that creature as a child John. It was a truly special creation which speaks to why I remember it so well. On the flip side, the cold emotionless Minoton was truly something to delight the mind.

    This is precisely why Joel loved it so much and he really speaks to just how intuitive children are about things like the Minoton's untimely and unheralded departure. You'll recall we had similar feelings toward Dr. Who and Space:1999 in the day. Things that affected us or that we understood in an instant.

    Anyway, we have those two creations. It does sound very dated based on your review. I cannot take issue with a single point. You have articulated them perfectly and I suspect it is what it is.

    Oh, and by the way, it dawns on me that the Walrus isn't highly original either and looks like a rip off of Toho's Gorath [1962].

    Cheers my friend. Always a pleasure.
    sff

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  4. Hi SFF:

    I was deeply bummed that Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger wasn't as good as the other Sinbads, especially since I have such fond memories of it in the theater.

    But you are right about the Troglydte and the Minoton. Those are wonderful creations, and excellent additions to the Harryhausen canon. The Trog creature is as affecting as you remember. I love it.

    This is a movie, definitely, that works just fine for kids. Joel loved it, despite the inauspicious end for Minoton, and so I didn't want to pillory the film in any way. I don't think it's great, but I would put Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger on for Joel anytime. You know what I mean? In today's day and age, that is sometimes enough: knowing your kid is safe and sound, with a movie that, if not great, will entertain and spark his or her imagination.

    Best,
    John

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  5. Completely agree with you on this one. This was my favorite of the Sinbad movies as a kid. Loved Minoton and the Trog. Would often spend hours pretending to be Sinbad on this amazing voyage.

    But revisiting it many years later really put a damper on it. All the issues you mentioned make it the weakest of the trilogy, and really showed off "Golden Voyage" to be the best of the three.

    I'm glad to hear that it still appeals to kids as well as those of us who are young at heart.

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  6. Hi Roman,

    Like you, I loved this film as a kid. I also would play for hours pretending to be Sinbad and battling the Minoton or befriending Trog.

    It saddens me that the film doesn't hold up very well to adult eyes, and yet I appreciate that the film was there when I needed it. I'm also pleased as punch that is there when my son, Joel, needs it.

    Thank you for your excellent and heartfelt comment.

    best,
    John

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