A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 394 – The Magic Voyage of Sinbad

The Magic Voyage of Sinbad – March 29th, 2011

Back when we decided to buy The Day the Earth Froze we found we could get it packaged together with this movie. And since both of them were ones we’d seen on MST3K, we said why not? And indeed, I’m glad we own this in a non-MST3K format (even if I do enjoy the episode too). It’s a Russian production from 1953 that’s been repackaged and titled for American audiences. The names of the cast are changed, as is the director. Even the title was changed from the Russian Sadko, which is apparently an epic tale and an opera and okay, there is a connection to Sinbad in there, but this story isn’t actually about Sinbad. And once you get past that, it’s really not bad.

I really like this whole Aleksandr Ptushko thing where epic stories are made into grand movies with huge casts. If I had to pick one, I’d probably go for The Day the Earth Froze over this one, but they share a lot in terms of tone. There’s the conquering hero, who shows up only to have to leave again. There’s the woman he falls for, whom he only gets to marry at the end of the movie. There’s a quest to a far off and dangerous land and there are episodic encounters along the way. It could be likened to The Odyssey as well, or any other epic quest. Looking over the actual Sinbad stories, I can see how it was an easy name to slap on this movie. Sinbad gets on a ship, encounters a new land full of people whose ways are foreign to him, gets into some sort of trouble and then gets out again. But knowing that this movie is actually based on an entirely separate story – with its own opera, no less – makes me want to know that story better. Because while there are epic quest tropes in many stories, I love knowing the particulars and this movie? Well, it’s a quick dash through them.

Sinbad (for ease – the version we have is the English dub that was retitled and recut for the US) arrives in his home city after a long time away and sees that the people are downtrodden and taken advantage of by the rich merchants who’ve taken over. So, being the sort of guy who can’t abide by that sort of thing, he makes a deal with the merchants that if he can catch a golden fish, they’ll give their riches away. And since one of Neptune’s daughters has taken a shine to him, he does so! Hooray! And here is where I thought “Huh, he just introduced Communism.” Except it ends up not working out, with more people showing up than there are goods for, which seems like a poor argument for Communism, but perhaps I’m reading too much into things. Anyhow, Sinbad just wants his people to be happy, so he gathers a crew and sets off to find a bird that can bring happiness. He and his men encounter fierce warriors and end up playing chess to win the bird and the bird’s a let-down anyhow and then there’s dancing under the sea.

Yes, really. See, the thing here is that much like the other epics I mentioned, it’s episodic. Something happens and the hero deals with it, then something else happens and the hero deals with it. Any epic tale that involves a journey is going to also involve a variety of encounters, and one without a huge evil enemy to face (like in, say, The Lord of the Rings) is going to need to draw its encounters from a variety of places. Would that I were still in school and had an excuse to do a lengthy and involved study of epic quest tales in various cultures, because I find the ones I know of kind of fascinating. It makes me think of something like The Legend of the Eight Samurai, which is based on a serial that ran for thirty years. We’re talking stories that are supposed to hold people’s interest for vast swaths of time. Unfortunately, this movie has taken a story that I’m sure is much longer and compressed it into about 80 minutes. It ends up meaning that a lot of the bits are rushed through.

Oddly, the movie does take the time for three different dancing sequences. And the dancing is all well and good, but I’d have liked to spend a little more time in each place getting to know about it and about the perils the heroes will find there. Still, while it’s rushed it’s still fun to watch and obviously well made. Okay, so the copy we have was put together from a few different masters and the visual quality is faded. Look close and you can see the detailed costumes and sets. The cast is huge, the music is lovely (apparently it was scored with the music from the opera) and there’s some fun puppetry and effects work that I really do respect given the film’s age. It has its hokey moments, it’s rushed and it’s certainly not about Sinbad, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. It’s a good story and well made for its time and I’m definitely going to have to go look up Sadko and see what I can find out.

March 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Magic Voyage of Sinbad

March 29, 2011

The Magic Voyage of Sinbad

We own a couple of these Russian fantasy films from the fifties which we discovered through MST3K. I’m quite proud that our copy of Morozko is in the original Russian with English subtitles, but the three Aleksandr Ptushko films we own are all severely edited and dubbed into English. Perhaps someday we will get the films the way they were meant to be seen, but for now this is what we have. We already reviewed The Day the Earth Froze, which is based on the Kalevala, but until today I’ve always wondered what this movie was based on, because it is clearly not Sinbad.

A little quick internet research reveals that it is actually the Russian epic of Sadko. It’s a little difficult to figure out what’s going on much of the time while watching the “Sinbad” version of the movie as interpreted by Roger Corman. We know that Sadko finds himself in a vast city full of oppressed masses and that he wants only to liberate them. At first he tries to help the downtrodden masses by tricking the moneyed ruling class into distributing their wealth to the people. (He does this by betting his life that he can catch a golden fish, which miraculous feat he accomplishes with the help of a daughter of Neptune he has befriended using his harp.)

This fails to help all the people though, so Sadko sets out to sea in search of some other way to help his people. He gathers a hearty band of heroes including a young boy, an old sage, and a big slow dumb muscle man. They do battle with trident-bearing savages, match wits with a nasally voiced Indian horse fancier, and defeat a mystical blue harpy that tries to bore them to sleep. Ultimately they do not find whatever it is they’re seeking and turn back for home.

On the way home, however, they are beset by storms because Sadko has failed to pay propper homage to Neptune. In order to save his crew he must sacrifce himself, diving into the depths to confront Neptune himself. After some underwater hijinks he eventually escapes Neptune’s kingdom (with the help once again of one of Neptune’s daughters) and returns to land. He still hasn’t found anything to help the people of his home, but they don’t seem to mind much and everybody’s just so happy to see him again. The end.

I’m betting that most of the reason the movie feels so odd and disjointed is that the translation tries so hard to make it something that it is not. We’re told that Sinbad is seeking the bluebird of happiness, but I strongly suspect that this is an invention of the translators. So I have to admit I simply don’t know what’s going on for most of this movie, and yet I still enjoy it.

I enjoy it because Aleksandr Ptushko makes grand, sweeping, beautiful films. Even when they seem non-sensical as in this case they are still visually stunning. What this movie most reminds me of is the Douglas Fairbanks silent version of The Thief of Bagdad. It has the same scale to it, with it’s huge cast and colossal sets. It even has an interesting dry-for-wet underwater scene as part of its hero’s quest. (Although Neptune’s kingdom in this movie is played mostly for laughs. It’s a fairly goofy place full of puppets and dancing.)

As it stands in the version of this film that we own it is a fairly strange production. The plot makes little sense. The magical fantasy adventure descends at times into the laughably silly. Our hero is so clearly not Sinbad. But visually the movie still intrigues me. I long now to obtain the full-length and unedited Sadko with the original dialog. I’d really love to see this movie the way that Ptushko intended for it to be seen.

March 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment