Sinbad swashbuckles his way back to the screen
By G. Michael Dobbs
A summer blockbuster, an animation classic and a pretty funny television show are all in this week's DVD review column.
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad: the 50th Anniversary Edition
With computer generated imagery (CGI) dominating three dimensional animation these days, one would think stop motion master Ray Harryhausen would be considered something of a quaint antique.
The interesting fact is that Harryhausen's films still get released and re-released on DVD and still intrigue fans. His skills as a stop motion animator manipulating articulated models one frame of movie film at a time to breathe life into them are still almost unapproachable. People continually respect the art and skill that goes into the stop motion process.
Now, one of his best films has been released in a special edition, loaded with great extras. "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" is a delight. It's an adventure film, a romance and a monster movie all rolled up into one great package.
Harryhausen's first film in color, "Sinbad," was directed by Nathan Juran, a director whose career was mired in B movies and television. Juran clearly rose to the occasion by working with Harryhausen on this fantasy film and it moves along quickly with fine performances from Kerwin Matthews and Kathryn Grant.
This is a perfect fantasy film for the whole family and one that invites repeat viewings.
The extras include two great pieces on the making of the film with a contemporary interview with Harryhausen and a tribute to the composer of the film, Bernard Herrmann.
Many people in entertainment never live to see their work received acclaim from a new generation. Thankfully, Harryhausen is among the few who have seen the depth of his influence on motion pictures.
Lewis Black's Root of All Evil Uncensored
One of the best evenings of live comedy my wife and I ever saw was a double bill with Dave Attel and Lewis Black. Black is one of the sharpest guys performing today. A comic in the George Carlin school, Black is a pointed social commentator who doesn't suffers the foolishness of our society gladly.
Bringing his sensibilities to a weekly television gig, Black's new Comedy Central show is pretty amusing, but depends too much on other comics. The premise is that Black is presiding over a court of his creation that declares certain people, things and institutions as the "root of all evil."
Two guest comics argue the merits of each case, which include "Weed vs. Beer," "Donald Trump vs. Viagra," "Oprah vs. the Catholic Church" and "Paris Hilton vs. Dick Cheney."
Now if you're easily offended, don't watch this show, as the arguments and the choice of defendants are sure to ruffle some feathers. Generally, though, the show can be pretty amusing, although it seldom climbs the heights of Black's stand-up material.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Two Disc Special Edition
Ah, to be in the minority I'm afraid that unlike almost everyone else who saw this summer blockbuster, I didn't love it. In fact, at times I actively disliked it.
And I'm a Jones fanboy. A friend and I went to the first film when it was a sneak preview with the disastrous remake of the Lone Ranger. We didn't know what to expect but were blown away by it.
What I loved about the film was director Stephen Spielberg's deft homage and repackaging of the action movie conventions set by the serials made by Republic Pictures in the 1930s and '40s.
The new film had a lot of potential for tying up loose ends of the Indiana Jones story and perhaps setting up a new franchise. I'm afraid it was only partially successful. My problem is that Spielberg and his screenwriter doubled or tripled all of the cinematic portions for the audience. There were too many chases, too many perils and a way too muddled ending. And although Harrison Ford did play his age a bit, he generally seemed to be the character from the previous films basically invulnerable. That didn't ring very true. There is a cartoonish approach to the material that didn't ring true for me.
Spielberg failed to understand the appeal of the relics that lit the plot of his previous films. What was appealing is that objects such as the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail are iconic artifacts that have deep cultural meaning, while the skulls of aliens that are composed of some sort of crystal just doesn't cut it.
What I did like was Cate Blanchett's turn as the Russian villain and Karen Allen's return to the series as Indy's one-time love. There are also nostalgic moments that are also appealing, such as seeing the Ark in the Area 51 warehouse.
The DVD has one good feature, which I found more interesting than the film, and that was a 12-part production diary on the making of the film.
Generally, though, I would advise folks for a Jones jones to re-watch the first three films.