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Sinbad of the Seven Seas
(1989)
 

Director: Enzo G. Castellari                  
Cast:
Lou Ferrigno, John Steiner, Leo Gullotta


EDGAR ALLAN POE was born in 1809 and died in 1849; he is one of the most famous American writers. Clever and dissolute, during his short but frenzied life he wrote some fifty stories which are now considered to be the forerunners of various literary trends, such as thrillers, science fiction, and tales of horror. But Poe also wrote strange fables and the best known of these is "The Thousand And Second Tale Of Scheherazade", published in 1845 in a periodical called "LADY'S BOOK". In this story, the writer covers new and extraordinary adventures for one of the most famous heroes of "The Arabian Knights" - Sinbad The Sailor. And this is it...
                                             
                                   
- Opening statement of Sinbad of the Seven Seas

This is it, certainly. This movie just may be the most inept fantasy ever put onto celluloid. Yes, you've seen inept before, but never so...so....intense. In every scene, and in every shot, there is always something so stupid or badly done that the movie's attempt to be a light-hearted sword & sorcery adventure never gets off the ground. It's a strange fable, yes, though I don't think Poe's mind ever concocted a tale so demented; I'm positive that the makers of this movie totally ignored what was in the original story (if it existed at all - I have to wonder if they made up the claim of this supposed story.)

But that doesn't necessarily mean the movie is unwatchable. Yes, it's bad - but it's funny. More than funny, it's a laugh riot. I haven't laughed this much at cinematic ineptness for a long time. It's so bad, and so funny, it deserves to be held as the Plan 9 From Outer Space for the '80s. I saw this movie not long after it was first released on video, and it instantly became a favorite. This movie currently has an underground reputation, but I'm surprised that a wider audience hasn't found and embraced this movie.

How do you know where to start when reviewing a movie like this? I think going into detail about  the first few minutes of the movie will give you a good idea of both the plot and just how badly it's executed. The movie opens in a little girl's bedroom, which boasts worst taste in interior decorating than Ed Wood's. A mother is sitting next to her young daughter, who is lying in bed. The young girl is dubbed over the original Italian with a bland adult's voice, with her slowly saying, "Please - tell - me - a - story. I'm - not - sleepy - Mommy." Smiling, Mommy picks up a mysterious looking book, saying, "It's a very strange story. But you have to promise me you'll go to sleep afterwards...It happened many years ago, when our earth was such a very little lonely grain of sand lost in a myriad of stars..."

As Mommy narrates, we fade to a sailing vessel in the sea, manned by six people. Of course, one of these people is Prince Sinbad (Ferrigno, of course), with his friend Prince Ali at his side. Mommy then helpfully gives us the names of the other four people when the camera is on them. They are imaginatively called "The Viking Warrior", "Poochie the Dwarf" (with his hat, looks strikingly like a pint-sized Mussolini), "The Bald Cook", and "The Chinese Soldier Of Fortune" (who is named "Samurai" in the closing credits.)

The six are heading home to the city of Bazrah, after some unexplained journey, where Prince Ali will marry the beautiful Princess Aleena ("Fresh as the dew, and as beautiful as a blushing rose!" reveals Mommy.) But in the palace court, the royal magician Jaffar wants Aleena for himself. So he calls upon the usual Dark Forces evil magicians of the Middle East usually bring up. This being a low-budget movie, the Dark Force that comes is a mild gale. Still, chaos hits the city, the people running around in panic, and soon the streets are deserted. Several minutes later, the heroes' boat docks at the city's harbor. (With the camera at an angle so that we don't see the water, and the boat not bobbing up and down, the boat is obviously on something like a flatbed truck.) Sinbad looks around at this deserted city and says, "There's something here I don't like..."

While his friends search the deserted city, Sinbad approaches the palace to visit his friend the Caliph, not knowing the Caliph and the royal guards are under Jaffar's power. In the palace, he is attacked by the guards, but easily beats them. Seeing Jaffar, he throws away his sword (!) and they have the following conversation:

Sinbad: Now it's time to put you in your place!
Jaffar: The extraordinary powers I possess make me the top of the heap around here!
Sinbad: You'll pay for this, you dirty rat! (Suddenly drops down an open trap door.)

Sinbad is dropped down into a pit full of snakes. Meanwhile, his friends are attacked in the city, and we are treated to several minutes of very slow-motion fighting, where we see Sinbad's friends defeating the soldiers with punches and kicks that almost connect. Though they win the battle, the next time we see them, they are captured, and being help in a torture chamber full of the usual racks, iron maidens, and bubbling stone pools full of piranha hand puppets.

