However, I shouldn't sound like I am lambasting this image, because, in truth, this is still a fine visual treatment of some very testing material.
The original 1.66:1 aspect has a fine stability and doesn't tend to wobble or suffer from much damage other than the odd nick or pop here and there. The curiously framed shot of a close-up of Sadi, the hand-maiden's face, as she cavorts in her serpentine guise, is still uncomfortable, as far as I am concerned, though. But this shot has always looked this way, so, once again, the transfer is only accurately presenting the film. Colours are slightly deeper and better saturated, with the usual primary boost, and some shots are more than decently attractive to look at. The bustling streets of Baghdad and some of the landscapes viewed on the island of Colossa are good examples of the vintage Technicolor process. The blood-red wine-river and lush foliage; the ultra-clean whiteness of the picked bone carcasses and the odd splash of gaudy gore; and the toasted cheese hue of the knobbly-skinned Cyclops and the weird blue of the handmaiden's serpentine transformation - all have a sturdy edge over their SD counterparts. But the blue skies with their fluffy painted clouds are now much more obvious and awash with grain. The opening titles, that rove around a mosaic depicting the events of the film, looks fine until we land upon a vista with a deep orange hue, which literally fizzes and throbs from the screen. Skin tones are pure Hollywood, but now have a ruddier complexion, if anything.
The fly that lands and then crawls down Socurah's boot is now much more plainly visible. Those roads in the distance as Sinbad and co scramble about the hills are also easier to make out. The texture on some of the clothing, on the wood of Sinbad's ship and on the cages in the Cyclops' mountaintop pantry is more revealing and some of the distance shots - the view up the towering valley of the Cyclops when our heroes first descend those ancient stone steps, for instance - are now clearer and provide more of a sense of depth. Certain close-ups of faces, especially a couple of Thatcher's Sokurah, look exceptionally clear and detailed. Three-dimensionality is not in evidence in the manner in which you may have become accustomed with 1080p, but there are still moments when characters and objects possess more a life and visual vitality than any standard version I have seen of the film. Just don't expect miracles. When Sadi is transformed into a serpent, there is great detail and clarity on her face when seen in close-up and those wriggling snake-arms and elongated tail look just fine - but the characters around her can lose distinction, some of the Caliph's red-turbaned guards suffering what looks like some smearing.
Folks, this is a fine transfer that makes no overt encoding errors and, having compared it to the SD edition, it brings a lot more information to the screen than ever before. But, it also tends to exacerbate the existing problems with such a style of heavily processed filmmaking.
But what the TrueHD does manage to accomplish is to enhance the movie with a fuller and slightly richer acoustic feel which I think is quite refreshing without being overtly gratuitous. Various effects are lent more vigour with the new mix - the roaring of the Cyclops and the dragon, for instance, the clash of steel-on-steel or the overall ambience of the siren-songs and maritime squall of the mutineers' downfall - but it is definitely Herrmann's momentous score that benefits the most from the added volume, depth and vitality. The blasting main theme and the ominous bassoon and oboe of the pensive pre-monster moments have greater range and clarity than ever before and the tremendous xylophone of the Sinbad vs. skeleton duel is bestowed much more life and acoustic dexterity - placement, crispness and timbre - than heard in any previous incarnation. And, naturally, the senses-rattling percussion, deep bass and low woodwinds and the clanging brass and cymbals of the Cyclops on the warpath have a lot more oomph.
Well, I've got to be honest - and purists please don't take offence - but the new surround mix, even without much in the way of surround, is the track that I preferred. Why? Quite simply, as I say, it promotes Bernard Herrmann's vigorous score with much clarity and instrumental separation. To my ears, it is cleaner and a little more precise. What little rear support we get is never over-egged in that bogus Anchor Bay type of way and there are indeed some subtleties that help to make the viewing experience slightly more involving and interesting. The wind during the sea-storm, for instance, is allowed some emanations from behind you and some of the more frantic skirmishes have limited bleed-through from back there, also. Nothing to write home about, obviously, but Sinbad's tussles with the Cyclops are now more bombastic, riotous and detailed than in the mono track which, whilst perfectly acceptable in its own right, doesn't possess the aggression of the TrueHD.
Either way, you won't be disappointed.
But the key elements to this edition's added value are brand new actually very good indeed. For a start we get a new commentary track featuring the main man, himself - who is definitely flogging his products like there's no tomorrow (even the likes of She gets the Harryhausen treatment though he had nothing at all to do with its production) - and this time, he is accompanied by modern-day visual effects whiz Phil Tippett, music historian and Bernard Herrmann specialist, Steve Smith, Randall William Cook and Arnold Kunert. The film is assessed with humour, reference and a plethora of well-remembered details from Harryhausen who provides a wealth of technical know-how and fond reminiscence of the cast and crew as well as the beastly characters that he created. Smith is ushered on whenever Herrmann's awesome score enters one of its more colourful and exciting phases and ushered off again once the spell is broken. But this is definitely a worthwhile track that caters for the fans and those new to what has, by now, become a virtual institution. Inevitably, some of this a tad fawning - but the chat is good-natured and rewarding in the main.
