Monday, April 05, 2010

Harried and Harryhausened

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977, directed by Sam Wanamaker) is very much the least of the Sinbad movies. It's woefully miscast. Patrick Wayne (son of The Duke) is WAY too white American to be a credible Sinbad, and it gives the juicier female lead to Taryn Power (daughter of Tyrone Power), rather than to Jane Seymour, who blows her off the screen. This is more or less the same movie as The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, in which an evil sorcerer has disfigured the rightful ruler and Sinbad must convey that ruler to a magical wellspring. Along the way, monsters are battled, and at the end, our heroes look on as two monsters battle each other. Unlike that movie, this movie shows our heroes to be complete morons, especially the wise man, Melantheus (played by former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton). The heroes keep just telling evil queen Zenobia their plans, which is irritating in the extreme. If they keep mum about it, the movie has no drama. This kind of special pleading is a hallmark of bad screenwriting. Ray Harryhausen's monsters remain a delight, but there's not enough of them to sustain the movie, and even these show some flagging invention on the part of the artist. The first monsters we get are these demonic insect men:

These are pretty good. But it's downhill from there. The giant walrus seems thrown in just to have an encounter during a slow part of the movie (which, unwittingly pads its length).

And the final monster is this sabertooth tiger, which is not one of Harryhausen's finest creations. It looks like a stuffed toy rather than a threatening monster.

For the most part, you can see the roots of how modern blockbusters are made in this film: you have a monster encounter at the end of every reel--approximately every ten minutes--to keep the kids' attention from wandering. Unfortunately, that doesn't work any better as drama here than it does in more recent fare. Unfortunately.

Speaking of Harryhausen, the new Clash of the Titans (2010, directed by Louis Leterrier) is surprising in at least one respect: it satisfies the Alison Bechdel rule. There are more than two women in the film with speaking parts. Two or more women speak to each other about something other than a man (in this case, Cassiopeia to her daughter, Andromeda, on the subject of defying the gods). Rah, rah, feminism. Otherwise, this sucks all kinds of ass.

This film is stitched together from bits and pieces of the original film without borrowing its overall design. Some elements seem thrown in just for the sake of echoing the old movie. Calibos, for example, seems like a throw in excuse to make giant scorpions. The contempt for the original film exhibited in this one is manifested in a throwaway bit, in which Perseus finds Bubo the owl in a bunch of scrap and tosses him aside. Mind you, the original is no great shakes and the owl was ridiculous, but why antagonize the people who grew up with it by trashing it. Feh.

Allegedly, the whole reason this exists is to update the special effects from Harryhausen's charmingly homemade stop-motion puppets to state of the art, photoreal CGI. But what, I ask, is the point of state of the art special effects if the film is edited so fast that you can't see anything? I challenge anyone to tell me what this film's harpies actually look like (apart from having wings). There were two points during this film where I said aloud "Hold. The camera. Still." If I say anything during a movie, I'm usually having a bad time, so this is telling of my experience. The way the film plays fast and loose with mythology is irritating, too, but not nearly as irritating as the way it wastes relatively good actors in the background in favor of Sam Worthington and Gemma Arterton, neither of whom exactly holds the screen. Polly walker gets four minutes of screen time? Elizabeth McGovern is even in this? Really? I almost gave this points for having some background extras at the palace in Argos dressed in the Minoan snake goddess outfit (sadly no boobs are visible), but screw it, it's anachronistic. Ralph Fiennes must have done this without preparation during some down time on the set of Harry Potter, because his performance is basically Voldermort in mythological drag. Lazy.

In a nutshell: Loud, pummeling, illogical, incomprehensible, pointless. Tremendous resources misapplied wholesale. A great steaming pile.


Deborah said...

It's Gemma Arterton. One of the finest points of Quantum of Solace was how many difficult names I had to learn to spell in order to write about it. Matheiu Almaric took me about 50 tries. Arterton about half that.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Fixed. Mads Mikkelsen is in this, too, by the way.