By then, Sinbad is planning his escape. Seeing one of the snakes, he says, "Nervous, huh? I know where you're coming from. People hating you and all that. As far as I'm concerned, it all started with that story of Eve. And when they want dirty work done, they really take advantage of you. Like that evil, slimy wizard up there!!!" The snakes calm down hearing that speech, allowing Sinbad to tie them together to form a crude rope, which he climbs up. Finding a passage to the torture chamber, he breaks in, surprising the guards. Though Sinbad somehow has magically got his sword back, he is a good sport, and throws it away again (!), and launches a one man assault against the guards. Will Sinbad and his friends escape and defeat Jaffar? I will not say, except that later in the movie involve encounters with a rock monster, backflipping Amazons, zombie knights, a laser-shooting Swamp Thing, and the only enemy that can put fear in Sinbad! (When you see it, you'll know why.)

However, I do have plenty to say about a lot of other things in the movie. Ferrigno is miscast, looking and acting too he-man for a literary hero that was written to have a preference to work with his wits and acrobatics. Here he lumbers around very awkwardly, almost visibly embarrassed by just being there. His fight scenes are frequently shot in (very) slow motion, and seeing his facial expressions in these scenes is unintentionally hilarious, for he seems to be struggling with a stubborn bowel movement. Almost all of his dialogue is unbelievably silly. Seeing him emoting to not just those lines above, but lines like, "You're losing your power Jaffar! (Looking into camera) And you know that!", "Gosh, you're beautiful!!", and "Go back where you came from...you evil, filthy spirit!" is twice as funny that any other actor could have done. Though John Steiner, as Jaffar, comes close to matching Ferrigno's ineptness. His bulging eyes, intense finger pointing, grinning and smirking make him a hoot even when he doesn't have a line of dialogue to say. He also has his share of memorable lines, calling Sinbad, "The man who I hate more than hate itself!" and at one point exclaiming, "Ha!!!!!!!!!!!" (You'll have to hear the actual exclamation to appreciate it.)

There's also the terribly written and spoken dubbed dialogue in the mother and daughter sequences, where we cut back to on occasion, though mostly we just hear their voices while the characters onscreen mouth words we can not hear. It quickly becomes clear that the narration is a linking device, providing explanation for events that otherwise we would not understand - there is no other reason for this narration to be here. Still I was confused about many things in the movie, such as where Jaffar's female sidekick "Sucra" ("Have you taken your medication this morning?" she asks him at one point) came from, and why she mysteriously disappeared before the end of the movie, when she said earlier she was going to have a duel with Prince Ali. I was also confused when two of the characters at the climax say out of the blue, "We're going to take care of the monster!" -  what monster??? As well, Sinbad kept suddenly changing from purple pants to shorts (or vice versa) with no advance notice.

I could write for hours about this movie's stupidity. The four gems the heroes have to find increase in number to five midway through the film, then go back to four. Footage of Sinbad swimming is actually cribbed footage from Ferrigno's Hercules (when Ferrigno had a beard!) Later, Sinbad throws his sword away at the beginning of a fight for a third time. Whenever the narration mentions someone's name, it's always with adjectives, like "Great and mighty Sinbad" or "Satanic Jaffar". The musical score for this ancient adventure is pure '80s electronic, with more oooohhhs, shrieks, and piercing noises than you can swing a sword at. Then there's the time Jaffar's eyes fire lasers, and another time when Sinbad swings a zombie around and around by its foot. There's much more I could say about this movie, but the only thing more I'll say is for you to rent it now - you won't be sorry.

Oh, one more thing: The back of the box says the climax takes place on the moon. It actually takes place on earth, like the rest of the movie. Just thought you'd like to know.


UPDATE: Cullen Waters wrote to me regarding my questioning of that Poe story's existence:

"So that you know:  Poe did indeed write "The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade".  Basically, it has Scheherazade telling one story too many to her husband, who, if I recall correctly, has her killed at the end.  It's been years since I read the silly thing; it was one of Poe's parodies stories, and is not one of his better works.  (Poe and Humor did not mix well, at least for me.)

"Like I said, it has been a while since I read the story, but, having seen this particular Sinbad (long ago, yet again) I can assure you (fairly certain) that the filmmakers took some liberties. Not that that's a surprise, or anything :)"


UPDATE 2: Victoria Silverwolf sent in more information about the Poe story, including that it can be read at:

http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/works/schehe.html

"Some more information on Poe's short story "The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazad":  The story deals with Scheherazad narrating a tale of "wonders" which were all normal technological feats of the early 19th century.  She is then killed because this is the only one of her stories which is too fantastic to be believed.  A very minor Poe story with the very simple theme that technology is amazing (although modern readers will find Poe's "wonders" quaint.)  Sinbad is indeed mentioned, as the person who sees these "wonders".  Also, about half of the "wonders" are natural (like petrified forests) and not technological. I suppose the film makers just "credit" Poe in order to avoid being sued by Disney -- the names in this film seem to be identical to those in Aladdin."


