Monday, 2 November 2020

Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger

The Tiger Sanction

Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger
UK/USA 1977
Directed by Sam Wannamaker
Indicator Blu Ray Zone B

A few days before I watched this for my review, Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca in many of the Star Wars movies, passed away. So I decided to watch Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger in his memory as he plays the’ man in the suit’ for the less fantastical, non-model shots of the Minaton character in this film... literally an automaton of a Minotaur. Alas, when all is said and done, my revisit to this material confirms my remembrance that, despite its status as a classic modern film with many people of my age group (I was 9 when this was released at cinemas)... it’s a truly terrible and forgettable film. Not that there aren’t some nice things about it but, after the brilliance of the film’s predecessors, also by Harryhausen... The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad (reviewed here) and The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad (reviewed here)... it literally does pale in comparison and I was, I’m afraid not for the first time, siting through this movie waiting for it to end.

That being said there are some nice things in it too and at least it gave Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer a chance to recycle some of their unused ideas originally conceived for the previous films in this ‘loose series’. I say loose series because none of the Sinbad films follow on from the previous ones and, once again, the only recurring character is Sinbad himself, always played by a different actor and, in this case, played by one of John Wayne’s sons, Patrick Wayne.

So the plot of the film is the usual one of Sinbad and the princess he currently fancies, Farah, this time around, played by Jane Seymour (who you may remember as Solitaire in Live And Let Die, reviewed here), embarking on a ‘road movie’ as such, filled with fantasy adventures. Here they require the services of a wizard/philosopher, Patrick Troughton, to guide them to Hyperboria in order to restore Farah’s brother Kasim from the spell placed on him which has turned him into a baboon, preventing him from being crowned king. So... yeah... a similar plot to all the others... a villanous magician (this time a woman who hams it up pretty good, played by Margaret Whiting) and a quest for some kind of magical artefact which allows everybody to meet various creatures. Unlike the previous two films, the creatures here are, for the most part, based on real life fossil creatures as opposed to the mythical ones Harryhausen was perhaps better known for. So asides from the Minaton (which is a great but totally wasted character because he never really gets in on the action) and three ghouls... we have a troglodyte (possibly one of Harryhausen’s best animated creations), a giant wasp, a giant walrus, the chess playing baboon and a big sabre toothed tiger from which the film takes its title. And, it has to be said, the whole thing is a spectacularly dull affair and I don’t know why.

The performances are okay and former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton plays the ‘good sorcerer’, with Taryn Power, daughter of Tyrone Power Jr, playing his daughter... who falls in love with the baboon and, strangely enough, still seems to like him after he’s transformed back into a man at the end of the film.

The film is also lifted, somewhat, by the inclusion of a quite good score by Roy Budd. Now it’s not mixed in very clearly in some of the movie and, consequently, doesn’t seem that great when you hear it within the film itself but, as a stand alone listen on CD it’s really quite a good score and, although it’s obviously never going to be as good as Bernard Herrmann’s score for The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad or Dr. Miklos Rosza’s score for The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, it certainly holds up pretty well. There’s even a kind of mini homage (I’m being polite here) to Rosza when the Minaton rowing music, heard at several points in the film, sounds like it was almost lifted directly from Rozsa’s famous rowing music in Ben Hur (reviewed here). He even introduces a heavy, ponderous rhythm and arrangement for the equally ponderous giant walrus, in that specific scene. Roy Budd’s most well remembered musical piece would probably be his title music for the Michael Caine vehicle Get Carter and, I have to say, I usually don’t get along that well with this composer’s work but here he composed a really decent score in a more classical mode with some nice orchestration so, yeah, the music certainly doesn’t let the film down.

Several things do, though, it has to be said.

The whole thing seems strangely less epic, for starters. Although this had the largest budget of any of the Sinbad movies that Harryhausen and Schneer worked on, it looks like a TV movie to me, with cheap looking sets and props and just a general lack of the spectacle and grandeur that you need to live up to the previous ones. Even the matte painting shots are sometimes covered up with rising mist or snow in the hopes, one can only assume, that it will distract you from looking at them too much. And don’t get me started on the big, polystyrene blocks used to ‘resemble’ chunks of ice.

Another thing is that it’s a very dark film. And when I say dark I don’t mean the drama is downbeat and morose... it’s literally dark with at least half the movie, it seems to me, being shot ‘day for night’ with terrible filters muffling the light (but, in that tell-tale way, preserving the strong, daylight shadows of the actors regardless). It’s almost like they were looking to disguise how bad some of the sets are, maybe? Still, at least Indicator have had the good sense and taste to preserve this aspect of the movie on their beautiful new Blu Ray restoration (this is the third film in their truly gorgeous The Sinbad Trilogy set). Some companies, who shall remain nameless, try to fix these kinds of scenes by trying to brighten them up on the transfer and thus killing any sense of time established visually. Those kind of companies also forget that these things aren’t just entertaining films, they’re historical artefacts to preserve the original works of art so, you know, you have to get these things right.

Another inexcusable thing is the amount of rear projection shots used when none of the fantastic creatures are being filmed. There’s a certain set of locations where, whenever the main actors are seen from the front, they are standing in front of a screen of the location with terrible, shadowy lines created around their figures... something you may expect from scenes blending modes with the actors but not in scenes just using the main cast. And then, whenever the cast are seen in the actual location, you only see them from behind and Jane Seymour, or the actress standing in for her, has a different coloured dress from the close up shots. This really isn’t good people.

There’s a sequence in this film, though, which really sums up what the film-makers thought of the intelligence of the potential audience. That’s of a seagull wearing a stolen locket on set and then, when she (it’s the wizard in seagull form) flies off with the locket, the ‘seagull flying stock footage’ has absolutely no locket in sight. This is terrible stuff but then again, I guess the ‘home video’ revolution was still a few years away when this was released.

The box office on this wasn’t great although it made a good deal of profit on it’s original investment and a fourth Sinbad film set on Mars was planned but, alas, never made. In America, the film was released less than two months in the wake of another fantasy film called, you know it, Star Wars and so, by this point, the wonderful (for the most part) fantasy films of Ray Harryhausen were seeming a bit old fashioned already. This is the excuse given for its damp squib box office at the time compared to films like Lucas’ first opening shot of his ground breaking sci-fi opus and I think, certainly in America, where even the previous year’s Logan’s Run was seen to be somehow old fashioned once Star Wars had hit, this was probably true. In the UK, Star Wars didn’t open until quite a while after Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger but, even then, I remember being not much fussed as to whether I saw this one or not and I think I eventually saw it as part of a double bill with one of those 1970s Spider-Man movies they created out of sandwiching multiple episodes of the TV show together. I think I was more interested in Spider-Man at the time.

At the end of the day, if you are into Harryhausen’s fantasy films then this is still one you should see and the newish but very sold out ‘extras loaded’ set, The Sinbad Trilogy, from Indicator is the best way to do that (since writing the first draft of this review, the same company has released separate, stand alone versions of the Sinbad films on Blu Ray). Indicator have shown time and again that they care very much about the restorations they do and even if you don’t like this entry in the series, the other two films in the set are more than worth the price of admission, so to speak. Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger is one of my least favourite of Harryhausen’s films but it still is worth a watch and it has the distinction of being both the second Sinbad film to have a Bond girl in it, with Jane Seymour (the great Caroline Munro from The Spy Who Loved Me starred in The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, although she was a Bond girl after she filmed that one) and, with Patrick Troughton, also the second to feature one of the Doctor Who actors (again, Tom Baker starred in The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad). So don’t turn your back on this one... just don’t expect great things from it, would be my advice.

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