Sunday, March 03, 2013

From the Archive: 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. 


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.

1 comment:

  1. The sad thing about the animated baboon is Harryhausen has it walking on its knuckles. Real baboons walk on their palms.