The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

Every Wednesday, I revisit a film that I have strong memories of watching, to see how well my memories of it hold up to scrutiny, and whether the film is as good (or as bad) as I remember. If I get my act together, and keep this up for a few years, we will end up with a nice little film guide, like those Halliwell’s Film Guides we used to buy before Wikipedia was invented. But less authoritative, and with more knob jokes. 

What I remember…

The dragon. I remember the dragon. This is a film that I probably watched on television on a bank holiday, possibly at a friends house, when I was about nine or ten. I don’t remember anything about the plot or the actors but if you gave me a colour swatch I could find matches for the colour of the dragon and the red of the walls behind it from memory. The dragon was really cool.

What I expected…

Some very enjoyable Ray Harryhausen animations, occasionally interrupted by a bad film.

What I found…

I don’t want to skip the fact that the majority of the actors in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad are white guys pretending not to be white guys, or that everyone is ‘doing an accent’ except for the two leads, or that the accents that they are attempting are inconsistent and usually problematic, but after pointing it out and acknowledging that the awfulness of that will bang heavily on the fourth wall throughout the film as you watch it, what else is there to say? It’s a film about a character from 8th Century Baghdad made in 1950s Hollywood: obviously they were going to make a mess of that. We can take some small comfort in the fact that the portrayals are clumsy rather than overwhelmingly racist.

Because, if you can get past that, there is a reasonably enjoyable film to be watched. And while about ninety percent of the fun does come from those Harryhausen monsters (of which the excellent cyclops, a snake-woman with bendy arms, and the dragon were my favourites) there is enough going on in the story to keep you engaged even when you are reduced to watching humans just talking at each other. The character of Sinbad is fiercely underwritten, neither cunning or charming, brave or inspirational as a captain – you have to feel sorry for Kerwin Mathews who had little to do except read the lines he was given and consequently comes across as a far more wooden actor than he probably was – and most of the rest of the cast exist only to be eaten or thrown of cliffs by some monster or other, but somehow Torin Thatcher (as the over-the-top villain) and Kathryn Grant (as Princess Parisa – who actually does far more to save the day than Sinbad) do enough to keep things ticking along nicely. There is also fun to be had from noticing how the 7th Voyage of Sinbad would influence the films that followed it. The scene in Star Wars, when Luke and Leia swing across a chasm where a bridge should be, is a tip of the hat to a similar scene in the 7th Voyage of Sinbad. It’s a reference that I missed as a child (despite the fact that I was watching Star Wars about four times a week at the time) but was obvious this time around.

And those animations are so much fun. The cyclops in particular is surprisingly capable of expressing emotion. Far more so than, say, Sinbad. And the dragon was just as I remembered him. Sure, there is very little logic in when it can and can’t breath fire but, come on, who actually cares? It’s a dragon. It fights a cyclops. Nobody needs more than that. Nobody.

So, how good was my memory?

Alright, I reckon. 5/10? I was certainly right in remembering that the best part of the film was the stop motion animated monsters but I shouldn’t get a medal for that.

And how good is the film?

You know what, despite its faults, this is an above ok movie in my opinion. I have no regrets in buying the Blu-ray. It is the sort of film that would perfectly accompany a rainy Sunday afternoon.