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The third film in the Sinbad trilogy is notable for the involvement of special effects master Ray Harryhausen. Yet 'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger' is arguably the weakest outing of the famed Captain Sinbad movies. And yet, because of that name attached as producer and, of course, creature wrangler (if only), the film still had something to offer those who'd clung to the series as cult followers, or just those devoted to Harryhausen's signature style of spine-tingling stop-motion animation.
Having worked for the past several decades crafting brilliant renditions of monsters and mythical beasts, and subsequently bringing them to dazzling life on the big screen, Harryhausen's brand of visual effects was, by the time the third Sinbad was released, facing some stiff competition. Two years prior, filmgoers (and soon-to-be-reluctant swimmers) were dazzled by Steven Spielberg with his 1975 mega-hit 'Jaws,' and, not long before the release of 'Eye of the Tiger,' George Lucas unleashed the special effects extravaganza known as 'Star Wars,' virtually taking the world by storm. By comparison, the adventures of the legendary sailor had begun to feel rather quaint, almost archaic. While the film franchise was practically on its last legs, Harryhausen's work seemed determined to go out on a high note, creatively. In order to do that, he fleshed out a small subplot that had been excised from the 'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad' a few years prior, into the third film's mainspring.
That, of course, would wind up being the plight of Prince Kassim, whose sister, Princess Farah (played here by Jane Seymour) is awaiting the arrival of her beau, Sinbad (this time played by Patrick Wayne – the impossibly handsome son of John Wayne), when the witch Zenobia (Margaret Whiting) transforms the soon-to-be caliph into a baboon, in an effort to see the crown eventually placed on the head of her son Rafi (Kurt Christian). Of all the plots of Harryhausen's Sinbad films, 'Tiger' is the most familiar. Not only is Zenobia a witch with the ability to transform would-be rulers into chess-playing primates, she's also Kassim and Farah's stepmother (a wicked one, at that), which turns the whole thing into a vague offshoot of a Grimm's fairytale.
The light, uncomplicated plot soon becomes rather urgent when it's revealed that although the mind of Prince Kassim still resides in the body of a baboon, the very nature of the animal he's become will eventually overtake him, rendering the transformation complete and irreversible. This sets Sinbad, his crew, and his ladylove on a yet another voyage across the seas to a strange land and unpredictable land filled with monsters and beasts beyond the imagination. This time, however, the captain must first find his way to the secluded island of the magician (scientist, really) Melanthius (Patrick Troughton, continuing the 'Sinbad' tradition of having a former Doctor Who amongst the cast), as he's the only man who can help the noble sailor's efforts to revert the prince to his original state. Accompanying the magician is his young, flaxen-haired daughter Dione (Taryn Power, daughter of Tyrone Power, known for his swashbuckling roles in 'The Mark of Zorro' and 'The Black Swan'), who, unsurprisingly, winds up as the emotional focal point for the increasingly animalistic Kassim to try and retain his dwindling humanity.
Kassim's predicament, his battle to retain his basic essence or humanness is at the center of 'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger,' a point which resonates throughout each and every run-in with fantastical stop-motion beasts Sinbad and his fellow sailors have. As with 'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad,' there is an intriguing subtext to the stop-motion monstrosities that makes them not simply a spectacle and a wonder to behold, but a part of the deeper theme of the film itself. In 'Voyage,' it was the villain's ability to breathe life into the inanimate at the expense of his own vitality, a nod of sorts to the many decades of work put in by Harryhausen doing much the same. Here, the emphasis links back directly to Prince Kassim, who began the film as a potential full-fledged character, and now exists as a stop-motion representation of an actual, real-world creature; his animated presence a twice-baked simulacrum of human life.
And yet, while watching the film it's impossible not to feel something for this unfortunate man-beast, which, to an extent, feels somewhat revolutionary and is the true heart of 'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.' There is a discernable push to have the various stop-motion creations read as actual members of the cast, as individuals unto themselves. The effect of this, then, is that when Kassim, and later, the heroic and sympathetic Troglodyte that Sinbad and his crew encounter emote, it registers not unlike when the human actors do. (To that end, perhaps Wayne's sometimes-wooden acting works as a bridge between the animated characters and real-life ones.)
At the end of the day, though, this is a 'Sinbad' movie; and like the other entries in the trilogy, 'The Eye of the Tiger' follows much the same formula as the other two, mixing tropes from chase films within the groundwork of classic quest movies. This time, however, with the witch Zenobia close behind in her Minotan-propelled vessel, Sinbad's journey takes him to a new land far to the north. That snowy location affords the film one of its most impressive special effects when an enormous walrus sets its sights against Sinbad and his crew. Though one wouldn't think the oafish beast best known today for blowing kisses to pre-'Blackfish' SeaWorld audiences could be an effective, terrorizing monster from the deep, the gigantic tusked mammal with his bristling mustache makes for quite the spectacle, and acts as a precursor to the typical showdown of monstrosities at the end of the film.
There's a strange disconnect in the film that stems from its casting choices, which, of course, has to do with the two most prominent roles being handed to the two whitest people in the cast; the gap is only widened further when Wayne delivers his dialogue without attempting any kind of accent. The result of Wayne's intonation of speech, his beard and curly locks of hair, and the dazzling colors that make up Sinbad's rather showy wardrobe is that the character looks and sounds less like an Arabian sea captain, and more like a Midwestern car salesman who also dabbles in the adult entertainment biz.
Most of this is simply indicative of when the film was made and the audience for which it was intended, which also speaks to the importance of the unique contributions the stop-motion animation made this time out. Perhaps more so than any other entry in the trilogy, 'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger' relies most heavily on the magic of Ray Harryhausen, and as always, the master is ready to deliver.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Sibad and the Eye of the Tiger' is another release from Twilight Time that is limited to just 3,000 copies. It is a single 50GB Blu-ray disc that comes in the standard keepcase. There is also a 5-page booklet containing images from the film and an essay written by film historian Julie Kirgo. There are no previews on this disc, so it will go to the top menu automatically.
'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger' clearly underwent the same transfer as 'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad,' as the 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded image holds many of the same attributes as the other release. It doesn't necessarily make it better, but perhaps because this film was made and released a few years after 'Voyage' there is a slight, but noticeable difference in the image's quality when it comes to the stop-motion effects sharing the screen with their human counterparts. There is still a discernible drop in clarity and detail on the human side of the screen, while the animated character in question looks remarkably complete and fully rendered, but some of the more jarring elements seem to have been smoothed out. This is definitely a plus when it comes to the scenes that have so much going on in them like the battle against the giant walrus, which also includes a layer of blowing snow over much of the action. The detail here is actually quite good, as the flakey white stuff doesn't detract from the ongoing battle, but actually serves to create another layer of depth to an already striking scene.
Otherwise, the image here is remarkably well-preserved and in fantastic condition. Fine detail is high, as are the contrast levels, producing a bright, vivid picture that is virtually free of excessive grain or any other potentially distracting element. Textures in costumes, sets, and locations stand out remarkably well; there are more than a few garments worn by Sinbad and others that look as though you could count the individual fibers constituting them. Additionally, though there are few scenes that are shot in low light, the few that do exist manage deliver a strong image with nice looking black levels without giving up too much of the overall detail.
This is a strong image that has some of the same issues as 'Voyage,' in terms of the special effects shots, but still manages to give a robust, lively picture for fans to enjoy.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does similarly stellar work as the mix in 'Voyage.' The isolated score track sounds quite amazing, but other than that, the disc delivers a rounded listening experience that offers clear dialogue, which is balanced quite nicely with the potentially overpowering score from composer Roy Budd. That balance allows the score, or sound effects to adjust in the slightest way possible so that the listener still gets the best of both worlds. The end result, then, is a sensory experience that almost certainly is better than the film has ever enjoyed before.
There are also a few nice examples of the sound being delivered to the various channels in order to create a more immersive listening experience. Sound emanates primarily from the front, but there are times when it is used effectively through various channels, which surprisingly demonstrates how well the mix can demonstrate things like directionality and imaging. There's nothing here that would suggest it is better than today's modern sound mixes, but considering the film's age, the surprise is understandable.
All in all, this is another tremendously rich-sounding disc that's free of any scratches or hissing, or other elements that might mar the overall quality of the sound.
Not quite as convincingly portrayed as the other outings in the trilogy, 'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger' still manages to resonate with its tremendous creativity and surprisingly layered and thematic story and its use of special effects. Of course the main draw here is Harryhausen's creations and they certainly deliver some thrilling scenes that are noteworthy and a must-see for fans of the effects master. This disc has a strong image and terrific sound, but goes a little light on the extras, which is a disappointment. Overall, though, it's worth checking out for anyone with an interest in stop-motion animation, and will be a must buy for fans of Harryhausen.