Friday, 10 May 2013

Ray Harryhausen Appreciation Blogfest

Thanks to RJ at Gamers & Grognards for suggesting the idea of a blogfest as a great way to honour the passing of one of the greatest cinematic geniuses of our time, Ray Harryhausen.

Some of my earliest memories were sat infront of the TV watching classic monster movies, it was here that I discovered Sinbad and the tales of far flung Arabia.  Of course none of this would have caught my imagination if it weren't for the terrifying duels between man and monster cooked up by the genius animator that was Ray Harryhausen.  It must have rewired my brain somewhat as my favourite setting for D&D has always been Al-Quadim.

Last night I decided to rewatch...

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

The first monster Sinbad (Patrick Wayne) encounters are the fire demons (Harryhausen's storyboard maintains they are ghouls) conjured from the flames of their campfire as they celebrate ending their return to the city.  These insect headed animated corpses  see off most of Sinbad's crewmates before he crushes them with an inexplicably placed pile of huge logs.

Fire Demons emerge from the camp fire ready to attack
Sinbad tries to return to his boat and encounters the beautiful Princess Farah (Jane Seymore) brother to Prince Kassim who has recently been turned into a baboon by his step mother the Evil Witch Queen, Zenobia (Margaret Whiting) in order to retain the throne for her own son.

Farah then introduces her Uncle Balsora who pleads with Sinbad to aid them by returning Kassim to his true form.  We get introduced to the transformed Kassim as his cage is being loaded onto Sinbad's ship.

Prince Kassim is a pretty mean Chess player
Meanwhile Zenobia, discovering that Sinbad aims to sail to the island of Cascar to seek the aid of the sage Melanthis and constructs The Minaton, a Bronze Golem, to act as her bodyguard, henchman and the oarsman for her marvelous ship without sails.

The Minaton has the strength of 6 men
The Minaton is a really iconic creature  and one of my favourite Harryhausen creations.  Interestingly I discovered that Peter Mayhew (aka Chewbacca) acted as the stand-in during filming, the model Minaton was added later by Harryhausen during post production.

As they leave in pursuit of Sinbad, Zenobia instructs the Minaton to see off Balsora's spies.  The automaton wordlessly obeys, capsizing their boat and skewering their leader.

Sinbad successfully negotiates the treacherous reefs which surround Cascar and meets with Melanthius (Patrick Troughton) discovering that the only way to return Kassim to his true form is to travel to the fabled Shrine of the Four Elements hidden in a green valley in the frozen North of Hyborea.

Zenobia's attempts to navigate the reef fares less well and the ships metal oars aredamaged in the process.  She is thwarted again when Sinbad's ship sets sail whilst her son is still making good the repairs.  In desperation she uses a magic potion to transform herself into a seagul so she can learn of Sinbad's plans.  Unfortunately she is captured by Melanthius who also discovers the amulet containing her transformation potion and uses it to enlarge a wasp to monstrous size.

Melathius fends of a giant wasp whilst the imprisoned Zenobia goads it.
In the chaos Zenobia's glass jar prison is knocked off the table and she makes good her escape, once more transorming her into a seagul and she flees back to her ship.  As bad guys go she has no luck at all however and the remaining potion is not enough to fully transform her back into her human form and she is stuck with a bird like right foot.

When they reach Hyborea Sinbad forgoes the ice tunnel and opts to travel across land.  His party encounter a Giant Walrus which further whittles down his crew.

Sinbad and crew fight off a Giant Walrus
Their journey continues to the temperate valley where they encounter a friendly giant horned troglodyte who shows them the way to the entrance mouth of the valley.

Dione befriends the Troglodyte
Zenobia arrives at the ice tunnel and the current draws them towards a jetty.  This short-cut is the first piece of fortune which goes Zenobia's way and she arrives at the pyramid Shrine of the Four Elements ahead of Sinbad.  However, her luck is short lived as without a key to the temple she uses her magic and the Minaton's great strength to break in.  The Minaton is crushed under a giant stone block in the process, quite a sad end (IMHO) for a quite menacing and well envisaged creation.

A dissapointing end to the Minaton in his hour of triumph
Sinbad rushes to the shrine as Malanthius suspects that Zenobia's forced entry will disrupt the delicately balanced nature of the Arimaspi magic.  They encounter Zenobia at the foot of the great steps in the middle of the temple and Kassim who has by now lost entirely his human traits and attacks and kills Zenobia's son Rafi.

The Troglodyte could have been a contender with his mean left hook
They managed to get Kassim into a cage and lift him high into the cascading waters which form the centrepiece of the shrine.  When the cage is lowered Prince Kassim has been miraculously restored to human form, but the distraught and enraged Zenobia, posesses the body of a frozen Smilodon and tries to kill everyone.  The Troglodyte comes to the rescue enabling the party to escape, only to die in the battle, Sinbad prevails, finally impaling Zenobia on the Minaton's spear.  With the secrets of the Arismapi lost the shrine disintegrates and Hyborea reclaims the hidden valley to ice and snow.

Sinbad is victorious, impaling Smilodon Zenobia on the spear of her own creation.
Sinbad and his comrades return to the city state of Charak where Kassim is crowned Caliph and gives his blessing to Sinbad and Farah.  This happily ever after ending is tainted by the shocking appearance of Zenobia's eyes as the credits finally roll suggesting that she will return...

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