Saturday, July 15, 2017

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: Swashathon Edition


            Swashbucklers were the old man’s superhero films. The name invokes images of grinning heroes in tights and button-down shirts holding a sword in one hand and a princess in the other. After decades of pictures since Douglas Fairbanks’ Thief of Bagdad (1924), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad brings the swashbuckler back to Arabian Nights territory in thrillingly absurd fashion. The film presents an exciting world thanks to the lively special effects by Ray Harryhausen and wraps it in a simplistic hero’s journey where every beat can be predicted a mile away, but for most people, this will not be a problem. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is a film that jolted the swashbuckler genre into more fantastical effects driven style that makes the film seem mythical, even if Sinbad is no Hercules.
            The story of Sinbad the sailor, swordsman, and heartthrob is a classic heroes journey. Sinbad and his crew land on an island to find food, only to run into the wizard Sokurah, who is being chased by a Cyclops for stealing a magic lamp. Sinbad rescues the wizard, but loses the lamp. Sokurah, the grateful man that he is, secretly shrinks Sinbad’s fiancĂ© Parisia to the size of a mouse but promises to cure her if Sinbad retrieves the lamp. Sinbad and Parisa face insurmountable odds with a smile, which is a plus for the film.
            These two leads are relatively unique to the genre because they begin in love and never leave each other’s side. Typically the hero of a swashbuckler as does all the adventuring alone and either woos or rescues the fair princess in a tower, pirate ship, etc.  In this film, our hero is already taken (sorry ladies) and much of the conflict is resolved with Sinbad and Parisa facing it together. Classic swashbuckler moments like when they swing over a lava pit rings a touch more earnestly, it becomes more them about having faith in each other than about Sinbad rescuing a princess. Sure Parisa spends most of the time in a box but even then she uses her size to her advantage; namely, sneaking into the lamp to come face to face with a genie. Sinbad and Parisa are lively characters when together, but unfortunately for Sinbad, Parisa truly is the better half.
            The biggest weakness of the film is that Sinbad himself is not that interesting of a hero. This is partially due to Kerwin Mathews’ performance, which is so mild that it makes any moment of excitement feel bland. Moments like when he finds Parisa’s shrunken body or searching for food with his starving crew shows Sinbad flatly smile or act with the sense of bemusement that recalls when Bob Ross brushes a happy accident. Nothing is exciting to him, just smile to the next point of conflict. At least with Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, part of why his smile works is that Robin Hood is audacious; he relishes in conflict, so of course he smiles at danger. Sinbad smiles, but it feels forced and almost tired. He passes the line of audacity of Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks and into just appearing unimpressed or vacant, dulling most of the tension of the story.
            Sinbad is also a dimwit. The root of conflict of the film relies on the fact the Sinbad cannot deduce that Sokurah—the only known wizard in all of Bagdad—may have shrunk Parisa in order to trick Sinbad into stealing the lamp. One could see the intention is to show Sokurah as both a clever and otherworldly villain, but one would think using magic would be too obvious a trick for Sinbad. Plus, the cure is on the Cyclops’ island anyway so why make it a secret at all?  The story still functionally works with getting Sinbad closer to fighting monsters but it is rare that such a call for action would make the protagonist so irritating to watch.
            At the very least the stop-motion animated creatures in the film are something to behold. Made by Ray Harryhausen, the wildest moments of the film involve characters fighting giant creatures, and they are wild. This film has a skeleton, a dragon, a Cyclops, which fights the dragon and who could ask for more? Harryhausen’s creations are not only imaginative and exciting but are driven with a sense of character that makes as dynamic as anything from Pixar studios, albeit more gruesome. The Cyclops in particular is very amusing, more than an animal he is a greedy beast that is puzzled by the influx of brave humans stealing his stuff, but they do make a tasty snack so he does not mind. Harryhausen’s monster effects are so bizarre and entertaining that they more than make up for a clumsy story and characters, mostly.
            The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is near perfect prototype of a modern blockbuster, faults and all. It is bright special effects driven spectacle where the story merely functions to move character action set piece to set piece. This does not make The 7th Voyage of Sinbad bad entertainment, films like Singin’ in The Rain, The Avengers, and Baby Diver also function specifically to encourage action and they are great. The ultimate problem is that the plot functions so sloppily that the swashbuckling and the monsters clash more than harmonize. Sinbad and Parisa have some moments of action but they are still difficult to watch when the titular character is less lively than the clay puppets. The film is a below average swashbuckler stitched into a great monster feature; that being said, anyone who does not watch this back to back with Jason and The Argonauts is missing out on a good time.

            This is essay is part of the Swashathon! It is a blogathon that celebrates the most gleeful and saltiest movies that the genre can muster. Hosted by the blog Movies Silently, check out this link for more essays by other bloggers on the likes of Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, and Maureen O’Hara? Who knew!?