Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
(SPOILERS) Generally, this seems to be the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad outing that gets the short straw in the appreciation stakes. Which is rather unfair. True, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger lacks Tom Baker and his rich brown voice personifying evil incarnate – although Margaret Whiting more than holds her own in the wickedness stakes – and the structure follows the Harryhausen template perhaps over scrupulously (Beverly Cross previously collaborated with the stop-motion auteur on Jason and the Argonauts, and would again subsequently with Clash of the Titans). But the storytelling is swift and sprightly, and the animation itself scores, achieving a degree of interaction frequently more proficient than its more lavishly praised peer group.
Ray himself could only see how that side came up short (“I have to admit this film has many faults and is one of my least favourite”). Never enough time. Compromises. He wasn’t a huge fan of producer Charles Schneer’s pick for director (“Regrettably, he was probably not the ideal choice for a fantasy adventure, especially one in which he wouldn’t have complete control”). Schneer also had his issues. He didn’t think much of Patrick Wayne, but most likely, he still approved him (Columbia didn’t want John Phillip Law back. Michael Douglas, it seems, was on the possibles list). Certainly, as Jane Seymour tells it, her role as Fara was halved when Taryn Power came on as Dione, and this was based on the “bright” idea of selling the movie as John Wayne’s son and Tyrone Power’s daughter starring together.
Seymour also notes she was “boringly professional” during the production, while Power, who had little interest in acting, would cause delays by jumping into water fully costumed (you don’t need Seymour to aver that the only location she visited was Malta, as there’s more than enough long-shot doubling and close-ups against green screen to inform any half-awake viewer of the same). Seymour’s fine, but Fara isn’t much of a part, even compared to her Live and Let Die Bond girl (the four-year gap is deceptive as, Ray was doing his FX thing for eighteen months after principle photography wrapped in autumn 1975). She appears in a very chaste nude scene, and noted “this was the last of the ethnic roles” she was offered during that decade, owing to her look around that time (she had to head to America to get “white” roles – like Doctor Quinn).
Wayne is a bit of plank, but no better or worse than Law was. Patrick Troughton, formerly of Jason and the Argonauts, is Melanthius (he wasn’t Ray’s first choice, although he heartily approved of Trout’s performance). Kurt Christian is also back (from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad), this time as a baddie. Nadim Sawalha (Julia’s dad) appears, as does Bernard Kay, stabbed far too early in the proceedings by the Minoton, a stop-motion bronze bull whose stand-in was Peter Mayhew. Who, of course, appeared in a movie out in the same year featuring effects that would suddenly make Dynamation seem firmly old hat.
Melanthius: He’s as frightened of us as we are of him.
Aboo-Seer: I’m more frightened.
Maroof: I’m twice more frightened.
As I say, though, I seemed to be an exception in appreciating the animation here, probably second only to Jason and the Argonauts for fuelling my imagination as a youngster. Sure, Trog the Troglodyte is a bit too similar to The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’s centaur, and the Trog vs sabre-toothed lion fight at the climax is that movie’s centaur vs griffin part two. Meanwhile, the Zomboid ghouls bear a resemblance to First Men in the Moon’s Selenites, but are probably more effective for that.
However, the Minoton, complete with ominous, pounding Roy Budd pursuit score, is a formidable fellow. His clockwork heart was surely an influence on genre-buff Del Toro’s Kronos. The giant wasp is as freaky as they come (particularly since it starts out as a normal-sized bee). There’s a giant walrus – Walrus giganticus – effectively rendered under dark skies and snow flurries (and like the Minoton, I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for it when it gets set upon). Admittedly, I’d have preferred a yeti, providing he didn’t end up looking like a centaur or Trog.
Aboo-Seer: Captain, the beast was–
Sinbad: Playing chess, I know. He’s beaten me twice.
And Kassim the baboon (Damien Thomas in human form) is a triumph of effects and interaction with the live cast. The idea was a leftover from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and it’s well-sustained throughout. Fortunately so, as the thrust of the plot hinges on his devolving persona; Kassim’s evil stepmother Zenobia has cursed him, keeping him from reigning as Caliph, as she is set on her son Rafi ruling. Naturally, a quest is in order, to find a cure to fix him, and naturally, Zenobia is in hot pursuit to prevent it.
Why Sinbad and co didn’t hunt out a magician – surely there are some loafing about – rather than seeking Melanthius, who then advises a trip to Hyperboria (last time it was Lemuria; Ray evidently had a bucket list of mythical or lost lands). Melanthius is a curious fellow, possessing an almost Darwinian approach to his science, such that the giant walrus is “prehistoric” and the Troglodyte is “not a monster. It’s one of man’s ancestors”.
Melanthius: The mind is an extraordinary thing, Sinbad. Thought is transferrable. It can travel in space, even to the stars.
Of course, he also practices non-mainstream methods ("Telepathia", with his daughter). And he is open to all possibilities: “As an alchemist, I know that metal can be transformed. But as a philosopher, I can also believe in the possibility of metaphysical change”. Dione, however carries a certain cynicism regarding advanced reasoning when first encountered at Petra (of the prior inhabitants: “They became too civilised and they destroyed each other”).
Ray said of Hyperboria, “some legends call the aurora borealis the light of Apollo, and so I conceived of a land at the centre of which would be a natural power force harnessed by the Arimaspi, the supposed inhabitants of that lost world”. Rather like The Land that Time Forgot, the place starts falling apart as soon as civilised people arrive (“Now the power of the shrine is threatened. The atmosphere inside destroyed”). The aurora is transmitted from the peak of the pyramid, “Down from the crown of Apollo himself”. As per The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, there is a guardian (of the shrine of the four elements). Curious too, how the gateway to the shrine rather resembles the mouth of Castle Greyskull…
One of the most memorable elements is Zenobia’s failed returned to human form after transmogrifying into a seagull; she’s left with a bird foot, with which she limps along thereafter. Like Tom’s aging, it represents an effective shorthand for the deleterious nature of the dark arts. Also of note is the unfortunate line directed at Salami Coker’s crewmate Maroof: “You know, I’ve never seen a black man turned white before”. Evidently, he hasn’t watched Bob Hope’s The Ghost Breakers, then.
Ray and Charles didn’t want this Sinbad labelled a sequel (the draft went through various working titles, Sinbad In Hyperborea – An Adventure Fantasy, Sinbad Beyond the North Wind, Sinbad at the World’s End and Sinbad III). With the hindsight of the movie that opened three months earlier and ruled that year’s box office, they might actually have been better to feed into such serialised associations.
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger didn’t do badly by any means, but perception is everything, and execs now saw the Ray approach as old hat. Clash of the Titans would duly get commissioned, and also make money, but never within a sniff of the insane grosses the Spielberg Lucas projects were amassing. Which is a shame, as this kind of storytelling approach isn’t so very far from Raiders of the Lost Ark’s; it’s simply that the latter has a fresh coat of paint and a more expedited pace.