Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

I continued in the cinematic education of my children over the weekend by showing them the 1958 film, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Along with Jason and the Argonauts, this is another film I vividly recall seeing in the theater when I was a child. The cyclops in particular made a powerful impression upon me, as did the roc. Of course, there's a wealth of memorable scenes in this film, not all of them centered on Ray Harryhausen's "dynamation." Torin Thatcher's portrayal of the evil magician Sokurah stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, most of whom give serviceable performances that work just fine in what is, essentially, a children's movie.

On that level, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is a nearly perfect film. It provides everything one would expect from a children's fantasy: strong archetypal characters, exotic locations, eye-popping spectacles, and a simple but umabiguous moral compass. My nine year-old daughter enjoyed it a great deal, though she found the cyclops a frightening the first time it appeared. My six year-old son, on the other hand, is much more conflicted in his opinion about it. Though he watched every bit of it, he confessed to me, "That movie puts weird ideas in my brain," which is his rather peculiar way of saying that he found some of it strange and a little scary.

Personally, I'm happy they both reacted as they did. I'm firmly of the opinion that fantasy should be weird and often frightening. It is, after all, a visit to "another world," one whose rules aren't like those of our everyday existence, even if they're clearly derived from it. That's why I think Harryhausen's magic holds up so well: there's a solidity to it that helps us suspend our disbelief. Even though we tell ourselves that it can't be real, we keep looking to see if maybe we were wrong in this assessment. Fantasy that doesn't challenge our preconceptions and expectations is hardly worth the name in my opinion. That's why I thought it important to expose my kids to movies like this. They're not truly horrific or terrifying but they are awesome in the truest senses of the word.

I see movies like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad as perfect introductions to D&D. They lay the conceptual and dramatic groundwork for the game Gary and Dave created. They prepare the way for creating one's own Sinbad, who willingly braves the dangers of the Island of Colossa to free Princess Parisa from Sokurah's curse. They enable flights of fancy at once grounded in reality and yet obviously not part of it.

In short, they put weird ideas in the brain.

19 comments:

  1. James, I'm very envious of you in what you're doing. I wish I could appeal to my 11 year old for this type of film, but she's been jaded by anime and the stuff that her older siblings have exposed her to and I fear she'd find these simpler movies "boring". I don't know, I guess I could try...

    Though he watched every bit of it, he confessed to me, "That movie puts weird ideas in my brain," which is his rather peculiar way of saying that he found some of it strange and a little scary.I love how my kids express their ideas. Just today, my 2 year old granddaughter told my wife, in apparently a very serious tone of voice, that a monster had "broken" her crib and she now needed a new one. All that probably from "Monsters Inc."!

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  2. ...he confessed to me, "That movie puts weird ideas in my brain," which is his rather peculiar way of saying that he found some of it strange and a little scary.I remember exactly the feeling he's (probably) referring to. Almost a kind of breathlessness that persists when powerful visual imagery hits a young mind at just the right time. Ulysses 3000 was full of that stuff.

    You, top dad. :)

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  3. I watched the Harryhausen films with my father on Sunday afternoons. Great stuff. It definitely laid the ground work for my life long interesting in fantasy and role playing games like D&D.

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  4. Your comments illustrate what has happened to the word "awful", which literally means "full of awe", as in "inspiring awe". The word's connotations now mean terrible.

    It reminds me of a quote that goes something like this: "The older weird writers aimed to inspire awe and achieved fear. The newer writers aim to inspire fear and achieve only disgust."

    In any case, this is a great film. I can't stand that little kid genie who repeats everything.

    If I had my way, the rich Arab countries would release a film such as Harryhausen's Sinbad films once every month. Of course, these films would star only Arabs and be done in Arabic with English subtitles on one side of the DVD and dubbing on the other side. I'd buy every one of them.

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  5. Chgowiz said: "James, I'm very envious of you in what you're doing. I wish I could appeal to my 11 year old for this type of film, but she's been jaded by anime and the stuff that her older siblings have exposed her to and I fear she'd find these simpler movies "boring". I don't know, I guess I could try..."

    I can relate. I tried to get my oldest son to read some Lloyd Alexander and Tolkien recently, and he was politely disinterested in both. He even thought that the Lord of the Rings movies were too long and boring. That said, his sense of the fantastic is pretty strong, its just coming from different sources than what I grew up with. I've come to accept that as not exactly a problem after all. Since the influence of different works has waxed and waned in my own life over the years, it'd be pretty quixotic to demand that my children revere all the same sources that I like.

    That said, my kids are huge Star Wars and Indiana Jones fans, so some of the real classics we do have in common.

