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Mini Movie Reviews: King of the Monsters

Today's theme is the work of special effects legend Ray Harryhausen.

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
The first of three films Harryhausen and his producing partner Charles H. Schneer made about Sinbad the Sailor for Columbia. Like all their subsequent collaborations, it was created primarily to act as a showcase for Harryhausen's stop motion effects (dubbed Dynamation). The Sinbad movies all follow a similar pattern where someone is cursed by an evil sorcerer and Sinbad and his crew set sail in search of a way to undo the curse, all the while the evil sorcerer tries to foil their plans, sending various fantastical creatures out to stop them. Those effects (along with Bernard Herrmann's score) remain the most alluring thing about this movie. The plot and characters are fairly basic, the acting is flat across the board, and the whitewashing and Orientalism are all difficult to ignore.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Mysterious Island (1961)
During the American Civil War, a group of Union prisoners escape from a Confederate prison in Richmond via balloon and somehow end up in the South Pacific in a few days. They soon crash on a strange island, where they encounter various strange creatures and (eventually) a strange submarine captain. This Jules Verne adaptation is one of Harryhausen's most forgotten efforts and it ain't hard to see why. It lacks the quest structure that fuelled his other films leaving the few monster attacks feeling random and almost inconsequential. The creatures themselves are underwhelming and it takes way too long to get to Nemo (which admittedly is a problem shared with the novel) then tries to crams what should've been the movie's entire plot into the last 25 minutes.

Rating: ⭐⭐
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
Hoping to reclaim his lost throne, exiled prince Jason assembles a crew of mighty heroes (and one very obvious traitor) to sail to the ends of the world in search of the fabled Golden Fleece. Arguably the crown jewel of Harryhausen's entire filmography. It still has some of the same issues as his other films, in particular the actors all being just good looking props, there solely to look up in awe and terror at whatever monsters Ray and his team had created, but what monsters. Talos! The Hydra! The skeleton army! This was Harryhausen operating at the top of his craft. So who cares if the leads are all as wooden as the ship they're sailing on.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
After coming into possession of one piece of an interlocking golden map, Sinbad and his crew set sail for a mysterious island in search of the missing pieces, all the while pursued by the sorcerer Koura. The plot slavishly follows the set pattern for these films with a few holes here and there (why would Koura leave Sinbad and his crew buried alive when he needs the golden tablets they have?). The Kali fight remains one of Harryhausen's greatest achievements, but like all the Sinbad movies, this hasn't aged all that well. John Phillip Law is the best of the three Sinbads and Tom Baker (in the role that helped him land Doctor Who) is the best of the evil sorcerers, yet both are still far too white for these characters. However, neither are as bad those green skin, vaguely Indian cannibals.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)
On the day he is set to be crowned, Prince Kassim is cursed and turned into a baboon by his stepmother Zenobia so that her own son can be caliph instead. Sinbad, along with the prince's sister, sets off on a quest to find a wise man who can make Kassim human again. The longest (and most expensive) of the Sinbad movies and unquestionably the weakest. The extra runtime means more space between monster fighting set pieces, which just highlights how weak these films are without them. The plot only works because the heroes stupidly keep revealing all their plans to the villain. Patrick Wayne (son of John) and Taryn Power (daughter of Tyrone) have top billing and were cast mainly for their pedigree, which the producers instantly regretted. Wayne is fine so long as he doesn't have any lines while Power, like Jane Seymour and every other young woman in these movies, is just there to be eye candy.

Rating: ⭐⭐
Clash of the Titans (1981)
For his final film Harryhausen returned to the world of Greek myth that served him so well in Jason and the Argonauts. This time he adapts the tale of Perseus (Harry Hamlin) as he sets out on a quest to save his love, the princess Andromeda, after she's condemned by the gods to be sacrificed to the Kraken. This is by far the most starry film here, featuring a supporting cast that includes Burgess Meredith, Maggie Smith, Ursula Andress, Claire Bloom, Siân Phillips, and Laurence Olivier as Zeus, King of Olympus and God of Infidelity. Even with all those famous names the acting here is nothing to write home about (Hamlin's Perseus has the same bemused look on his face for the entire film) and the plot is strictly by the numbers. But, as with all of Ray's films, it's the creature effects that we come to see, and in that regard he at least manages to go out on a high.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig


  1. I saw several of these films on TV at one time or another. I actually saw Clash of the Titans in the theater. It was pretty enjoyable, nothing great, but it never pretended to be anything great.

  2. The skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts is a classic that should be viewed by every SFX geek. And a useful reminder that actors being asked to act opposite a blank space "special effect goes here" is not unique to CGI

  3. LOVE Harryhausen! I have the movie pack of his work (It Came From beneath the Sea, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and 20 Million Miles to Earth).

    I've seen all of these, although some have been a long time. Like Percysowner before me, I saw Clash of the Titans in the theater with my parents and loved it, although I'd agree the best part are of course, Ray's special effects. I'd have to also agree with you Mark, in that Jason and the Argonauts is the best of the bunch here, and lacks the racism issues that plague the Sinbad films. At least Tom Baker was excellent at his role, and his voice is part of why he's my favorite Doctor.


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