Long before the magicians of movie special effects had computers to conjure up monsters and otherworldly creatures, or even talking dogs, they relied on more physical tricks of the trade. One method, used perhaps most famously in 1933’s King Kong, is stop-motion animation. Kong inspired a young boy who would go on to master the art form and establish himself as a legend of fantasy filmmaking: Ray Harryhausen. Over a career spanning more than 40 years, Harryhausen produced some of the most delightful moments ever captured on film, wowing audiences and inspiring people to believe in movie magic.
Harryhausen’s mastery is showcased in 1977’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, the third film in a trilogy about the legendary swashbuckler. Eye of the Tiger has its flaws, but the animation is still captivating after all these years.
One would be hard-pressed to forget a colossal fight between a giant, prehistoric man and a ferocious saber-toothed tiger possessed by a powerful witch. Or a huge minotaur made of solid bronze relentlessly rowing an ominous boat of the same material. These are the work of Harryhausen’s inspired imagination and expert craftsmanship, and the images have stayed with me for more than 20 years, since I first watched the Sinbad movies on my family’s then-new VHS player.
The rest of the story, I didn’t recall. Eye of the Tiger is a fantastical adventure, sending Sinbad on a perilous journey to mysterious and dangerous lands in search of powerful magic. Sounds like a typical Tuesday for the charismatic buccaneer, I know. Sinbad is adequately played by Patrick Wayne, son of the legendary John Wayne. He boasts some of his father’s quiet confidence, but doesn’t quite deliver the charisma required to really sell the character. Wayne’s joined by the lovely Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) as Princess Farah, whom he’s hoping to marry. Trouble is, when Sinbad and his hardy crew come into port at Farah’s home city, they learn there’s a big problem. Farah’s brother, Prince Kassim (Damien Thomas, The Message), has been transformed into a baboon by Zenobia (Margaret Whiting, The Informers), a powerful witch. Kassim was about to be crowned Caliph, ruler of the people. All Sinbad wants is to marry Farah, but she’ll only consent if Kassim offers his blessing. That settles it, and Sinbad, his crew, Farah and the baboon sail off in search of help. Their journey takes them to dangerous places, but the greatest danger lurks behind – Zenobia, her son and the bronze minotaur are on their tails, and will do anything to stop them from saving Kassim.
If you put aside concerns about somewhat awkward screenwriting and flimsy plot devices, Eye of the Tiger offers a pretty entertaining adventure. Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects are highly enjoyable, dated sure, but so much so that you don’t compare them to the cutting-edge effects of today. They’re still impressive in their style, and you’ll keep watching to see what pops up next. Have I mentioned there’s a giant walrus?
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger is presented on a single disc, in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen format, preserving the aspect ratio of the original theatrical version. It looks pretty good for its age, thanks to a relatively clean source and a careful transfer. Film grain comes and goes throughout, but is never distracting, and there are a few scratches, but colours are bright and natural, blacks are pretty deep and details are mostly sharp. A few scenes suffer more issues than most, but they’re offset by sequences of vivid beauty. It’s not a triple-A resurrection like Casablanca, but then, Sinbad and the eye of the Tiger isn’t exactly a masterpiece of film, so this transfer is better than good enough.
The audio presentation is English-only, in Dolby Digital Mono. As you’d expect, it lacks the visceral punch of a modern surround track, but all dialogue is clear and the sometimes-cheesy score does swell nicely in the big moments. Overall levels are also pretty good, with pleasingly balanced effects in the battles.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.
There aren’t a lot of extras on this release of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, but what’s here is pretty great. The headliner is Ray Harryhausen Chronicles, an hour-long featurette about his career, from his early days in his parents’ garage on to becoming a legend of movie effects. It’s worth the price of this disc alone, but you’ll also get a kick out of This is Dynamation, an old promotional video for the then-cutting-edge effects employed in this film. After that we have a collection of trailers, some static information on the cast, and production notes.
I didn’t expect to enjoy Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger this time around. I’m not a seven-year-old boy anymore, and I figured Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects would be so outdated as to be comical. To my surprise, I had a good time with this DVD, and the credit is all due to the fantastic creatures brought to life by Ray Harryhausen. Recommended.