Monday, September 24, 2012

Pulp Fantasy Library: Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

When fantasy film buffs think of the year 1977, chances are they probably think of Star Wars and rightly so; I know I do. But there was another movie released that year that I vividly remember seeing: Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. Back when I was a kid, it was not at all unusual for theaters to show older "classic" (and not-so-classic) movies as weekend matinees. That's how I managed to see films like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). All of these movies featured groups of heroic adventurers -- as well as some unfortunate henchmen -- who journeyed out into a mysterious world populated by Ray Harryhausen stop-motion monsters on some great quest. To say that these movies exerted an influence over my youthful imagination is an understatement. When I first discovered Dungeons & Dragons, I naturally drew on the ideas and imagery of these fantasy movies for inspiration. Needless to say, I felt vindicated in this when I purchased the AD&D Monster Manual in early 1980 and saw Dave Sutherland's illustration of the iron golem and realized that I wasn't the only one who did so.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger is, in my opinion, the weakest of the three Sinbad movies, in part because neither its lead (Patrick Wayne) nor its primary antagonist (Margaret Whiting) are all that memorable. On the other hand, some of the supporting cast, particularly Patrick Troughton, who plays the Greek alchemist Melanthius, are very good in their roles. Jane Seymour is no Caroline Munro, it's true, but she more than acquits herself as Farah, Sinbad's love interest and the catalyst for this latest adventure of the famed sailor in ancient Arabia.

I've never really understood why this film was titled as it was. There is a saber-toothed tiger, which features prominently in the movie poster, but its presence is not central to the plot. The same is true of the cat-like eyes that the evil queen Zenobia possesses whenever she engages in some act of sorcery. It's long been a mystery to me, since the plot sees Sinbad on his way to attend the coronation of Prince Kassim, his friend and the brother of the woman he hopes to marry. When he arrives, he finds that Kassim's capital city is in chaos thanks to the machinations of Zenobia, who hopes to put her son -- Kassim's stepbrother -- on the throne instead. To effect this coup, she uses black magic to turn Kassim into a baboon. His sister, Farah, turns to Sinbad to help reverse this spell, believing that, in his travels, he might know someone with the knowledge to do so. Naturally, he does and so Sinbad, Farah, the cursed Kassim, and a crew of doughty seamen head out to find the one man in the whole world who might be able to save the prince, pursued by Zenobia, her son, and the memorable metal minion known as the Minoton.

What follows is a rollicking adventure, as Sinbad travels from place to place, encountering a variety of hazards and creatures, on his quest. Unfortunately, the creatures aren't particularly interesting, or at least they weren't for me as a child. There's the aforementioned saber-toothed tiger, frozen in a block of ice, the baboon Kassim, and a cave man (called a troglodyte here), in addition to the Minoton. Of these, the Minoton is perhaps the most visually intriguing, but he doesn't actually do much more than row Zenobia's ship. The baboon is extremely well animated; it's almost believable as an actual animal, but it's just a monkey, however fun it is to see him play chess with Jane Seymour. Couple the lack of creatures as exciting as the Hyrdra from Jason and the Argonauts or the multi-armed statue from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad with the lackluster portrayals of both Sinbad and Zenobia and you're left with a less than satisfying fantasy film.

It's a shame really, because I think the overall plot of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger is pretty good. Likewise, the character of Melanthius, as the only man with the knowledge to save Prince Kassim, is delightfully eccentric and engaging. He pretty much steals any scene he is in and I found myself wishing he were even more involved in the plot than he was. Still, there's enough in the movie to hold one's attention, so I'd never argue against seeing it. Compared to its predecessors, though, it's lacking a bit of "heart" and that prevents me from raving about it as I have other Harryhausen efforts.

20 comments:

  1. I saw this at the cinema almost simultaneously with being introduced to D&D and so the two are forever linked in my mind. The first "epic" campaign I played in was loosely based on this story, complete with sea voyages, mysterious islands and an ice barrier shielding a magical temple.

