Friday, March 26, 2010

We are Stardust, We are Golden

Without claiming that The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973, directed by Gordon Hessler) is a great movie--hell, without claiming that it's even a good one--I have to confess that the experience of seeing it is one of the most treasured memories of my childhood. We--my dad, my brothers, myself, and one of my cousins--saw it at a shithole theater in one of the suburbs of Boston on a trip to see family in 1974. On this same trip, I also saw my first pro baseball game (Cleveland beat the Red Sox 4 to 3 at Fenway). Not a bad vacation for a kid on the first vacation she can remember. Anyway, I remember being totally entranced by Sinbad, and not only for the Harryhausen effects. A pre-Doctor Who Tom Baker was a deliciously sinister bad guy and John Phillip Law remains my favorite of the three Harryhausen Sinbads for the simple expedient of being the one least like an American White Man. In any event, it's the one that captured the mystique of The 1,000 Nights best, I think.

I haven't seen it since I was a tot, though. For some reason, this is the Sinbad movie that fell through the cracks. I can't ever remember seeing it on television--hell, I can't remember ever even seeing it listed on television. The first of the Harryhausen Sinbads, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, used to play all the time at kids matinees and then on cable, and the third one, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, came out just as cable television really started to ramp up, so it was gobbled up and put into the rotation on HBO a year or two after its theatrical run. But not The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. In order to see it again, I would have had to deliberately seek it on home video. And, frankly, I didn't want to revisit it as an adult, because I was afraid it would ruin my perfectly good memories of seeing it in the theater.

Obviously, I finally decided to revisit it. You can blame the instant watch feature on Netflix for this. It made the choice poisonously easy. Imagine my surprise to discover that it actually kinda sorta holds up. Oh, it's obviously a kids movie--Caroline Munro's heaving bosom not withstanding. The characters are mostly here to fight monsters or (in the film's climax) look on as monsters fight themselves. The Sinbad movies gave Harryhausen all kinds of artistic license to include anything he felt like animating. This movie gives us a centaur (who bears a striking resemblance to both the cyclops in the first movie and the troglodyte in the third), a gryphon, an animated ship's figurehead, a nasty little homunculus, and, best of all, a statue of the goddess Kali come to life. For my money, Kali is Harryhausen's best monster, and the fight between her and Sinbad and his men easily ranks with the skeleton duel in Jason and the Argonauts as a peak of his art. Kali is possibly Harryhausen's most convincing effect, but don't take my word for it. See for yourself:

Of course, you can see the flaws in the movie writ large in that clip, too. The natives on the isle of Lemuria (where our heroes and villains find the Fountain of Destiny) are goofy as all get out, kind of like a mime troupe improvising a native ceremony without any concrete direction. And Kali herself is completely ignorant of Indian culture. Be that as it may...

In any event, chalk this up as a pleasant surprise. Sometimes, an adult sensibility doesn't obliterate the things you loved as a child, and that thought makes me happy.


Deborah said...

The weird cultural prejudices mashed together in that clip...!

For the record, the statue that was animated was not Kali, it was the God Shiva, specifically Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Dance.:

Vulnavia Morbius said...

I'm not sure the filmmakers had any idea what they were representing. The movie specifically identifies her as Kali, but you're right. It IS Shiva Nataraja, though Shiva has obviously borrowed Kali's necklace of skulls to use as a belt. Not a lot of research in that movie.

The Vicar of VHS said...

One of the first movies I can remember seeing in the theater was another Harryhausen film, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Like you, I was surprised upon revisiting it as an adult to find it held up extremely well, and was still almost as much fun as the first time.

On the other hand, I rewatched CLASH OF THE TITANS (also on Netflix instant watch, fwiw) recently, and--yeah, not as much. :)

I do however think there's something to the argument that Harryhausen's stop motion monsters work better for fantasy films than the CG monstrosities they've been replaced with. Photorealistic? No. Fantastic, in the old sense? YES.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Heya, Vicar! For what it's worth, I think Harryhausen's best effects are indeed photoreal (they're real items that have been photographed, after all). But I know what you mean. You can always tell if there's a soul behind the animation in traditional forms, and CGI tends to interfere with that (though, I must admit that Pixar, alone of CG studios, seems to have figured a way around that).

Anyway, thanks for stopping by.

east kansas banger said...

For some reason or another our local cable company caries the channel REELS which coincidentally (or not) shows this with some regularity. I decided to tivo it remembering it as being quite good. And..... It was. Loved every minute of it. Although I didn't really need to tivo it since it was on 12 times over that weekend. LOL Probably the best time I had watching it was when I turned off the sound and just watched it while listening to a Kreator album. That was a heavy night indeed.