Wow, hard to believe that it's been 50 years since The 7th voyage of Sinbad was released to theaters. This swords and sorcery classic was a favorite of young boys growing up in the 60's and 70's. When it was shown on TV, usually on a Saturday afternoon or late, late at night, everyone who was anyone at my school would watch it and reenact the battles the next weekday on the playground. Filled with amazing stop-motion animation by special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen the film was a spectacle rarely seen on TV in those days. Woe to the child who didn't know how Sinbad and his crew escaped the mighty Cyclops or what he encountered in the cave. That was just un-cool. Now Sony/Columbia has released this icon film on Blu-ray (and with its proper aspect ratio) and it has never looked better.
Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews), sailor of the seas, is heading home to Bagdad when he and his crew stop off at the isle of Colossa. There they discover a set of giant cloven hoof-prints and decide to follow them back to the source. That turns out to be not such a great idea as they belong to a giant Cyclops who's really looking to kick somebody's ass. Luckily for Sinbad and his men, the evil magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) was in the cave and with the help of his majic lamp he rescues the men. Making haste, Sinbad, his men, and Sokurah climb into their row boat to head back to the ship. They arrive safely, but not before Sokurah falls overboard and looses his lamp.
Not wanting to mess with the Cyclops again, Sinbad refuses to help Sokurah search for the lamp and instead brings him back to Bagdad. Once home, Sinbad announces that, in order to keep peace between two nations, he'll marry the gorgeous princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant, who would later marry Bing Crosby in real life.) (Quite a sacrifice he's making there.) Before the matrimonial event can take place however Sokurah shrinks Parisa down in size.
Not knowing who's responsible for turning his bride-to-be into a real-life action figure, Sinbad asks Sokurah if he can help restore Parisa. He can, of course, but he'll need the shell of a Roc's egg which is located in only one place on Earth: Colossa Island. Left with no choice, Sinbad recruits the only crew he can for the suicide mission and returns to Colossa where he has to face not only the giant Roc but a sword-wielding skeleton, a fire-breathing dragon, and his own crew.
This is a rip-roaring action-packed film. Yeah, it's a little light on the plot, and yes, it shamelessly mixes Greek/Roman and Arabian myths, but its easy to overlook both flaws. This is an action film, and it doesn't try to be anything else. The pace is very quick right from the beginning, and only slows slightly when the focus turns to Bagdad. It's fairly amazing how many battle scenes and how many different creatures they were able to shoe-horn into this movie.
The reason that this film is such a classic fifty years on is because of the amazing special effects. Even today where even the cheapest films boast decent looking CGI effects, the creativity and attention to detail that Harryhausen used when making this film makes it look just as good, if not better, than anything being done today. From the human-like motions of the skeleton to the realistic actions of the Roc and what the Cyclops does when he captures a sailor (my favorite scene), it's easy to suspend your disbelief and just give yourself over to the film.
If the movie has one fault, it's that the stop-motion creatures are more 'real' than the live actors. Mathews is a bit wooden as Sinbad, and Kathryn Grant only has to look good, which she does with amazing ease. The one standout actor is Torin Thatcher who exudes evil so well that he's one of those villains that you love to hate.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The film is presented with its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and the 1080P HD transfer is encoded with the AVC codex. First off, this is the best that I've ever seen this film look. Being a huge fan of Ray Harryhausen's work I naturally picked up the earlier release of this film, which was cropped to 1.85:1, and I thought this version, though not as wide, was framed a little better. There was more head room and the scenes were a bit more 'full' looking.
As for the picture quality itself, this Technicolor movie looks very good though there are some problems. First the good news: The colors are bright and bold and really bring the exotic sets and colorful Arabian costumes to life. That's just what Technicolor does best, present vivid colors in a larger than life fashion, and this film is no exception. The level of detail is very good, with the sand on the beach of the Isle of Colossa having more texture than I had noticed before. Contrast was also excellent.
There were some problems with the image though. The first thing that viewers will notice is a large amount of grain, especially in areas where there are large patches of one color. The battle with the Cyclops early in the film is a good example. The sky is filled with grain that is fairly heavy and in sharp contrast to the people battling on the beach. This is most probably a flaw present on the original negative of this processed shot, but in HD the grain is all more apparent. And so it should be. I know I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm glad that the powers that be didn't muck with the film. They could have easily removed a lot of it, but at the cost of altering the rest of the frame and changing what was originally there. I like seeing a film as it was originally shown, warts and all.
While the colors are very impressive, the skin tones occasionally look a little off. This isn't rare with Technicolor films, and while it's not a horrible defect, it is worth mentioning. Finally, the blacks aren't as solid and inky as they could be.
When you add these all together you get a very good looking film that has a few problems, most of them inherent in the way the film was made. This Blu-ray disc makes the movie look better than I've ever seen it, so don't let the less than perfect audio score dissuade you from picking up the disc.
This movie comes with a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channel audio track as well as the original mono. This is a great combination where both purists and people who want to be engulfed in sound are happy. I screened the film with the TrueHD track and spot checked the mono track. As with the video, most of the flaws in the audio tracks were products of the original recording. While there are some great scenes that absolutely fill the room with sound (the background music sounds quite impressive) there wasn't a lot of bass, even during the battles. Of course the movie was filmed in 1958 way before subwoofers were common, so that's not too surprising. The dialog is clear and mainly centered on the screen, and while the background noises sound a little thin in general, this audio track does a good job.
This disc comes with a great set of bonus features that cover the creation of this film very well. First off is an audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen, visual effects experts Phil Tippet and Randall William Cook, author Steven Smith, and and documentary producer Arnold Kunert. This is a lively track and it's enjoyable to hear Harryhausen give his thoughts on the movie and recall the filming. He has a lot of interesting anecdotes. This is well worth listening to.
There are three excellent featurettes that look at various aspects of the movie and it's creator. Remembering the 7th Voyage of Sinbad (24 min, SD) has Harryhausen talking about the creation of the film from his original concept sketches to the filming and special effects. It was an engaging featurette that was very enjoyable. The Harryhausen Legend (26 min SD) discusses the man's place in the world of film and special effects, and The Music of Bernard Herrmann (27 min SD) looks at the composer's work and his association with Harryhausen.
Then there are the vintage bonus items. There's a 'music video' to an old pop tune "Sinbad May Have Been Bad, But He's Good to Me" that was released to promote the film, as well as A Look Behind the Voyage (12 min, SD) an excerpt from a 1986 TV show that mentions the film and interviews Harryhausen. This Is Dynamation (3 min, SD) is a promo film made to hype the special effects used in the film. There's also Ray Harryhausen interviewed by director John Landis (11 min: SD) where the two film makers have a relaxing conversation about Ray's films.
Finally there is a photo gallery and a series of trailers for other Blu-ray discs.
This is one of those films that have a real sense of wonder. It's a bigger than life adventure that, while a little dated, still plays well today. The script has some problems, and the acting isn't always the greatest, but whenever I see the amazing effects that Ray Harryhausen was able to create I become a wide-eyed child again. This Blu-ray disc presents the film wonderfully, though some of the limitations at the time are more evident than they have been previously. Still, when all is said and done, this is still a wonderfully fun adventure that comes Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in the review do not come from the Blu-ray disc and may not be representative of the image quality on the disc.