Sunday, December 01, 2002


I approached this, the last of my Thansgiving children's fantasy movies, with some trepidation. In my memory, it was part and parcel of the "epic" 60's fantasies like JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, and JACK THE GIANT KILLER. It's been my experience that when I revisit those movies, I'm always disappointed. Even when Ray Harryhausen is in charge of the special effects, I find the films drab, poorly acted, and difficult to sit through. However, this one, not a Harryhausen film, was a surprising treat. Most of the critical commentary I found on this film is negative, but I liked it more than any Harryhausen film I've seen. The effects aren't as good, that's for sure, but CAPTAIN SINDBAD has moderately better acting, more interesting sets, great color cinematography, and is just in general a great deal of fun. Guy Williams (best known as the dad on "Lost in Space") is Sindbad, returning home to marry his beloved Princess (a lovely German actress named Heidi Bruhl), but stymied by the wicked pretender to the throne, Pedro Armendariz, who is himself being assisted unwillingly by the royal wizard, Abraham Sofaer. The plot consists of Sindbad trying to lead a revolt against Armendariz, and eventually heading to a dangerous tower where the wicked king magically keeps his heart so he can be invulnerable to physical attack.

Many of the magic effects are nicely done, particularly the opening scene with the wizard conjuring up rain, thunder, and snow in his chamber. In a rather titilating scene, especially considering the young male audience at which this must have been aimed, he turns the princess into a "firebird," and she has to strip in order to undergo the transformation. When the bad king has the bird in his clutches and it turns back into a miniature naked princess, I was reminded of King Kong holding Fay Wray. Of course, for every good effect, there is a bad one: the King's disembodied heart looks like a pulsating box of Valentine's candy; an attempt to replicate a Harryhausen effect in a swordfight with a menacing Hydra-like creature fails miserably--I'm sure even as a kid, I would have groaned during this scene. The colors, especially the reds, blues, and purples, are rich and the sets, a mix of miniature and full-size, are quite effective. I also enjoyed an acrobatic and oddly sexy spider dance with a scantily clad man and woman swinging through the air, bouncing off gigantic spider webs. Other than that, there is not a lot of beefcake on display here; Williams is beefy and looks heroic, but he remains fully clothed, unlike the heroes of some of the other adventure movies of my youth. A big plus was the fact that most of the dialogue didn't appear to be post-dubbed--if it was, it was done very well. This is hardly a masterpiece, but it held my adult attention and it has now surpassed JASON as my favorite pre-70's fantasy epic.