You can’t overstate the influence of Ray Harryhausen on Hollywood cinema. His stop-motion animation inspired the most exciting fantasies of Peter Jackson, James Cameron, John Landis, and (most obviously) Nick Park from Aardman Animation. He worked on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in 1958 and returned to the mythical hero 15 years later (after spending the ‘60s working on Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years B.C.) with a different cast and crew in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, which marked his first credit as a producer.
In Golden Voyage, Sinbad (John Phillip Law) and his crew intercept a homunculus flying above their ship. It carries a magic tablet, and Sinbad wears it around his neck as a boastful reward. When he visits Marabia, Sinbad meets with the golden-masked Grand Vizier (Douglas Wilmer) who tells him that the tablet is a third of an overall whole. It’s also part of a map leading to the lost continent of Lemuria, which promises youth and riches to its seeker. But the dark magician Prince Koura (Tom Baker) is also desperate to gain these tablets and welcome back his youth.
The continued existence of this film is down to the niche fame of Harryhausen rather than the quality of the story, but it’s a fun journey to jump into. It revels in childish escapism, unfolding like a myth or fairytale as various spectacles are released over and over again without a great deal of character development. Each fight and each creature (Harryhausen didn’t like to refer to his creations as “monsters”) is unique in their own right and their continuous introductions never feel too repetitive – providing scenes that feel fresh, even to modern eyes. The clay-animations (or “Dynamations”) are elegantly designed, particularly the six-armed, sword-wielding goddess Kali, whose movements are unpredictable as well as beautiful – like watching a violent dance.
A recent documentary on Harryhausen had many famous filmmakers discuss how his visual effects don’t look dated, even by today’s standards. Even though modern CGI often looks silly, you should treat their comments with a heap of salt. If a young cinema-goer watched The Golden Voyage of Sinbad without knowing about Harryhausen’s impact and influence, you can imagine their laughter towards simpler times. Fantasy and Sci-Fi have also progressed a great deal in terms of character, creating well-formed and intriguing psychologies to engage with. The Sinbad from writer Brian Clemens is the old-school hero vs magic vs creatures vs bad guy – hardly a fulfilling arc to follow.
But some of the performances are enchanting. Law provides that classic heroic charm, whilst offering glimpses of greed and temptation (never fleshed out in the screenplay), and Tom Baker plays the villain with entertaining evilness. There aren’t many chances for Caroline Munroe to act as Sinbad’s love-interest Margiana. Director Gordon Hessler appears to be more interested in her cleavage than her character, which feels embarrassing even for 1973. But there are moments when Munroe slips through with some charisma.
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is fun, and offers a few surprises. Despite the B-movie concept belonging to the ‘50s with the previous Sinbad, it’s soaked in ‘70s innovation. There aren’t many myth-movies with jarring zooms and handheld camera movements. The dream imagery is also vaguely avant-garde. Watching this film is a flat joy – it’s filled with nice and nostalgic animations, but deprived of the deeper characters we’ve grown to enjoy.