The second of Columbia/Tri-Star's repackaging of their classic Ray Harryhausen library titles comes in the form of The Fantastic Films Of Ray Harryhausen β The Legendary Monsters Series. Once again, like their release of The Fantastic Films Of Ray Harryhausen β The Legendary Science Fiction Series, this is simply five of their previous releases put into a fancy box and sold at a discounted price. Don't go in expecting the DVDs in this set to look any different than the single disc releases that came out a few years ago, because once you open up the box you'll soon realize that these discs are identical right down to the packaging β the only difference is the box.
With that out of the way, these films are an absolute blast. I know I'm not the only one who grew up watching these play on Saturday and Sunday afternoon television broadcasts, and I know I'm not the only one who was fascinated by the amazing special effects provided by Mr. Harryhausen. To have them all in a nice boxed set seems like a great idea, and after revisiting these films for the umpteenth time, I can safely say that it is just that.
The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad:
When captain Sinbad (played by Kerwin Mathews) and crew of rugged sea hardy sailors wind up washed ashore the island Colossa, they soon realize that they are not alone when they're attacked by a giant cyclops with a taste for human flesh. Luckily, this rag tag group of men run into Sokurah The Magician (Torin Thatcher) who uses his powerful magic lamp to stop the monster from eating them all. Sadly, amongst all the chaos, the lamp falls out of Sokurah's hands.
Eventually, with Sokurah in tow, the men find their way back to Baghdad β their base of operations. Once they're there, Sokurah impresses many of the higher ups with many different magic tricks, including turning a hand maiden into a snake woman.
Sokurah decides that he wants to lead an exploratory mission back to the remote island of Colossa so that he can retrieve his magic lamp, but no one else seems to think that this is a particularly good idea considering the man eating cyclops lives there and all. So to make a more convincing case, Sokurah sneaks into the Princess Parisa's (Kathryn Grant) bedroom and shrinks her down to breaks into the rooms of the princess at night and shrinks her down to teeny tiny size. He tells the royal family he can fix the problem, but in order to do so he'll have to head to Colossa to gather up all of the necessary ingredients to make his magic potion. Sinbad reluctantly agrees to lead an excursion to the island so that his beloved Princess can be restored to her normal size, but little does the crew know that there are even more dangerous creatures than the cyclops on that island that they'll have to get through first.
While the story may be pretty basic and the cast of only average quality, what this movie does, it does well, and what it does is monsters, monsters, monsters! Not only do we get a cyclops and a snake lady and a miniature princess but we also get a giant dragon lizard thing, a reanimated skeleton or two, and more! The movie proves to be engrossing and entertaining thanks to it's simplicity and the masterful stop motion animation effects employed by Ray Harryhausen that are instantly recognizable in the halls of monsterdom.
The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad:
Made almost two decades later, we know find Sinbad (played this time out by John Phillip Law of Danger! Diabolik fame) and new rag tag crew of sea hardy sailors on their way to take down a homunculus that is carrying a mysterious golden tablet. A sailor uses his archery skills to force the beast into dropping the tablet, and Sinbad ties it around his neck as a souvenir.
Unfortunately for everyone's favorite Arabian sailor man, Prince Koura (Tom Baker of Doctor Who!), an evil magician and the sinister man behind the homunculus, considers the tablet to be his personal property and he's bound and determined to chase Sinbad down and get it back no matter what the cost.
Soon after the tablet incident, Sinbad meets a strange man in a golden mask known only as the Grand Vizier (Douglas Wilmer) who explains to Sinbad why Koura is after the tablet. It seems that the tablet has two other parts to it and when the three are joined, they create a magic talisman or sorts.
Sinbad runs off on a quest across the seven seas trying to figure out where the other two pieces of the magical talisman map thing are hiding so that he can solve the puzzle. Luckily, one of the slave girls in his possession just might be able to help him out in that regard, and he's going to need it for as we all know, the seas are full of monsters.
The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad takes what was good about the first entry in the series and cranks everything up a few notches for maximum impact. Again, Harryhausen's signature effects work is the real start of the show, but Law makes for a great hero and Carolyn Monroe is always ever so easy on the eyes. The effects work is insanely detailed, and you can almost feel every ridge and dimple on the creatures' bodies as the swerve, dive and attack throughout the film β highlighted by the scene in which a centaur takes on a giant griffin.
Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger:
In this third and final film in the series, Sinbad (Patrick Wayne) is tasked with the chore of ensuring the safe delivery of Prince Kassim (Damien Thomas) who has had the unfortunate luck of being transformed into a monkey back to his homeland of Ademaspai so that he can be transformed back into a human in time for him to be crowned the king. You can see how being stuck in monkey form might be a problem for the guy, but with Sinbad on the job, it should all turn out okay.
Things get complicated for Sinbad and his pals when Zenobia (Margaret Whiting), Kassim's evil step mother who happens to be a witch tries to stop the crew so that her son can be crowned king, not Kassim, who she despises for some reason. As the crew heads out to complete their mission, they'll have to avoid the witch and all of the monsters that lay in their path along the way.
Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger is, hands down, the lamest of the three Sinbad films. It borrows heavily from the first movie story-wise and while the creatures all look great, they don't look all that intimidating. It's not that the effects are bad β quite the opposite, they're very detailed looking and very unique β but they're not overly monstrous. There are also some serious inconsistencies in the characterizations and Zenobia has a tendency to come off as misguided sometimes. Overall, this one is okay, but it's certainly not up to the standard set by the first two films.
Jason And The Argonauts:
Jason (Todd Armstrong) is destined to take the throne of Ancient Greece, or so it is told, and as legend would have it he is favored by the Gods. One day he happens upon Pelias (Douglas Wilmer), who is drowning. He does the right thing and saves him without realizing that Pelias is the man who killed his father. Pelias sends Jason off to the land of Colchis where he is supposed to find the mythical Golden Fleece, and this is where things start to pick up.
Jason decides to accept the quest and he puts together his crew of sailors to man the ship he'll be heading out on. Among these men is the mighty Hercules (Nigel Green), who will prove to be a worthy ally. Because Jason is favored by the Gods, Hera (Honor Blackman) will be watching out for them along the way and they should be all set to head on out and snag that fleece.
Along the way to Colchis, they encounter deadly harpies, a massive bronze Talos, a sinister and deadly hydra, and an army of reanimated skeletons who mean to make short work of Jason and his crew. What the men don't realize though is that if they even make it to Colchis, there will be even more danger awaiting them thereβ¦
The skeleton army scene is, along with the cyclops from the first
Sinbad film, probably Harryhausen's most famous creation. The way that the bone men almost dance to life and the way the engage in combat with their living and breathing counterparts is so genuinely cool that even if you hate the entire film it's worth sitting through it just for this one scene. Thankfully, the rest of the movie holds up too and there are plenty of monsters, maidens and action set pieces to keep even the shortest of attention spans enthralled.
The Three Worlds Of Gulliver:
An adaptation of Jonathon Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels, this film focuses on Doctor Lemuel Gulliver (Kerwin Mathews), a man very down on his luck who decides against the wishes of his fiance, Elisabeth (June Thorburn), to sign up to ship off to India and escape from all of his problems.
A storm hits and Gulliver falls into the ocean, later to wash up on the shore of a remote little island called Lilliput. The citizens of Lilliput are unique in that they are only a couple of inches tall, and when this giant of a man washes up on their shore, they instantly distrust him.
Soon though, Gulliver is able to convince them of his worth and they begin to help them in their ongoing war against a race of sixty foot tall people known as Brobdingags. When he arrives on their island, he finds himself in a similar situation to the people of Lilliput as everything around him is huge, and something as simple and harmless as a squirrel can now pose a serious threat to his well being.
The Three Worlds Of Gulliver is a fun little movie that moves along at a brisk pace and is good entertainment for kids of all ages. There's enough wit in the dialogue and story to appeal to adults, and enough effects work and action to keep the little ones entertained as well. The cast do a good enough job with the material they have, and once again, Harryhausen's effects are given a great chance to shine as we see Gulliver deal with giants and tiny people alike, along with a random assortment of beasts and animals.
The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad gets a sparkly 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. A couple of shots do look a little bit cramped and one has to wonder if this wasn't shot with a different aspect ratio in mind, but there are only two or three of the effects scenes that are effected by the matting. Other than that, this film looks great on DVD. Colors look great, there's almost no print damage at all on the picture, and edge enhancement and mpeg compression issues are minimal.
For The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad viewers have the option of watching the film in anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen on one side of the DVD, or in a fullframe presentation on the other side of the DVD. The widescreen presentation looks to be a slight bit over matted as sometimes the tops of peoples heads are a little cut off, but otherwise this is another nice presentation from Columbia. Again, print damage is minimal, the image is very clean and very clear, and there aren't any big problems with edge enhancement or mpeg compression artifacts.
Likewise, Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger: gets a great 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that also looks very, very good. This film didn't look to be as compromised by the matting to my eyes as the first two Sinbad films did, and just like those two films the picture quality is very nice, with great color reproduction, minimal print damage, and nary a trace of edge enhancement or mpeg compression to be found. In fact, this film might just look a slight bit cleaner and sharper than the other two Sinbad movies, most noticeable during the effects scenes where this doesn't seem to be as much grain on the image.
Jason And The Argonauts also gives viewers the option of watching the film in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen or in 1.33.1 pan and scan depending on which side of the disc is facing up in your player when you pop it in. Clarity and quality of the image is very, very strong with very bold colors and only a slight coat of grain visible. Print damage is almost non-existent entirely and mpeg compression artifacts and edge enhancement are really only noticeable if you're looking really hard to point them out. In short, Jason And The Argonauts looks fantastic β as it should!
The Three Worlds Of Gulliver hits DVD in a fullframe open matte transfer that, like the other films in this set, looks very, very good. Once again the colors are gorgeous and there is only the slightest bit of print damage noticeable in one or two scenes in the film. Mpeg compression is never a problem and edge enhancement, though present, is only slight. There's plenty of detail in both close and far away items in the film, and overall this movie looks great.