UPDATE 3: Brian Simpson sent the following:

"Hi-- I came across your site after browsing the links at Badmovies.org, and I'm glad I did.  Great stuff!

"A couple of notes on Sinbad of the Seven Seas:  first of all, the second time Sinbad throws his sword away (in the torture dungeon), he is actually throwing away his scabbard--so there was a bit of continuity after all.

"Secondly, the reader who posits that the film-makers were afraid of being sued by Disney--it's the other way around!  Sinbad of the Seven Seas was made back in 1986 (though not released until 1989), while Aladdin didn't come out in theatres until '91 or '92.

"Jaffar's assistant, Sukra (or the Heavy Metal Babe, or whatever) does disappear from his side...only to show up at the end, cheering the victorious Sinbad!  Earlier, Jaffar had said "I can trust no one, let alone a woman!" to which she answered, "No Jaffar, I'm different and you know that."  Uh, yeah.  *Real* different.  (Have to love the way Sinbad refers to her earlier in the film ["Jaffar must have other allies than Sukra..."], before she'd even shown up.)

"Like you said, it's possible to go on for hours and hours about this movie, but I won't.  I think I'll watch the laserdisc version tonight tho!

"Keep up the great work!"

Laserdisc?!!?!?!? They actually put out a laserdisc edition of this movie!?!?!? Oh well, it just means the movie has a wider potential audience.


UPDATE 4: Nikita Malliarakis sent in this very revealing information:

"I recently had the opportunity to meet at a film festival director Enzo G. Castellari, and asked him, among other things, about this movie. According to him, he didn't finish it! The shooting of the movie was stopped when Cannon went bankrupt. So after a few months, and without telling Castellari, the producers hired director Luigi Cozzi to finish and edit the movie. Cozzi ideated and shot all the scenes with the mother and her daughter, most of which were inserted in the film because there was money left for the special effects. (The scenes were reportedly shot in Cozzi's own apartment) Castellari told me that he discovered the movie had been completed when he saw in a video store: he says he couldn't even watch the film entirely!"


UPDATE 5: Brad Goldberg sent in some additional revealing information on the movie's production:

"I read your review of Sinbad with some amusement. That this movie makes even a small amount of sense is more of an accident than most people would guess. I actually wrote the narration for this movie, although I am in no way offended by anything you may have to say about it.

"This is what I remember. In the mid eighties, I had done some work for Cannon as a freelance editor in their trailer department. I also worked as a copy-writer. Sometime in 88 or 89 I got a call from the head of Cannon's post production department. He was looking for someone to
write narration for a movie they were finishing. Great I thought, I get to write on a feature.

"The true nature of the assignment didn't become clear until I took a cassette home to watch. Imagine this movie with no narration. I had to solve a few problems. The mother starts off on camera so whatever she said at the beginning had to be part of the story. She starts off by
talking about a prince and princess who were brother and sister but by the end of the movie they are getting married. Fortunately, the camera pans off of her just before she mentions the brother and sister part. She also says in the original dialog that the princess was in love with Sinbad. Apparently somebody thought better of that.

"Much of the original dialog was lost because the movie had been on the shelf for so long. Since the original script was not followed by the director, no one was sure what was being said. I was told they even tried lip readers to figure it out but with so many different languages being spoken on the set it was hopeless.

"So I was hired to make some kind of sense out of what pieces there were. I think I wrote the narration in one weekend. I was supposed to cover the missing dialog and fill in some the missing story parts. Obviously I didn't have time to work out any details; it was pretty much
stream-of-consciousness.

"I returned to Cannon with about 45 minutes of narration thinking we'd go over it, pare it down, and that I'd have a chance to rewrite it. Instead, I was sent directly to the mixing stage, where the actress voicing the mother was waiting. Whatever I wrote was recorded and dropped into the movie.

"Years later while browsing in a video store, I came across a copy of Sinbad of the Seven Seas. I couldn't get through the whole movie and my wife didn't even last five minutes. I am glad to know that some people are enjoying it, if only for its unintended humor.

"That is my small contribution to the world of bad movies. Thank you for allowing me to confess."

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See also: For Your Height Only, Quest For The Mighty Sword, The Story Of Mankind

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