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Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

July 27th, 2006 · No Comments

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Docking in the city of Charnak to propose to the Princess Farah, Sinbad (Patrick Wayne) discovers that her stepmother, the wicked Queen Zenobia (played terrifically by Margaret Whiting) has used her sorcery to transform Charnak’s rightful caliph into a baboon. According to the kingdom bylaws, he must be crowned in seven moons or the queen’s son will take over as caliph.

The baboon is one of the most fantastic creatures ever put on film, courtesy stop motion effects by Ray Harryhausen. Jane Seymour plays the princess, but unfortunately, Harryhausen had no input on her performance. Both accompany Sinbad and his crew as they visit the legendary philosopher Melanthius (Patrick Troughton), who turns out to be more a crackpot inventor than wizard. He does have the ability of communicating telepathically with his nicely tanned daughter Diode (Taryn Power).

Melanthius reveals that to transform the baboon back into the caliph, they must travel north, to the lost island of Hyperboria, where the Shrine of the Four Elements will restore him! They’re pursued by Zenobia, her son and a mechanical version of a minotaur. Along the way, “zomboids,” an enlarged bee, an oversized walrus, a giant troglodyte and saber toothed tiger menace Sinbad.

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The acting pretty much sucks. Patrick Wayne, son of John Wayne, is not as hapless as say, Klinton Spilsbury in The Legend of the Lone Ranger, but cannot deliver a line reading to save his life. He does excel with the physical demands of the character, as do Jane Seymour and Taryn Power, whose semi-nude sunbathing sequences were among the highlights of my childhood.

With a budget over three times that of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger was shot in Spain and Malta (with Jordan’s ancient tombs of Petra standing in for Melanthius’ digs), lending an epic feel to the movie. Harryhausen spent over eighteen months animating the special effects and those still hold up incredibly well.

Harryhausen’s work bringing the baboon to life has to be one of the most ingenious feats of his career. While it might have made more sense just to hire a real monkey, you could have never taught it to play chess, or to develop a crush on Taryn Power. The baboon easily gives the best performance in the movie. I felt for the guy, and hoped his circumstances would be remedied before the end credits.

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Directed by Sam Wanamaker, written by Beverly Cross from a story he developed with Harryhausen, the script is surprisingly sound. Somehow, in the middle of all the silliness, I actually cared about the characters, their relationships and what happened to them, which was definitely not the case in the other Sinbad pictures.

There are some really cool ideas here. In addition to the baboon and the minotaur, Zenobia is given a lot to do as the villain. I like how she shrinks herself and runs amok on Sinbad’s ship, then turns into a seagull to escape, but gets stuck with a webbed foot trying to transform herself back. Margaret Whiting brings an Old World witch woman’s vibe to the role and is the best human villain to ever menace Sinbad.

The climactic battle royale between the giant Troglodyte and the saber toothed tiger is well choreographed and even a bit scary, for a G-rated film. But for anyone with kids who have already worn out the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings trilogies, I’d definitely recommend this flick, Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans for a great Saturday afternoon in front of the TV.

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