Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

"Set a course for Hell and damnation!"
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger was the most expensive (with a budget of $7 million) and ambitious of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad trilogy, yet it was the least successful.  The film was shot in new and rarely seen locations around the world. From Spain to Malta and Petra, Jordan where no previous film crew had been allowed to film.  I think the main difficulty is that was released late in the summer of 1977.  The summer of Star Wars.  Though Harryhausen did his usual incredible job with visual effects, Industrial Light and Magic reinvented the world of visual effects with Star Wars.  It eclipsed many films that year.
At first, John Phillip Law was set to reprise his role as Sinbad in the new film directed by Sam Wanamaker, but when Law became unavailable the role fell to Patrick Wayne (son of John Wayne).  Wayne is a very bland presence in the film but he's supported well by Margaret Whiting as the nefarious Zenobia, Patrick Troughton as the wise Melanthius and Jane Seymour as the young Princess Farah. Peter Mayhew also joins the cast (uncredited) as Minoton.  Mayhew starred in Star Wars as well in the role of Chewbacca.
The story begins in Charak, where Prince Kassim is about to be crowned caliph after the death of his father.  His sister, Princess Farah, looks on in terror as her stepmother, Zenobia, uses black magic to turn Kassim into a baboon before he can be crowned.  Zenobia hopes to have her own son, Rafi, crowned as caliph.  If Kassim is not crowned within seven full moons his right to the crown will be forfeit.  Sinbad arrives in Charak to see Farah, who he's been courting, and to sell the merchandise he's collected abroad.  He is met by Rafi who tries to poison Sinbad's crew.  Then Zenobia summons three strange "ant men" who attack Sinbad and his men.
Sinbad and his men escape the creatures and retreat to his ship.  The next day, the royal vizier and Farah ask Sinbad for help.  Sinbad tells them he has heard of a wise Greek called Melanthius who lives on a far island.  If anyone can help restore Kassim it is Melanthius.  He agrees to seek him out.  Sinbad tells Farah that once Kassim is restored, he intends to ask the caliph for her hand in marriage.  Zenobia threatens the crew and tells them their journey is useless.
After Sinbad departs.  Zenobia and Rafi create a bronze monster in the shape of a minotaur.  They call him Minoton and Zenobia uses her magic to bring him to life. The strange trio board a small bronze boat and sail off after Sinbad to ensure he never finds Melanthius.
Aboard Sinbad's ship we learn that Kassim still has his human faculties.  He plays chess with Sinbad and Farah on the journey to Melanthius' island.  The island is surrounded by dense fog and dangerous rocks but Sinbad makes it through safely. Zenobia's oars are damaged and her boat is delayed.
The crew eventually finds Melanthius and his daughter.  Melanthius suggests that the only way to save Kassim is to sail north to Hyperborea where there is an ancient Temple of the Elements where the prince might be restored.  He agrees to accompany them on the voyage and the crew sets sail immediately.  Meanwhile, Zenobia and Rafi have repaired their oars and are able to follow Sinbad's ship away from the island.
Not content to simply follow without knowing the destination, Zenobia transforms herself into a seagull and lands aboard Sinbad's ship.  Then she shrinks herself to a few inches in height and sneaks about to discover that the destination is Hyperborea.  She is briefly captured by Melanthius who suspects Zenobia used the same magic potion on herself as on Kassim.  Zenobia has it with her and Melanthius tests it on a bee which immediately grows to the size of a bird.  Sinbad is able to slay the bee and in the chaos, Zenobia takes what's left of her potion and escapes. Unfortunately, there is not quite enough to restore her entirely and she is left with the foot of a seagull.  Now aware of the destination, Zenobia realizes that Sinbad has a chance of success and strives to reach Hyperborea before him.
Sinbad has too great a head start and they reach the north first.  The size of their ship means they have to take a longer overland route to Hyperborea.  En route, they are attacked by a gigantic walrus and they lose a crewman before they are able to chase the animal away.  When they reach the farthest north position they find a warm, green environment.  There, they encounter a primitive hominid that they nickname Trog.  Kassim is able to communicate with Trog who leads them to the ancient temple.
Meanwhile, Zenobia and Rafi have found an ancient passage through the ice.  Their small bronze boat is easily able to navigate it.  The passage leads directly to the centre of Hyperborea and they arrive at the temple sometime before Sinbad's party. Once there, Minoton is able to break into the temple but only at the expense of his own life.
In the temple, a great shaft of blue light falls from the ceiling.  Melanthius notices a gold cage and suggests that Kassim should be placed inside and passed through the light.  Before this can be done, Zenobia and Rafi appear and Rafi attacks Kassim. They tumble down an enormous staircase and Rafi breaks his neck.  Around them, the temperature change from their entrance to the temple is causing massive icicles to melt and fall.  In the chaos, Melanthius and Sinbad manage to get Kassim into the light where he is restored.
Devastated at the loss of her son, Zenobia calls on her dark forces one last time.  She sends her spirit into a frozen sabretooth tiger and, as the animal, attacks Sinbad's party.  No Harryhausen film would be complete without a final battle between two of his creatures.  Trog steps in and fights the tiger until he is too wounded to go on. Finally, Sinbad is able to defeat the tiger just before the entire temple collapses.
The crew is able to safely leave Hyperborea.  They arrive back in Charak just in time for Kassim to be crowned caliph.
Though the film features spectacular locations and a solid story, it lacks the excitement of the previous two installments.  By 1977 Harryhausen has become so proficient at his craft that audiences are taking it for granted.  At the same time, the story calls for him to create mostly well-known animals instead of fantastic creatures.  I think those two factors make the film seem less spectacular.  In fact, Harryhausen does a superb job of making the baboon a flawless impersonation of real life.  Cynthia Tingey's costumes are fun but they have a definite 70s flare which tends to date this film more than the other two.  It's still a really entertaining journey but not as memorable as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad or The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.
The DVD is available in the Ray Harryhausen Signature Collection and it does have some bonus features.  Oddly, they are mostly about other Harryhausen films.

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