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Ray Harryhausen Collection (7th Voyage of Sinbad, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers plus two others) Print E-mail
Friday, 05 December 2008
Article Index
Ray Harryhausen Collection (7th Voyage of Sinbad, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers plus two others)
Page 2

“20 Million Miles to Earth” is Harryhausen’s most elaborate and effects-laden black and white movie (though again, a colorized version is available).  It’s his entry in the “King Kong” school of giant monsters—a humanoid (but clearly not human) creature wreaking havoc in a big city, in this case, Rome, Italy.  The creature arrives on Earth off the coast of Sicily as part of an expedition returning from Venus (the crashing spaceship seems gigantic, and is very well realized).  A boy finds a container containing what looks like a lump of gelatin.

He takes it to a traveling scientist (Frank Puglia) and his assistant (Joan Taylor), unaware there’s a human survivor of the ship too, William Taylor.  When he comes to, he realizes the menace the creature—which hatches on the scientist’s lab table—will be on Earth: our atmosphere causes it to double in size every day.  After an exciting and beautifully-shot battle in a barn, the creature (known to its fans, but not in the movie, as the Ymir) is captured and taken to Rome.  When next seen, it’s 18 feet tall or so and, of course, escapes, running riot in the streets of the ancient city.  It makes its last stand high atop the Colosseum.

The extras again include a commentary track featuring Harryhausen and Kunert, but also Oscar-winners Dennis Muren and Phil Tippet, life-long Harryhausen fans.  Much of the time, Muren and Tippet wryly point out how on their movies, hundreds of people are required to do what Harryhausen did by himself.  There’s another look at a comic book sequel, “20 Million Miles More.”

All three of these black and white movies have been colorized; they aren’t harmed by the process, and Harryhausen himself—who oversaw the colorization—is thrilled with the results.  Fortunately for those who don’t approve of colorization, the black-and-white prints are in excellent shape and easily accessible.

But “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” was in color to begin with.  Not only is this different from the others in being an Arabian Nights fantasy rather than science fiction, but it’s structured differently.  We see a monster—a roaring, goat-legged Cyclops—almost immediately, rushing out of a cave in pursuit of a sinister sorcerer, Sokurah (Torin Thatcher), and the magic lamp he carries.  Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) and his men thwart the Cyclops with the aid of the genie (Richard Eyer) of the lamp, but the lamp itself falls into the hands of the Cyclops.

Sinbad’s mission is to take Princess Parissa (Kathryn Grant) from her homeland of Chandra to Bagdad, where the kingdoms will give up the idea of war upon the marriage of Sinbad and Parissa.  When the sultan of Bagdad won’t give Sokurah the ship and men necessary to return to the island of Colossa and retrieve the magic lamp, he secretly uses his magic powers to shrink the princess to a few inches in height.  The only means to restore her, he says, is by combining the shell of a roc—a giant bird that lives only on, you guessed it, Colossa, with the chemicals he has in his laboratory there.

So Sinbad takes the princess in a tiny box and set sails on a ship partly manned by thieves and murderers (a complication that exists solely to add running time), and despite problems from shrieking sirens (sea creatures, never seen), are able to return to Colossa, armed with a giant crossbow to take care of any pesky Clyclopes.

For a while, things go reasonably well; Sokurah leads one band of men, Sinbad  another, intending to reunite later on.  Sinbad finds a roc’s egg; when it hatches, out pops an adorably fuzzy, two-headed roc bigger than an elephant.  Sinbad’s men are desperate for food, so they kill the helpless chick and roast it.  Whoops, here comes momma.

After a battle with the Cyclops (or maybe it’s a different one), Princess Parissa and the magic lamp change hands between Sinbad and Sokurah several times.  Finally, Sokurah takes refuges in his cave—guarded by a chained dragon, there to shoo away Cyclopes—where he is confronted by Sinbad.  The Princess is returned to full size, but as she and Sinbad try to leave, Sokurah unleashes the most memorable menace of the movie: a skeleton armed with a scimitar.  To almost insanely great music by Bernard Herrmann—whose entire score is a wonder—Sinbad has a swordfight with the lively skeleton.  This leads on to the traditional happy ending.

By being deliberately old-fashioned, “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” was like a refreshing breeze in 1958—we hadn’t seen anything like it since the flurry of swashbucklers in the early 1950s (“Scaramoche,” “The Black Knight,” “Son of Sinbad”), and none of those were crammed with fantastic monsters like these.  The movie was, and is, enormously entertaining, wonderfully exciting, totally free of cynicism or irony, an innocent spectacle.  Half a century later, children today are as captivated by it as we were back in the 50s.

The commentary track by Harryhausen, the returning Randy Cook and Phil Tippet, Arnold Kunert and Herrmann expert Steven Smith is technically interesting—Kunert and Herrmann were in London, the others in California.  They sound like they’re in the same room.

“The Harryhausen Legacy” is a series of talking heads—contemporary directors and effects artists who became determined to make movies by exposure to Harryhausen movies, especially “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.”  (Tom Hanks, not seen here, was as captivated by Harryhausen’s “Jason and the Argonauts.”)  We see and hear John Landis, Phil Tippet, Joe Dante, John Dykstra, The Chiodo Brothers, Doug Beswick, Jon Berg, Rick Baker and many others.  Forrest J Ackerman, Harryhausen’s friend since they were teenagers gets a word in, too.