The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad is presented in its original English Dolby Digital Mono mix. The mono mix sounds nice, without any hiss or distortion problems worth noting, and properly balanced levels throughout. Optional subtitles are available in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai and there is an English closed captioning option also available.
The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad hits DVD in a clean sounding English Dolby Digital Mono mix with optional subtitles once again available in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai. English closed captioning is also available on this disc. Dialogue and background music are mixed together nicely and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion, even if the odd pop is audible in the mix here and there.
Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger is presented in its original English Dolby Digital Mono mix with optional subtitles once again available in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai and a closed captioning option is also available in English. Audio quality is on par with the first two Sinbad movies β it sounds nice and clear without any major problems, showing its age once in a while through a pop or two on the soundtrack but not exhibiting any serious audible discrepancies.
Jason And The Argonauts: contains a nice Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound mix in English, as well as alternate language dubs available in French and Spanish (also mono). Subtitles are available in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai and a closed captioning option is available in English. Quality on the English mix is nice and clear, without a single noticeable hiss or pop in the mix at all. Music and dialogue and effects all comes through loud and clear, and this sounds about as good you could hope an old mono mix to sound.
The Three Worlds Of Gulliver has Dolby Digital Mono mixes available in English and Spanish. The effects and dialogue sound pretty good on the disc but the background music lacks any punch and it sounds a little soft or low in the mix compared to the other discs in this collection. Other than that though, it's another clean and decent audio mix from Columbia, and once again subtitles are available in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai and a closed captioning option is available in English. The Spanish dubbed mono mix doesn't sound very hot at all, and is not recommended when you can watch the film in English with Spanish subtitles instead.
The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad: First up is a look behind the scenes of the making of the movie with a twelve minute feature entitled A Look Behind The Voyage. This is a great featurette that looks like it was shot in the late seventies and possibly transferred from a video tape source. Either way, it's a nice vintage look at Harryhausen's work on the film featuring some on camera interviews with the man shot in the seventies.
Columbia has also dug up an eleven minute video interview conducted by John Landis in which he interviews Harryhausen about his groundbreaking special effects work on Jason And The Argonauts. It's an interesting discussion, albeit one that feels a little too short, although I'd have preferred to see more on The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad on this DVD.
Also included on this disc is the Ray Harryhausen Chronicles documentary that runs almost fifty minutes in length. Leonard 'Mr. Spock' Nimoy narrates this fine look at Harryhausen's life and times overtop a plethora of great vintage behind the scenes footage from various films that he was involved in. It's a great segment, and one that is very much worth your time if you're even remotely interested in Ray Harryhausen's work. In addition, the This Is Dynamation featurette that takes a look at the effects process that Harryhausen made famous is also included on this disc, as it has been on most of the other releases in the collection.
Rounding out the extra features are trailers for the other entries in Columbia/Tri-Star's Harryhausen collection, some brief biographies for the cast of the film, and a reproduction of the film's theatrical poster.
The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad includes a trailer for the feature film, a nice still gallery of advertising and promotional art, and biographies for star John Phillip Law, Ray Harryhausen, and director Gordon Hessler.
In addition, there are three segments that run approximately ten minutes each that give us a look back at the making of three vintage Harryhausen feature films - Mysterious Island, The 3 Worlds Of Gulliver, and Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers. Though these run by fairly quickly, they're fun and interesting to watch even if they don't really have a whole lot to do with The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad at all.
Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger once again includes The Ray Harryhausen Chronicles documentary and the This Is Dynamation documentary that have been seen countless times on the other Harryhausen releases from Columbia. There is also a selection of trailers from the Harryhausen collection as well as some talent bios.
The Jason And The Argonauts DVD recycles a lot of the features from the other discs in this set. The John Landis/Ray Harryhausen interview relating to Jason And The Argonauts is seen here again (which makes sense), as is the film's original theatrical trailer.
The Three Worlds Of Gulliver once again contains The Ray Harryhausen Chronicles and This Is Dynamation documentaries, and adds a brief five minute making of featurette that includes some interviews with Harryhausen and some storyboard art to the mix. The making of segment is fun and it's nice to see the storyboard art and some alternate footage here, but it's far too short to go into too much detail about actually making the film.
Also in the extra features section of this disc are trailers for the three Sinbad films, a trailer for The Three Worlds Of Gulliver and some cast and crew biographies.
If you don't already own the single disc releases of these fine, fine films, then this set is a great way to pick up a whole whack of Harryhausen at a decent price and in a fancy new boxed set edition. If you do already own the single disc releases, there's really no reason at all to pick this up as the discs are exactly the same β the only difference is the box. Regardless, for those who don't already have these in their collection, The Fantastic Films Of Ray Harryhausen β The Legendary Monsters Series comes highly recommended (despite the repetition of many of the extra features across the five discs in the set).
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.