Friday, December 19, 2008
Scimitars and Sorcery
I've talked before about the lack of decent sword & sorcery films. Though there have been several attempts, Conan, Beastmaster, Scorpion King etc, no one has really managed to capture the feel of old time sword & sorcery. Oddly enough, the movie that possibly comes the closest is 1974's The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. I watched it again last night and was reminded very much of the works of Robert E. Howard.
In tone, it's probably the darkest of Ray Harryhausen's films. Sinbad is up against a sorcerer named Koura, played with scenery chewing relish by Doctor Who star Tom Baker. Koura seems to be a sorcerer very much in the REH tradition. His spells require preparation and sorcerous paraphernalia and many of his "magic" powers are actually forms of mesmerism or telekinesis. He consorts with demons and dark gods. No throwing of mystic bolts or fireballs. This sorcerer has to work for his dark powers and he doesn't mind taking up a sword and mixing it up when things go wrong.
Sinbad and his crew end up on the mythical continent of Lemuria (shades of Lin Carter's Thongor) where they have to fight a one-eyed centaur and a six armed stone idol come to life. Very much the sort of thing we expect from a Conan yarn. Plus there's a tribe of savages who could be Howard's Picts save for their green skin. And then there's heroine Caroline Munroe, who looks as if she stepped right off the cover of an issue of Savage Sword of Conan. She's the very image of a S&S heroine and I can remember being quite smitten with her at age 12 when I first saw the movie.
I saw Golden Voyage of Sinbad in the old downtown Canton movie theater. My dad took me, as I recall. It was the perfect time for me to see that film, because my burgeoning interest in S&S was just beginning to take hold. I'd read Thongor and Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories and was reading Conan and Warlord in the comics. Golden Voyage of Sinbad seemed to fit right in. Perhaps that's part of the reason why I think of it as a sword & sorcery film, but I believe its overall tone and content have more to do with it than nostalgia. Anyway, it still holds up, all these years later. The special effects are remarkably good. Ray Harryhausen's stop motion monsters may not look as photo realistic as today's CGI created creatures, but there's still something about them. They have a level of personality that a computer image hasn't matched yet.
And Caroline Munroe is still hot. Go Sinbad.