“The Music of Bernard Herrmann” features Steven Smith clearly explaining the great composer’s innovations for this score (and Herrmann’s long-time fondness for the movie), but unfortunately does not demonstrate these techniques.  The usual “Remembering….” making-of featurette is included, plus a 1995 documentary that features the rarely-seen Charles H. Scheer as well as the late Kerwin Mathews.

It took Columbia a long while to get around to releasing Harryhausen's movies on DVD, but apparently it paid off. Some of  Harryhausen’s Columbia movies have now been released at least four times on DVD; the initial, extras-less, toss-‘em-out-the-door, second-rate versions, a version with extras and more care taken with the prints; the three black-and-white movies were then released in pretty good colorization, and now those films plus the magnificent “7th Voyage of Sinbad” have been brought out in high-definition Blu-Ray.  Presumably the remaining Harryhausen-Schneer movies Columbia still owns—“Three Worlds of Gulliver,” “Mysterious Island,” “Jason and The Argonauts” and “First Men in the Moon”—will be given this same first-class treatment.  

Ray Harryhausen is one of the few great effects people still alive to accept the acclaim for his long-ago work. Movies  today still pay him homage, too often pioneers like Harryhausen die before they received their due tributes; it's great that he's lasted long enough to know what a powerful influence he's had.  The extensive supplements in this boxed set include tributes from effects experts like Phil Tippet, Yoyt Yeatman, Ken Ralston, John Dykstra, The Chiodo Brothers, Dunnis Muren, Doug Beswick, Rick Baker, Jon Berg and Stan Winston (Berg and Winston make some especially salient points).  Directors are also heard from, including Terry Gilliam, John Landis, Joe Dante, Frank Darabont and others, plus film collector/historians like Bob Burns and Forrest J Ackerman (friends with Harryhausen since their teens).

But the treasures here are the movies, especially “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.”  It’s simply one of the greatest fantasy-adventure movies ever made, still lively, still engaging, and features Torin Thatcher’s powerful performance as the evil wizard.   Altogether, this is one of the best Blu-ray packages to date.

“It Came from Beneath the Sea”
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Director: Robert Gordon
Cast: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis, Ian Keith, Dean Maddox Jr., Chuck Griffiths, Harry Lauter
Theatrical release: 1955
Blu-ray release: 2008
Running time: 79 minutes; black and white and colorized; not rated
Sound format: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Special featues: Feature available in both black and white and color(ized); Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen, Randall William Cook, John Bruno, Arnold Kuntert; Remembering “It Came from Beneath the Sea;” Tim Burton sits down with Ray Harryhausen; Mischa Bakaleinikofff: Movie Music’s Unsung Hero; A Present-Day Look at Stop Motion; preview of comic book “It Came from Beneath the Sea…Again;” Video Galleries
Film rating: Three stars
Video rating: Four stars
Sound rating: Four stars
Special features rating: Three and a half stars

“Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers”
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Director: Fred F. Sears
Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor, Donald Curtis, Morris Ankrum, John Zaremba, Tom Browne Henry, Grandon Rhodes, Larry Blake
Theatrical release: 1956
Blu-ray release: 2008
Running time: 83 minutes; Black and white and color(ized); not rated
Sound format: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Mastered in high definition
Special features: Commentary track with Ray Harryhausen, Jeffrey Okun, Ken Ralston, Arnold Kunert; Remembering “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers;” The Hollywood Blacklist and Bernard Gordon; Original screenplay credits; Interview with Joan Taylor; Original ad artwork gallery; Photo gallery; The Colorization Process; Preview of comic book “Flying Saucers Vs. the Earth”
Film quality: Three and a half stars
Video Quality: Four stars
Sound quality: Four stars
Supplements: Four stars

“20 Million Miles to Earth”
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Director: Nathan Juran
Starring: William Hopper, Joan Taylor, Frank Puglia, John Zaremba, Thomas Browne Henry, Tito Vuolo
Theatrical release: 1957
Blu-ray release: 2008
Running time: 82 minutes; Black and white and color(ized); Not rated
Sound format: Dolby True HD5.1
Mastered in high definition
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Special features: Commentary track by Ray Harryhausen, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippet and Arnold Kunert; Remembering “20 Million Miles to Earth;” Tim Burton sits down with Ray Harryhausen; Interview with Joan Taylor; The Colorization Process; David Schechter on Movie’s Unsung Hero; Galleries
Film rating: Four stars
Video quality rating: Four stars
Sound quality rating: Four stars
Supplements rating: Four stars

“The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Director: Nathan Juran
Starring: Kerwin Mathews, Kathryn Grant, Richard Eyer, Torin Thatcher, Alfred Brown, Alec Mango Harold Kasket, Danny Green, Nana DeHerrera
Theatrical release: 1958
Blu-ray release: 2008
Running time: 88 minutes; Color; Rated G
Sound format: Dolby True HD5.1
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Special features: Commentary track with Ray Harryhausen, Phil Tippet, Randall William Cook, Steven Smith, Arnold Kunert
Film rating: Four and a half stars
Video quality rating: Four and a half stars
Sound quality rating: Four and a half stars
Supplements rating: Four and a half stars

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