BR: Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The (1973)

January 23, 2014 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / G

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Film: Excellent/ BR Transfer: Excellent / BR Extras: Good

Label: Twilight Time / Region: All / Released: December 13, 2013

Genre: Action / Fantasy / Ray Harryhausen

Synopsis: Sinbad and his team of most excellent sailors travel to an ancient fountain to save the life of a Vizier and Arabia from the clutches of scheming black magic usurper Koura.

Special Features:

Isolated stereo score track / Original theatrical trailer / 3 bonus making-of featurettes (1995): “Mysterious Island” (11:13) + “3 Worlds of Gulliver” (7:12) + “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” (11:52) / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

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Review:

After making a successful string of fantasy and sci-fi tales rooted in ancient myths and sci-fi novels, respectively, the team of Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer stumbled a little with The Valley of Gwangi (1969), mixing dinosaurs with cowboys in contemporary times.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad marked a return to more fertile source material, and although not based on a novel, the story concocted by Harryhausen and skilled genre writer Brian Clemens (Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, TV’s The Avengers and Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense) is quite fluid and celebratory of Harryhausen’s prior ancient myth adventure-spectacles – The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963) – and inarguably Michael Powell’s blazing Technicolor gem The Thief of Bagdad (1940).

Powell’s film boasts a similar lofty adventure involving corrupt upper-class figures reaching for the imperial crown, the use of black magic, oversized creatures, treasure, and romance, and if these elements aren’t the most obvious connections to genre fans, then Miklos Rozsa’s music certain is – boisterous, highly thematic with fanfares, and a rich romantic theme.

The Arabian market in Golden is filled with saturated colours evoking the deep Technicolor-friendly pain and fabrics of 1940 (as best as possible, anyways), and like Thief’s evil schemer Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), a pre-Doctor Who (and a post-Rasputin in Nicholas and Alexandra) Tom Baker is wonderful as the vile Koura, determined to usurp the kingdom’s power and riches for his own greed joy. Director Gordon Hessler undoubtedly enjoyed switching from flawed horror (De Sade, Scream and Scream Again) to much brighter subject matter, and yet he mined some of Bagdad’s main visuals for his own version of ancient Arabia.

Like Powell, Hessler emphasized the eyes of his villain, using those black-rimmed orbs to emphasize Koura’s malicious powers, but in a clever twist, each time the schemer applies some magic – to create a winged informer, or a dancing, saber-wielding deity – he’s physically aged, making his goal to reach a legendary fountain of youth utterly urgent.

As Sinbad, John Phillip Law (Danger: Diabolik, Barbarella) is a perfect fit, further transforming the beloved adventurer into a highly proactive team leader, assertive lover, and a quick-witted thinker. Law’s Sinbad is arguably the character’s more enriched cinema version, even setting aside romance until the job – reaching the fountain by using a trio of interlocking trinkets, and restoring a Vizier’s health and riches – is 100% done.

Harryhausen’s creatures are more logically tied to the kind of extraordinary figures Sinbad would find protecting caves, portals, and fountains, and although Golden reportedly had a lesser budget than the subsequent adventure, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, there’s more detail involved in their realistic movements and nuances. There’s also little sadness when Koura’s last homunculus dies, as well as the one-eyed centaur – felled after it kills the fountain’s guardian, a winged griffin.

Perhaps the key reason the creatures in Golden are more acceptable than Tiger is they feel native to their roles (guardians or tools of evil), or they’re organically extrapolated from existing fixtures, as is the case with the siren figurehead that breaks free from Sinbad’s ship to fight the men and bring a sea chart to Koura (a chart apparently written with ancient Arabian waterproof ink!); and the copper Kali statue which snaps to life, dances on a dime for Koura, and sprouts sabers for each of its six arms before battling Sinbad’s men.

Perhaps the last memorable element of the production is Caroline Munro, attired in preposterously revealing costumes designed by Verena Coleman and Gabriella Falk, and captured on film in shots designed to celebrate the actress’ perfect physique. Whether mandated by Hessler, Harryhausen, or inspired by Munro’s ongoing ad campaigns in minimal attire for Lamb’s Navy Rum, the level of taut cleavage (often bedewed by the Spanish heat or Klieg lights) is unreal.

An early and more substantive role in Munro’s career, the actress (oddly dubbed by a quasi-Arabian voice) is more décor than an active member of Sinbad’s team, but Hessler never shies away from exploiting her dual main assets, of which the funniest sequence remains Sinbad’s fight with the centaur: Hessler (and giddy editor Roy Watts) repeatedly intercuts shots of Munro, her beaded bosom heaving mightily, as colourful filler footage.

These moments undoubtedly instilled an early appreciation for cleavage among young cinemagoers, given all of the Harryhausen-Schneer productions were aimed at families.

 

The Home Video Releases

Alongside Mysterious Island (1960) and Tiger, this marks Twilight Time’s third Harryhausen release from the Columbia archives, and no doubts some fans will quibble as to why Sony felt there was little interest in releasing neither of these films themselves. Sony did put out a boxed set of Blu-rays for 2008, but perhaps unimpressed with sales, the label felt it best to license their stellar transfers to indie labels, letting them assemble their own extras for the perceived niche audiences of these classics.

