Thursday, November 27, 2008


The Ray Harryhausen fantasy extravaganza is a genre unto itself with its predictable conventions: exotic settings in the time and lands of myth, handsome heroes, lovely damsels in distress, lots of travel by ship, big stop-motion monsters, colorful sets and costumes, and wooden acting. For its time, the stop-motion animation in the films is well done, though kids raised on Lucas and CGI probably won't respond very well to it. I liked JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS when I was young, but even then the effects seemed a little off. This film, which I'm reviewing as my annual Thanksgiving weekend fantasy memorial, is one of Harryhausen's last films. Though it's way too long, it's also one of his better productions in terms of looks and effects. I have to say that the main reason I watched this is that it stars Patrick Wayne, son of John, and I had just recently found out that Wayne played Marathon John, an incredibly handsome cowboy (pictured below), in a series of TV ads for the Marathon candy bar back in the mid-70's which I have never forgotten--Wayne, dressed in dazzling white, was always being challenged by bad guy Quick Carl, all in black. Wayne does look every inch the manly hero here, but his acting is just a notch above amateurish. On the other hand, most of the rest of the cast, including future star Jane Seymour, is just as bad as Wayne. But it just wouldn't be a Harryhausen film if it had good acting!

Sinbad (Wayne) arrives in a port city to visit his friend Princess Farah (Jane Seymour), only to find the town shut down under quarantine. When he investigates, he discovers that Farah's brother Kassim, who was about to be crowned Caliph, was magically turned into a baboon by the wicked witch Zenobia (Margaret Whiting). If he's not turned back by the seventh moon, he will lose his shot at Caliphood and Zenobia will be able to install her wicked son Rafi (Kurt Christian). Sinbad and Farah and the baboon (who still has some human traits, like the ability to play chess) get some help from the magician Melanthius (Patrick Troughton) and his daughter (Taryn Power) and all set off to the Arctic land of Hyperborea where a magical shrine may be able to transform Kassim back. There are a number of Harryhausen stop-motion creations, including a trio of demon skeletons (who fight Wayne and his men in a scene stolen straight from ARGONAUTS), a giant wasp, a horned troglodyte, a walrus beast, and a saber-toothed tiger which has been taken over by the spirit of Zenobia--her evil gleaming eye giving the movie its meaningless title. The human-acting baboon is perhaps the best effect, partly because it's fairly subtle and doesn't call attention to itself. Each adventure has some appeal, but the linking sequences are snooze-inducing. Whiting overacts (my partner said that her role model must have been Witchiepoo from "H.R. Pfunstuf"), maybe to counter everyone else's underacting. Taryn Power, daughter of 40's matinee idol Tyrone, looks remarkably like a Los Angeles hippie girl plunked down in Ancient Greece, but she is stunning looking and acts as well as Wayne or Seymour. Actor Sam Wanamaker directed with a choppy awkward style. I'm not sorry I saw this, but I wish Wayne had made a Marathon John movie instead. [TCM]

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