Friday, November 5, 2010

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

"Every voyage has its own flavour."
Almost 20 years after The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Ray Harryhausen and Charles Schneer crafted the great sequel, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.  When it was released in April of 1974, audiences were truly amazed at what the filmmakers had accomplished.  With a budget of less than a million dollars, The Golden Voyage is still truly epic.  The film was shot in locations all over the world from Spain to Malta to India and Harryhausen's visual effects are nothing less than astounding!
The Golden Voyage was directed by Gordon Hessler (The Oblong Box) and stars John Phillip Hall (Barbarella) as Sinbad and Tom Baker (Doctor Who) as Koura. Law is my favourite Harryhausen Sinbad.   He looks great in the part and he affects an accent that, if not entirely accurate, is exotic enough to be believable.  Baker makes a terrific villain as the dark prince, Koura.  His work in this film led directly to his being cast as the famous fourth doctor on Doctor Who.
The story is HUGE and entirely original.  It begins when a strange creature accidentally drops a mysterious golden tablet on the deck of Sinbad's ship.  Sinbad keeps the object but when he lands at home, the dark prince Koura confronts him, telling Sinbad that the tablet is his.  Sinbad manages to escape from Koura and heads to the capital where the sultan has died and left his vizier in charge.  The vizier is horribly scarred after a mysterious fireball engulfed him.  He befriends Sinbad, drawn to the golden tablet, which he recognizes as part of a larger whole, of which he also has part.  Together, the two men discover that the tablets form a map.  It is missing a third part but they have enough information to embark on a voyage.
Koura knows that the map leads to the Fountain of Destiny and he sends a spy, a living homunculus, to find out where Sinbad and the vizier intend to sail.  The men realize that they can only be searching for the lost continent of Lemuria and they embark, knowing that Koura is hot on their trail.  It's a race to see which ship will arrive first.  Koura uses his dark magic abilities to bring to life the figurehead on Sinbad's ship.  She attacks the crew and steals Sinbad's charts for Koura.  The figurehead is brought to life amazingly by Harryhausen.
Both ships reach Lemuria within minutes of each other but Sinbad and his crew are first to land.  They rush to an ancient temple where they call upon an oracle who tells them to head north.  There, they will find the third golden tablet and the Fountain of Destiny.  Koura has overheard the instructions and he causes a cave-in which destroys the entrance to the temple, leaving Sinbad and his crew trapped inside.  They eventually escape through an opening high above only to be captured by a tribe of native Lemurians.  Meanwhile, Koura has already befriended the natives and been taken to the temple of their goddess, Kali.  When the natives bring Sinbad's party there as well, Koura uses his magic to bring a huge statue of Kali to life.  In one of Harryhausen's most masterful performances, the six-armed goddess battles Sinbad and his men.
Sinbad is able to defeat Kali, but in the process he destroys the natives' most important shrine.  Angered, they take his companion, Margiana (Caroline Munro), as a sacrifice to their one-eyed god.  They lower her into a pit and a large, cycloptic centaur drags her off into the caves beneath the temple.  Meanwhile, Koura now has all three golden tablets and is on his way to the Fountain of Destiny, also in the caves.  The vizier removes his golden helmet and his scarred visage distracts the natives long enough for Sinbad to escape.  Sinbad pursues Margiana instead of Koura and is able to rescue her.  Together, they head after the dark prince.  They find Koura, his youth restored, at the Fountain.  Koura calls upon the centaur to defeat Sinbad but a giant Griffin appears to battle the centaur on the sailor's behalf.
The Fountain has also given Koura a "Shield of Darkness" which makes him invisible.  A wild duel ensues with Sinbad battling an invisible opponent.  The waters of the Fountain finally aid Sinbad in detecting and defeating Koura.  The final gift of the Fountain is a golden crown which Sinbad bestows upon the vizier.  He is magically healed and Sinbad and his crew take him home where he will rule.
The story is really well-constructed with great mystery and twists and turns galore. Harryhausen and Brian Clemens crafted a really engaging mythology.  The film is fast-paced and a really great example of the kind of storytelling that would become the basis for Hollywood fantasy tentpoles in years to come.  The film is visually arresting with fantastic creatures, great make-up by Jose Antonio Sanchez and fantastic sets and locations.  This is one of Harryhausen's most impressive films and probably the strongest of the Sinbad trilogy.
The DVD does have some bonus features, but they're about other Harryhausen films rather than this one.  Nevertheless, the movie itself is worth every penny!  It's definitely a must-see.

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