Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 06/20/03 06:48:40

"Homo-erotic, swashbuckling, and magically adventurous"
3 stars (Average)

Writer James Logan (Gladiator) had a myriad of Sinbad stories to choose from. During pre-production, he asked the DreamWorks research department to bring him the Sinbad story and they brought him back ten volumes of Sinbad stories from all over the Mediterranean region. Ultimately he decided on a fictional composite retelling that is more like a Greek classic, not unlike The Odyssey. The tale is framed by the meddling of Eris, Goddess of Chaos. For no other reason than “just because” she attempts to bring the peaceful life of the Twelve Cities to a dramatic, chaotic halt. While Eris is portrayed as slightly sinister, she is, as a force of nature and a personality, the very chaos that is the basic state of a universe in flux. Her power is an expression of a natural condition of the universe. It is the humans who have to exert themselves in order to overcome her.

And Sinbad is lucky to have an encounter with her. If her demands don’t kill him, he will be transformed into a more whole, stronger hero. She is the crucible of spirit that turns Sinbad from a man into a legend. But kids won’t be looking at those literary influences. They will just laugh at the situation humor.

The film makers considered that adults would be joining kids in the theatre so they spiced it up a bit by including a bit of sex, sexuality and sensuality. “We wanted to handle the sexuality in a way that added passion but wasn’t prurient,” said Director Tim Johnson. If one scene had been played differently, the films homo-erotic subtext would have turned this into a completely queer film. Someone said I was probably just looking for it, but go see this movie with one of your gay male friends and he’ll tell you that there’s more going on between Proteus and Sinbad and even more than that going on between Kale and Sinbad. They are, in the classical sense, lovers. And the moments of sexualized play between the various male couples is enough to warm up every homo I know.

When the ship encounters The Sirens, all the men fall under their spell. I was half-expecting Kale to be as alert as Marina because I wanted the story to take a very gay turn but he was just as slack-jawed and hypnotized as the rest of the crew.

Proteus is the prince of Syracuse and Sinbad’s childhood friend. Eris steals The Book of Peace from Syracuse and frames Sinbad. Proteus takes Sinbad’s place on death row because Proteus believes Sinbad will bring the book back, rescue Syracuse from falling into chaos and discord and save his life. And thus begins the adventure to Tartarus to get the book back. Kale is Sinbad’s first mate. He’s a huge, warm, personable shipmate, friend and counselor. In one scene, Eris sends snow and ice to thwart the ship and Sinbad says to Kale, “Put a shirt on, you’ll put someone’s eye out,” referring to Kale’s nipples.

If you’ve ever seen a Tom of Finland drawing, the reference is unmistakable. And why would Sinbad even be checking out Kale’s nips anyway? And in a later scene, Sinbad swaggers off into the background with his booty hanging out. This movie is so gay.

Even the female lead, Marina, is a character with short hair who has to take the lead and is instrumental in saving the ship. There are only two scenes where she needs to be rescued and it’s a kind of a cheap old-fashioned hero adventure story device but you need some device to get the hero into the thick of a fight. Marina is no Xena but she always participates in her own rescue. She plays up her femininity, but she’s tough as nails and as capable and ready for adventure as Sinbad is.

Eris, who started out in the early days of making the film as a bit manic but she eventually evolved into the seductress, with slower, more fluid, more sensual and erotic, more calculated movements. The part of Eris was essentially recast and all her animation was created in just three months, whereas the film itself had been in production for over three years.

Dennis Haysbert does the voice of Kale and the directors thought his voice commanded so much respect and had so much presence, they rewrote Kale and gave him a meatier supporting role. The animation supervisors developed a unique physical vocabulary for the characters to “get as far away from the clichés as possible.” So what we end up with is a very contemporary telling set against an ancient, magical, mythic world. And their non-traditional body language obviously sets the stage for a variety of interpretations.

Some of the scenes seemed to be directly borrowed from other films that most 7 year olds will never have heard of, namely Erik The Viking. There is a scene where the ship, the Chimera, plunges off the edge of the world and that scene is the exact same scene in Erik The Viking (Tim Robbins) where the ship plunges off the edge of the world on their way to Valhalla. While not exactly Tartarus, the similarity is remarkable enough to take note.

There is also an encounter with a giant sea fish that is just like the monster coelacanth-like angler in Erik The Viking. Eris is also vaguely reminiscent of Ursula the sea witch in The Little Mermaid. Fortunately, SINBAD doesn’t come off as Franken-movie for those in the know. A good storyteller steals anything he or she can use and the cumulative effect of these inspirations and borrowings makes for a solid, fun, and slightly more intense, animated adventure film. DreamWorks isn’t afraid to be a little more realistic in their portrayal of adult relationships in children’s movies.

Throughout the 80’s and 90’s the WOW! factor for animated films was the introduction of new technology or techniques. The technology curve has reached a plateau that is now available to everyone so the WOW! factor has to come from “what you use those tools for and how you use those tools to make a really good movie,” said Digital Supervisor, Craig Ring. With shrinking budgets, resourcefulness is the key and there were several tried and true tools that were borrowed from recent DreamWorks films for Sinbad.

The proper mix of 3-D modeling and traditional 2-D line art was Ring’s challenge. He wanted to keep the film squarely within the realm of 2-D while taking advantage of computer and 3-D animation, so he used 3-D sparingly. And I’m glad for that because I love cartoons and 2-D animation.

Sinbad is voiced by Brad Pitt. Marina is Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Haysbert is Kale, Michelle Pfeiffer is Eris and Proteus is voiced by Joseph Fiennes.

There is no better platform for doing visual humor with nothing more than a pencil and paper. The animation team was trying to steer clear of “cartoonish-ness” but there are few Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner moments. Which is great to take advantage of the medium to do what it does best.

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