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 | , , ,

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