17 April 2006 | tom-darwin
Old-time Saturday Fun
Despite many outings, including the poorly-received animated opus of 2003, Scheherezade's most famous hero has never made much impact on the big screen, compared to less likely but more politically correct freebooters such as Robin Hood. It must be that there's no underlying message, such as Up-Yours to the Man, in these tales of Baghdad's intrepid sailor & explorer of mythical lands. One of the best efforts was this film made just before "Star Wars" compelled B-budget adventure movies to take to outer space & "Raiders" made stunning visual excess the duct tape of plot holes. A mysterious golden tablet leads Sinbad's ship into an alliance with the gold-masked vizier of Moravia (Wilmer) & a race against time against sorcerous Prince Koura (Baker) to find a power that will confer either the means to stop Koura or make Koura unstoppable. Law is game in the lead, deftly playing Sinbad between earnestness & camp, but still looks a bit like a fugitive from the Mod Squad. Actresses get short shrift in these films unless they get to be villainesses, but no such luck for the ladies here. The beautiful but unfashionably voluptuous Monroe, whose career hit its high point here, isn't more than the obligatory decoration & damsel in distress. Her scenes with Law are too awkward to be either romantic or campy. Harryhausen's Dynarama effects are the star, as usual, making all the films he treats a cut above average, at least. They are up to the task here, with the fight against the six-armed Kali not far short of the classic climax in "Jason & the Argonauts," but are not quite his best. Supporting parts give the film unusual & pleasant depth, including Wilmer's pessimistic Vizier & especially Shaw as the cautious but valiant second-in-command, Rashid. It's Baker who makes the film as Koura, effectively depicting the torment he brings upon himself in his evil ambition. The film is generously endowed with sage, ostensibly Arab sayings from Sinbad & others, notably "Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel." Koura gets the best ones, though, including "He who searches for pearls should not sleep" and my favorite, "He who is patient, obtains." Darth Vader's "I find your lack of faith disturbing" was a better catchphrase for an America made, perhaps, less credulous by Vietnam & Watergate. The subsequent "Eye of the Tiger," which featured the stunning young Jane Seymour in the stereotyped decorative role, wasn't up to the unpretentious old-fashioned fun of "Golden Voyage." Sinbad remains in his hidden harbor, waiting for an effort like Boorman's "Excalibur" or Milius's "Conan"--and perhaps also an end to America's ugly image of the Persian Gulf--to make sail again.