Today, I'm reviewing the classic action adventure film The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958).
This article is part of The Ray Harryhausen Blogathon hosted by Wolffian Classics Movies Digest.
Today, many Hollywood blockbusters are special effects laden extravaganzas, but that wasn't always the case. The genius of animator and visual effects creator Ray Harryhausen inspired many modern filmmakers through his groundbreaking work in movies like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958).
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad begins with intrepid sailor Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) and his crew getting lost at sea while they are sailing to Baghdad. The unlucky sailors end up on the monster-laden island of Colossa where they meet up with a terrifying Cyclops and evil magician, Sokurah (Torin Thatcher). When Sokurah shrinks Sinbad's sweetheart, Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant, aka Mrs. Bing Crosby), to a tiny size, he enlists the help of a genie (Richard Eyer) to save Parisa and himself.
Harryhausen had long dreamed of making a movie about the Arabian folk tales of Sinbad the sailor, but swashbucklers had fallen out of fashion in fifties Hollywood. Finally, Columbia Pictures producer Charles H. Schneer was able to get studio chiefs to green light the project because of Harryhausen's exemplary work in films like It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), Mighty Joe Young (1949), and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956).
The entire production of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad took around 11 months and it was the first film to use a process Harryhausen pioneered called Dynamation (sometimes also called Dynarama or SuperDynaMation). Dynamation, which was the forerunner of motion-capture technology used in films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The BFG (2016), was a blend of live actors and the stop-motion animation of three-dimensional figures that were manipulated by Harryhausen.
Dynamation was a painstaking process, and it took around 11 months for the filming of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. First, the cast and crew flew to Spain where they filmed the outdoor sequences, and then everyone returned to London where they shot the indoor sequences. Working in Dynamation actually required a great deal from the actors; they had to pretend to be terrified of monsters and dragons they couldn't even see, and Mathews, who trained with fencing master Enzo Musumeci-Greco, had to engage in an intense sword fight with an imaginary foe (Harryhausen later added in a skeleton that matches Mathews every thrust and parry as you can see in the clip above). Then Harryhausen created the animated sequences with his 3-D models. Finally, all of the footage was painstakingly spliced together into a seamless film.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was one of the unexpected hits of 1958, and it's still a highly enjoyable film almost 60 years later. The movie has a lot of kid appeal: It's short (the running time is 1 hour 28 minutes) and there are plenty of monsters and a boy wonder genie. There is also a lot for adults to enjoy, including a fine performance from the dashing Mathews (he's like a cross between Tyrone Power and Charlton Heston) and Bernard Herrmann's magnificent score.
However, one of the chief delights of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is comparing the film to modern-day visual effects masterpieces, especially director Peter Jackson's movies based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The cave troll in The Fellowship of the Ring (2011) is the direct descendant of Sinbad's Cyclops, and the dragon that guards Sukorah's lair bears a striking resemblance to Smaug in The Hobbit movies; the climax of the movie even involves a molten lake of lava into which Sinbad must throw a magic lamp.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is available on DVD, Blu ray, and video on demand.