Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

When it’s on: Sunday, 3 June (3.25 pm)
Channel: Channel 5
IMDb Link

Welcome to matinée film making from a more innocent time, when stop-motion animated creatures ruled the world and stories were thinly disguised linkage points  between the appearance of fantasy creatures. Unfortunately, by the time Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger was released – encouraged by the success of 1973’s Golden Voyage of SinbadStar Wars had done enough to alter audiences’ perceptions and expectations, leaving it to appear antiquated and out of touch.

I remember one of my favourite TV shows as a child was The Incredible Hulk. That was until my dad informed me that the producers could afford to transform Bill Bixby into Lou Ferrigno only twice per episode, no more and no less, which broke the spell because it was then apparent that the plot had little point other than to build up to these moments, making it seem contrived and utterly artificial. Eye of the Tiger is a bit like that. There was always an element of films involving Ray Harryhausen that the narrative served to shoehorn his creations into the frame at regular points, but by this film it’s more obvious than ever. There’s a scene that takes place in the Arctic? Bring on the giant walrus! Melanthius wants to test the evil witch’s magic potion? Roll out the enlarged wasp!

Worse still is the fact these animated creatures started to look really dated by 1977. Given the choice between watching almost photo-realistic spaceships and stop-motion baboons, what would you choose to see? It doesn’t help that for this film, Harryhausen applied his arts to animating real animals – wasps, apes and walruses – and they look as artificial as they obviously are. His work is at its best when fantasy creatures are on the screen, such as the imposing Minaton (a bronze automaton in the shape of a minotaur), which evokes memories of Talos from Jason and the Argonauts, but such creations are few and far between.

The Eye of the Tiger was directed by Sam Wanamaker, best known as an actor but with numerous directing credits, mainly for television productions. His effort here was bloated one, rather poorly edited by Roy Watts who simply let the camera linger on a scene long after it had finished. These moments really matter. The viewer expects something to happen, only it doesn’t, and thanks to movie watching convention you’re drawn right out of the picture.

Then there’s the acting, the really awful acting. It isn’t often this writer misses Kerwin Matthews, yet the bland star of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad – more or less the go-to man for matinée leads where the focus was elsewhere – is a cut above Patrick Wayne (John’s son!), who brings a curiously wooden quality to the lead role. Wayne looks the part, but that’s about it, and indeed develops into the least effectual Sinbad as the sailor turns out to have little to do. Taryn Power and Jane Seymour are on hand to provide eye candy and a willingness to wear tiny outfits, including a brief, family friendly nude scene. Margaret Whiting plays the villainous Zenobia. I was never at all clear on her motives beyond serving up classic villainy and Whiting duly hams it up, channelling Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch in her cackling performance. It’s left to Patrick Troughton as the alchemist Melanthius to provide a touch of class, and even he has an especially poorly scripted scene in which he’s left to question Zenobia, only to reveal all his plans and nearly get killed in the process.

These films were never great but they were nearly always fun, easy viewing for PG audiences. Yet here the drawbacks finally outweigh the benefits; Harryhausen’s genius had been caught up by time and the end is a bit of a shambles.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger: *