The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad

The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad (1974)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: John Philip Law, Tom Baker, Caroline Munro
Extras: 3 Featurettes, Theatrical Trailer, Vintage Advertising, Talent Files, Production Notes

Special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen has fueled nightmares and daydreams for over 40 years. While today’s filmmakers need small armies of technicians to wave their digital wands, Ray was a one-man special effects house, supplying fantastic visions to silver screens the world over. Harryhausen’s trade — stop-motion animation — has since passed into legend, yet his fanciful creations still grip our collective imaginations.
As part of their "Ray Harryhausen Collection", Columbia TriStar Home Video has just released a marvelous DVD of the second installment in the "Sinbad" movie triad, "The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad" from 1974.

As with every Harryhausen adventure, the plot template comes straight out of a Joseph Campbell treatise: a hero (Sinbad, Jason, Perseus) faces a host of fantastic obstacles (trials, labors, etc.) to achieve one (or more) of the following: 1) restore balance, 2) fulfill destiny or 3) get the girl. In "Golden Voyage," a moment of fate lands Sinbad in the midst of a power struggle between the evil sorcerer Koura and the Grand Vizier of Marabia, whose badly burned face (courtesy of Koura) hides behind an ornate gold mask. The golden amulet that initiated Sinbad’s arrival turns out to be part of a key/map charting a nautical course to the fabled island of Lemuria, where good and evil constantly clash and "untold riches" await. En route, Sinbad and his crew battle all manner of fantastic opponents including a six-armed, sword-brandishing stone statue, a one-eyed centaur and a griffin, a wooden masthead come to life and a host of evil spirits. Amidst the splendor of the Fountain of Destiny, Sinbad engages Koura in a sword-clashing showdown to the death.

Any more analysis on the plot is not necessary. One does not watch a Harryhausen film for the plot or the Shavian dialogue. With lines like "A thief is a king until he is caught" or "He, who is patient obtains," these films are designed for simple digestion and maximum hokum, but with an obvious affection for the material. John Philip Law does an admirable job of carrying on the tradition of fighting air and his turbaned and bearded look contrasts Kerwin Mathews’ oh-so-square jawed interpretation of the intrepid sailor in 1958’s "Seventh Voyage of Sinbad." Turns out, the best line in "Golden Voyage" is a real Persian proverb. When the Grand Vizier tells Sinbad how his arrival was pre-destined, Sinbad puts it in perspective by saying "Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel." There actually is a saying like that! Any perceived lack of technical perfection (a thought possible only in the last 5 years) is more than made up for with bundles of charm and a genuine sense of wonder.

Columbia TriStar Home Video brings us "The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad" in a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> version preserving the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, as well as an <$OpenMatte,open matte>, full-frame version (more on that later). The transfer used for this DVD is generally clean and only minor defects are visible in the source print. Given the mechanics of Ray’s melding of stop-motion and live-action (originally coined "Dynamation," it was re-named "Dynarama" for this film) and the many optical effects, some grain is evident in selected scenes, but is never distracting. Blacks are perfectly rendered without breaking up or losing detail in the shadows, and highlights give the image a nice counter-balance. Some edge-enhancement is evident in the transfer to achieve a sharper look. The compression is of very high quality without distracting artifacts or <$pixelation,pixelation>.

The presentation is highly detailed and colors are finely delineated, respecting the film’s colorful production design and costumes. Harryhausen first employed color in his Dynamation process with "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad." That film’s enchanting aura notwithstanding, the viewer had to make a huge leap of faith to accept an orange cyclops, a blue snake-woman, or a green dragon. By the time "Golden" came around, the colors of Ray’s creatures were much more "natural" looking.

The open-matte version adds some information at the top and the bottom of the frame. As with the <$PS,widescreen> transfer, details are sharp and the colors just as vivid. Having the extra headroom also highlights the spatial disparity between the human characters and Ray’s mythological menagerie. With the <$PS,full frame> version, the monsters appear more menacing and the humans seem just that much more in peril.

Interestingly, Harryhausen has confirmed in other journals that all but one of his films were shot full-frame, as he (and longtime producer Charles H. Schneer) knew that television would be the eventual destination for their visions. There is the perception that children (the target audience for "Golden Voyage") do not care about letterboxing and accurate aspect ratios, a notion that doomed "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" to a full-screen DVD incarnation. One might speculate that Columbia TriStar Home Video is covering their bets with having this DVD ready for 16X9 display. Whether the screen is square, rectangular or pear-shaped, there is no denying that Columbia TriStar has fully employed the format’s resolution and storage capabilities in bringing this fantasy-adventure classic to DVD.

"The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" contains a monaural <$DD,Dolby Digital> track in a 2-channel presentation in English and Portuguese. Although the soundtrack does not have the wide frequency response of modern audio mixes, it comes across nonetheless as very good and natural for the most part. At times a bit harsh sounding, the audio is mostly clear and balanced, making the film a great experience to watch. Every creature’s grunt, every sword swish and every note of Miklos Rozsa’s appropriately majestic score is aptly reproduced, albeit in mono glory (pity that a stereophonic rendition of the score could not be offered as a separate audio track).

Special features include three "featurettes" provided on the making of "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers," "Mysterious Island," and "The 3 Worlds Of Gulliver." A featurette usually implies a scripted mini-documentary, with narration, interviews, clips and behind the scenes footage. In two of the featurettes (for "Mysterious Island" and "Gulliver"), we have Ray Harryhausen on videotape discussing some of the interesting tidbits and trivia associated with the respective films. For the "Earth" featurette, Ray is joined by director Joe Dante ("Gremlins," "Small Soldiers") acting as on-camera interviewer. Each segment lasts ten to fifteen minutes and each has its own moments of "Gee, I never knew that!" revelations. For example, Joe alludes to the fact that "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers" was one of Orson Welles’ favorite films and Orson used clips of it in a movie called "F Is For Fake." With his gentle, avuncular delivery, Ray explains how sometimes magic is worked out of necessity. In order to keep "Gulliver" on budget, sometimes they had to use perspective photography in filming the towering Gulliver against the diminutive Lilliputians. Actor Kerwin Mathews (as Gulliver) was placed close to the foreground, with the other actors standing 200 yards away. The camera lens blends both as if they are within the same line of sight, achieving the same effect as an expensive (and time consuming) travelling matte. Instant special effect! Whether you are a die-hard fan of the genre or even remotely interested in the mindset needed to create fantasy on film, the featurettes are highly informative and just plain fascinating.

The theatrical trailer is a welcome inclusion, though it looks a little beat up. The trailer highlights the mystical aspects of the story and of course, Ray’s marvelous creatures. The "Vintage Advertising" section offers a still-frame gallery of eight lobby cards, displaying exciting moments. The Talent Files are a little skimpy, when compared with other DVDs, but is contrasted with better than average liner notes.

I would like to take this opportunity to give my thanks to Columbia TriStar for their vigilant preservation of Mr. Harryhausen’s handiwork. My copy of "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" sits right next to the DVDs of "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" and "Jason And The Argonauts." I anxiously await the arrivals of "Sinbad And The Eye of The Tiger," "Mysterious Island," "The 3 Worlds of Gulliver" and other Dynamation gems.