The plus side: the HD transfer is gorgeous, and the optical effects (grain and mattes) hold up much better here than in some older transfers. Although the stated transfer ratio is 1.85:1, it’s more of a pillarboxed 1.66:1 ratio – a more effective balance (and reportedly the film’s original exhibition ratio) between the tighter 1.85:1 ratio imposed by Sony for their 2000 DVD, and the 1.33:1 open matte transfer also present on the DVD and Pioneer’s 1991 laserdisc.

The downside: like Experiment in Terror (1962), Sony’s seen fit to include a newly created 5.1 mix using surviving stereo stems but not supplying the original mono mixes nor foreign dub tracks is bad practice.

Even with TT’s included isolated score (featuring Rozsa’s score + source cues), there’s room for a mono track on a Blu-ray. These titles are being released as specialty product to niche viewers – picky collectors wanting choice. It’s not complex math: these items exist on Sony’s prior DVD releases, so why skimp? Why the fear that collectors would be insulted by the addition of a mono mix? Some early Blu-rays were similarly authored without their original mono mixes, which is poor judgment, and here’s why:

Pioneer’s 1991 laserdisc contained an isolated mono music & effects track to boot. There are specific moments when the sound engineers amped up the bass to emphasize a creature’s mass, of which the best example is the Kali statue, whose footsteps thumped and boomed. Each one. Not so in the 5.1 mix unless there’s a subwoofer connected to the system, so those wanting that memorable effect as originally crafted for the mono mix are out of luck.

I appreciate the effort in crafting a 5.1 mix with carefully panned effects (no too radically, and generally subtle) and making use of surviving stereo stems to create a truer 5.1 sound spectrum than simply isolating frequencies and assigning them to each track; I also appreciate the almost flawless upgrading of the mono music stems to an evocative stereo sound so there’s minimal clash between stereo and mono elements in the newly created 5.1 mix; but not including the original mono mix (Mysterious Island Blu-ray excepted) is a misstep, and Sony seems to be comfortable in believing there’s no need for a mono option in a post-2013 home video world.

Fans of the Harryhausen DVDs are aware of Sony’s initial lack of original extras – most titles in their first wave of DVDs (circa 2000) repeated the vintage “This is Dynamation” featurette and The Harryhausen Chronicles documentary – a problem somewhat rectified when Sony revisited select titles as 2-disc special editions with new (and more meaningful) extras, albeit sometimes offering bullshit colorized versions for those with a hate-on for B&W.

As mainly licensors, Sony’s not interested in creating any new bonus material, so the responsibility of getting new interviews with surviving cast (let alone archival pieces), fresh docs / featurettes resides with the indie labels who may not have the funds or time for additional productions.

TT’s mandate is more music-centric, so the extras are often slanted towards film music collectors and film fans. Not a bad thing, but one wishes in addition to crafting 2K and 4K masters of their catalogue titles, Sony would simultaneously transfer archival materials – especially never before available ephemera – to digital, so indies labels have more options in assembling their special edition.

In order for indie producers to accomplish their due diligence, they need to know what’s been released over time, and what may reside in archives; given any Blu-ray release may become a potential one-time release as physical media struggles to survive in today’s market, any help from companies, collectors, or those involved with the original production is crucial to crafting what may become a film’s definitive, and perhaps last, home video release in one territory.

England’s market seems much more healthy (witness the steady stream of special editions from Arrow and Eureka!), whereas the North American realm is fighting a battle against changing viewer habits, and what could be regarded as a partially propagandistic effort by studios to move everyone towards their own digital streams.

What it ultimately means for home video producers is their jobs have become tougher in balancing budgets with the need to satisfy fans / collectors and delivery the best transfer possible.

TT’s team were able to extract from Sony several making-of featurettes on Mysterious Island, The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers that were originally created for Columbia’s 1995 laserdiscs, of which the latter is co-hosted by Joe Dante. Each featurette concludes with silent motion and still galleries of publicity art and photos as originally archived on those discs, so the resolution is a little rough.

The weathered theatrical trailer for Golden hypes the names of Schneer! and Harryhausen! as much as the stars, and of course blows all the money shots – so avoid watching until you’ve seen the film.

Rozsa was reportedly saddled with a less than ideal orchestra, and the original soundtrack recording always sounded rather muddy, which exaggerated the less than enthusiastic musician performances. Both the 5.1 remix and stereo isolated score sound quite clean and clear, and being uncompressed, have greater range than the mono laserdisc track. It’s a big improvement, and makes the performances sound less ‘relaxed.’

In spite of Golden’s success, Harryhausen would make two more fantasy-adventure films: the underrated follow-up Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) with Patrick Wayne filling in for Law, and Clash of the Titans (1981).

Director Gordon Hessler kind of reached the apex of his career with Golden, switching to TV movies and episodic series with just a handful of theatrical works up to 1991.

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© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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