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  2. When watching this movie and other mid-70s adventures flicks like At the Earth Core, it's easy to see why Star Wars had such an impact. It really did look nothing like it's contemporaries.


    The Minoton was cool. I was always disappointed it never made it into D&D proper unlike the homonculus from Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

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  3. There was also the big walrus fight in the third act. Y'wouldn't expect to see that in a movie about a Persian sailor, now would ya?
    Although incongruity aside I suppose it's not that interesting a monster either...

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  4. I loved this movie, even though Patrick Wayne's acting made Keanu Reeves look like Marlon Brando. I saw it on TCM and it held up pretty well as camp -especially thanks to Whiting's hammy performance as the Witch Queen.


    Sinbad movies have always been more of an influence on me as a gamer than the pulps and fantasy fiction.
    The things I remember most about watching "Eye of the Tiger" as a 7-year-old kid were:
    a) Feeling sorry for the troglodyte when he got killed.
    b) Being scared of the demons summoned by Queen Zenobia
    c) Wondering what exactly was going on in my trousers when I got a very brief look at Jane Seymour's bare ass -in a G-rated movie!


    d) My dad stopping by the newly-opened Wendy's on the way home and getting me a frosty. To this day I'm convinced Wendy's is the best of the burger chains.

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  5. Harryhausen has always been a bigger influence on me as a gamer than Howard, Lieber, Tolkien and the other usual suspects.

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  6. I've always liked the Sinbad films. One of these days, I'll need to look out the original tales. Or at least, as close to them as I can find.

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  7. I'll agree that this is the weakest of the bunch, but I do love the whole series. Wonderful adventure films.

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  8. Fletcher VredenburghSeptember 24, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    Sure, it's no "Golden Voyage" but it's fun. I love the big, goofy walrus as much now as I did when I was 10. It's one of the last movies shown at the big movie palace where I grew up and for that it holds a special place in my heart.

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  9. You left out Jane Seymour's ~7 seconds of onscreen nudity. Mmm, Dr. Quinn was *FINE* in 1977.

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  10. It was called Walrus Giganticus in the movie. Fun stuff.

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  11. Walrus Giganticus was its name in the movie. Great monster.

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  12. I think you swapped dates for 7th Voyage and Golden Voyage, there?

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  13. I'd forgotten about the walrus, which probably says a lot.

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  14. Matthew James StanhamSeptember 25, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    This was a favourite film of mine in my childhood as well, they showed it often on the television.

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  15. The minoton ( http://bit.ly/Q6Q5Bx ) made a jump into the D&D miniatures line as a beautiful brass golem ( http://bit.ly/SPWeC8 ).

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  16. The most memoral monster besides the Minoton for me were these devil/demon-things. Those things were scary Oo

    Even though this is one of Harryhausen's weakest works, it makes for a fantastic roleplaying adventure, just like any of his works. They just scream "Adventure!" with almost every minute.

    Mmh, I wonder if Harryhausen ever played D&D. He'd make a great GM...

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  17. My neighborhood theater played the Sinbad movies on weekend marathons (also Planet of the Ape weekends). This movie inspired me to give my group a Preteen cyclops who hung out with the party. He was great for opening doors and locked chests the hard way.

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  18. I've always been fond of this one, though I agree its the least of the three Harryhausen/Sinbad movies. It's a shame people focus so much on SFX. Harryhausen was brilliant and, at the time, his stuff was still mind-blowing. I remind people from time to time that today's movies don't have "better" SFX - just "state-of-the-art" ones. Harryhausen was a true artist and a craftsman. I'm glad the Academy finally gave him recognition.

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  19. I remember seeing this opening weekend at the long gone Greenwood drive-in. I still have very fond memories of that evening in general and despite it's flaws, this movie in particular. The summer of 1977 was one of those weird, magical transition years in my life. I didn't really know it at the time but looking back on it all these years later, it becomes a lot clearer just how important that summer was in my life. It's amazing how much of the things that came into my life around this period in time are the things that have stuck around and are a part of me to this day.

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