Remembering 7th Voyage Of Sinbad is a 20-minute look-back at the film in the company of Harryhausen that does rehash some things that we have already learned during the commentary, but this time does so with some behind-the-scenes stills and some terrific conceptual artwork that Harryhausen crafted - check out the marvellous and terrifying imagery of the Cyclops crushing and roasting easily caught sailors! He confesses that the Middle East, where he wanted to shoot the movie, was much too volatile an area and also reveals the extent of his control over the picture. He was able to hold sway over much of the casting decisions and he even had a lot of input in the fight choreography of sword-fighting scenes, even beyond the skeleton/Sinbad duel, which he obviously had control over. Lamenting today's desire from the public for knowledge of the ins and outs of special fx wizardry, he claims, quite rightly, that it ruins the magic of the cinema. However, he also provides pretty detailed accounts of how he achieved his wonderful effects - even down to the 40 ft pillow they had to build to place the shrunken Parisa upon. And we get to meet the actual skeleton from the film - albeit with a new sword (Ray lost the original one!) and a shield pilfered from Jason And The Argonauts.
The Harryhausen Legacy is a 25-minute tribute from the industry's biggest fans of fx-bods and filmmakers, who all recount how they were first introduced to his movies and how the experience utterly transformed and influenced them. People like historian Bob Burns, directors John Landis, Frank Darabont and Joe Dante (who looks more and more like Tony Slattery every time I see him!) and effects people Phil Tippet, Ken Ralston, the late Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Dennis Muren, John Dykstra and the Chiodo Brothers all love the Cyclops and revere Harryhausen. Obviously, and a little regrettably, this otherwise fine feature becomes a little too sweet with sugary praise and adulation ... but is still worth going the distance with.
We then get a Photo Gallery which plays a montage of glorious stills for 9 minutes to the accompaniment of Herrmann's score.
A great little curio is the music video for the song that was released for cinemas to play in their foyers to promote the movie upon its initial release in 1958. This is actually its first airing on video and the thing bounces along with a series lobby cards and poster art to illustrate it. The song “Sinbad May Have Been Bad, But He's Been Good To Me” is a wacky doo-be-doop, doo-be-doop style of fifties pop, with a raucous female lead and harmonised male backing. And, hey, as daft as it is - it's great!
A Look Behind The Voyage is an 11-minute vintage promo that has Charles H. Schneer and a younger Ray Harryhausen talking about the inspirations for the story and, more pertinently, forming the basis of a profile for the effects pioneer thus far. Unfortunately, by now, we have heard all this before as the Harryhausen saga has been extensively chronicled already here, and elsewhere.
This Is Dynamation is familiar to anyone to who is a fan of these films as it has appeared on most of the re-releases on disc of Harryhausen's catalogue. And the Interview With John Landis (11.52 mins) should be equally well-known. Utterly cringe-worthy with Landis' woefully unprofessional style totally overbearing and patronising, this is possibly classic parody material. Harryhausen very bravely soldiers on, however.
But the disc provides another excellent new documentary in the form of the 26-minute Music Of Bernard Herrmann. Now, regular readers will surely know much I adore the composer's distinctive film scores and it is a rare treat to be granted such a loving and informative tribute to a man whose work contributed enormously to the success of many films - from the fantasy pictures of Harryhausen (7th Voyage, Jason And The Argonauts, The 3 Worlds Of Gulliver and Mysterious Island) to the groundbreaking thrillers from Hitchcock (Psycho, Marnie, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North By Northwest). Film Music Historian and Herrmann devotee, Steve Smith, provides us with a detailed account of the composer's inimitable style, his diligent nature and rare sense of orchestration. Smith goes into the form of his music on occasion but, for the most part, keeps the feature light and informative. Herrmann's stature and position of one of cinema's greatest ever composers is not up for question and this mini-doc is an entertaining look at his life and times though, perhaps wisely, it likes to bring the focus back to the score for 7th Voyage.
To round off this BD-Live enabled disc, there are also BD trailers for C17, MIB, Casino Royale and Water-Horse. Overall, this is a great set of features that go some way to enhancing the magic of the film in question and the two main men behind its continued popularity - Ray Harryhausen and Bernard Herrmann.
So, you can't say that you aren't getting your money's worth with this impressive roster of extra features.
Columbia's anniversary release on Blu-ray provides a very solid interpretation of the movie. There is nothing wrong with the transfer, although the hi-def makeover does bring out the inconsistencies of the original source and possibly jars the eyes with its intense background grain fields and vibrant, detailed stop-motion elements. The TrueHD may be contentious to some, but I enjoyed its wider soundfield and crisper rendition of Herrmann's score. The extras are great and are well worth going through. So, all in all, Sinbad gets a clean bill of health on Blu-ray and fans should be in 7th Heaven. Now, bring on Jason!
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