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  6. I was lucky in that one of my cable channels was showing both The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger this past Saturday. I sat and watched both with my children (a 6-year old daughter and a 4 year old son). They loved them. When The Golden Voyage was on again later they wanted to watch it again.

    They were particularly intrigued by the wizard in the Golden Voyage and the centaur and griffon in the same movie.

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  7. One of those Sinbad movies has a really dark ending, doesn't it? Where the city burns and they are sailing away on the ship. I really need to re-watch these.

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  8. These are great movies! I introduced my 4 1/2 year old to Jason and the Argonauts. The beginning was a little tough for him to get through, but as soon as the monsters showed up, it grabbed his attention.

    I'm going to have to find the sinbad movies!

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  9. 7th Voyage was also a seminal film experience for me; I saw it first in the theater at roughly age 6; a couple of years later, my school inexplicably showed it after school and I saw it again there.

    While the cyclops is riveting, it was always the dragon I found most exciting, and I never liked that it died.

    The Sinbad movies - along with Jason and the Argonauts - for me, as with James, are linked with old school RPGs and D&D in particular (thought it's 1E for me). The crazy adventures, the numerous deaths of henchmen, the polyglot of mythical creatures and artifacts...yeah.

    My older daughter (13) could like this kinds of flicks, but is fairly jaded by the advanced F/X in movies these days. There's no real way to convey to her the magic of stop-motion, and how its very artificiality is somehow part of its charm.

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  10. Great movies! I so wanted to be Ray Harryhausen when I was growing up! Thanks for the post!

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  11. These are all such classic movies that have stood the test of time and when you see their modern predecessors it only proves how well made the older movies are.

    Last weekend the Sci Fi channel showed a remake of Jason and the Argonauts with Dennis Hopper and a few unknowns, well, and Natasha Henstridge (the only palatable part of the movie) and a lot of bad interacting with cheesy CGI. It was bad, just terrible.

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  12. "That movie puts weird ideas in my brain."I had a hearty chuckle over that one! :)


    /somehow I managed to comment in the wrong post. Apologies!

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  13. Well played. Harryhausen is a big hit around my house with my 10 and 7 year old as well.

    Look for Jack the Giant killer, starring Kerwin Matthews, as well.

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  14. I love and own all the Harryhausen Sinbad movies but The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is the superior title for older viewers. It has the most authentic Sinbad, best villian (Tom Baker), and the hottest female lead (in my opinion). Tom Baker really steals the show and it was his performance in this picture that won him his later role as Doctor Who. I think the Cyclops and Dragon in 7th voyage are awesome and iconic, but the monsters in Golden Voyage are unique and badass (especially Kali).

    Golden voyage is also just a little grittier and scarier than 7th voyage... mostly because it doesn't have that little-kid geni.

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  15. I remember watching the Sinbad movies as a kid. They were the first references I had to the fantasy genre.
    I grew up in a strictly religious home but my mother enjoyed these movies, oddly enough, and she would gather us kids around to watch them when they came on TV. I didn't know what fantasy was but Sinbad and movies of this ilk started my love of fantasy fiction that I was unable to pursue until the early 80's.
    At that early age I to couldn't get my mind around what was going on.
    The only problem is after awhile you lose the magic and awe of the thing.

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  16. it'd be pretty quixotic to demand that my children revere all the same sources that I like.Oh, certainly! My feeling, though, is that having at least a familiarity for these sources, if not a love of them, is important to any attempt to understand D&D in its original context. That's really my number one beef with later editions of the game: their designers either did not know or actively tried to disguise the debt the game owed to its source material, resulting in games that feel very unlike the original.

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  17. Those skeletons that come out of the ground? That's D&D in excelsis for me.

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  18. Oh, certainly! My feeling, though, is that having at least a familiarity for these sources, if not a love of them, is important to any attempt to understand D&D in its original context. That's really my number one beef with later editions of the game: their designers either did not know or actively tried to disguise the debt the game owed to its source material, resulting in games that feel very unlike the original.Is it important that a new generation of potential D&D players have that sense of D&D's original state and context? Old guys like us can talk about it, because we remember it, and the sources that it's based on, clearly from our own youth. But why is that something that we need to indoctrinate the next generation with?

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  19. But why is that something that we need to indoctrinate the next generation with?Well, if you see passing on one's love for anything to a new generation as "indoctrination," then I suppose my point of view makes no sense. But I don't see it as any different than exposing children to Shakespeare or Le Morte d'Arthur or The Bible or any of the other things on which our common culture is founded. Whether or not one likes this stuff, it's all around us and it's important to know it in order to recognize and understand cultural cues and references. D&D is no different.

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