Thursday, December 25, 2008

Generations of Sinbads

I love continuity. I love it when a fictional universe—be it from comic book, prose or film—maintains its own consistent internal logic. Middle Earth is like that. So is Narnia and Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age. Future History SF novels by Poul Anderson and Larry Niven are also good examples. DC and Marvel comics used to do this, but have quite sadly tossed away all sense of internal continuity in recent years.

In fact, I love continuity so much, I even apply it to situations that don’t really need it. Take the three Sinbad movies made between 1958 and 1977 by stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen.

In each of these movies, Sinbad has to at some point rescue his one true love from danger. The trouble is that each movie has a different true love. The first time around, it’s the princess of Baghdad. Second time out, it’s a slave girl he acquires, then sets free. The third time, it’s another princess—this time from the city of Charak.

Also, none of the actors playing Sinbad come even close to looking like each other.

So, of course, the most sensible thing to do is simply presume the three movies are set in three separate but similar universes, in which parallel versions of Sinbad are having their own adventures, with each finding his one true love.

But, gee whiz, what fun is that? After all, with the special effects being done by the same guy in each film—and said effects being the heart of each film—isn’t there a way we can jam the stories into the same universe?

Well, of course there is. One way might be to presume that Sinbad’s ladies keep dropping dead of the Black Plague or something between movies. But Sinbad is a high-adventure, swashbuckling-type hero and that sort of inherent tragedy just doesn’t seem to fit him.

So let’s take another route. We’ll start with 1958’s The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Kerwin Mathews stars as the heroic sailor, battling a couple of Cyclops, a dragon, a skeleton and a few other unlikely creatures in order to save his girl friend from a curse.

It’s a wonderful movie, with the look and feel of a fairy tale. Mr. Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations have real personality to them and Sinbad’s sword duel with a skeleton is perhaps tied with a Cyclops-dragon fight as the visual highlight of the film.

Sinbad rescues his lady in the end and they get married. Presumably, Sinbad is now a prince of Baghdad.

So let’s now presume that Sinbad has a son. Sinbad II grows up and, taking after his dad, becomes a skilled sailor and leader of men. But Sinbad II doesn’t want to just kick back and inherit his wealth and position. He wants to earn his own way. So, with his father’s blessing, he sails away with his own ship and crew to seek his own fortune.

That leads us up to 1974’s The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. This is my personal favorite of the three Sinbad films—perhaps because it’s the first Harryhausen film I saw in a theater. But it’s also got a good cast, with John Philip Law the most authoritative of the Sinbads and Caroline Munro looking beautiful enough to make most men’s eyeballs melt right out of their sockets. Tom Baker—who would soon after play my favorite Dr. Who on the British television series of that name—does a highly entertaining turn as the villain. The movie’s got a well-constructed plot as well, involving a quest to be the first to find a valuable treasure. The visual highlight is towards the end, when a gigantic cyclopean centaur fights a griffin, then goes up against Sinbad and his men immediately afterward.

Anyways, this Sinbad marries Caroline Munro after the movie ends—the lucky dog. They have a son, Sinbad III, who grows up to look like John Wayne’s son Patrick.

Sinbad III falls in love with the princess of Charak. (Apparently, Sinbads fall in love with royalty on alternate generations.) But when the princess’s brother is turned into a baboon, Sinbad immediately goes on a quest to find a cure.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) is the weakest of the Sinbad movies. Patrick Wayne doesn’t seem to be having as much fun in the role as Mathews or Law and there is some weak storytelling inherent in the script. But Mr. Harryhausen’s monsters are still too cool for words. The climax, involving a fight between a giant troglodyte and a saber-toothed tiger, is among his best work.

So Sinbad III returns from his quest and marries his lady love. (Who, by the way, looks like Jane Seymour. How lucky can a Sinbad be?) Did they produce a Sinbad IV? One would hope so. The world can never really have enough Sinbads.


  1. Love the old Harryhausen stuff, especially Sinbad. Always had a soft spot for the Arabian Nights, so it was great to reminisce about these for a bit.

  2. I agree. All Harryhausen's films are fun, but his Sinbad tales have a soft spot in my heart as well.


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