Golden Voyage certainly refers to Sinbad’s quest for a mythic Middle Eastern trinket carrying promise of eternal life. But ‘Golden’ is in double consideration of Ray Harryhausen’s artistic concoction, with the flailing arms of Kali or the humbled nervousness of an enslaved homunculus.
Harryhuasen animation has a signature motion – not only its generous and cautious movement. The sheepish homunculus mirrors the terrified looks of 20 Million Miles to Earth’s Ymir, both creatures summoned to life in uncomfortable elements. Harryhausen’s Centuar elevates its fore hoof in a defensive recalling of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ Rhedrosaur.
These touches are not repetitive or lacking creativity, but rather the opposite. Artists sign their work; How Harryhausen did so is visible in the world itself. These are monsters of flesh and bone, rotting wood, and creaky steel, thrown into life for the sake of westernized Arabic fantasy yarn.
Sinbad (John Phillip Law) quests to retrieve pieces of a symbolic map, a cinematically proper plot device which sets black cloaked, evil wizard Koura (Tom Baker) into a sea faring chase. Early British horror luminary director Gordon Hessler shoots for unbridled, swashbuckling escapism and excusably clumsy cinematography. Hessler must know of his second tier status in conjunction with Harryhausen’s mastery.
Golden Voyage is ultimately mesmerizing, arguably brisker than vaunted ’50s classic 7th Voyage of Sinbad. John Phillip Law is surrounded by perky shipmates and held to action by his sniveling foe. Horror gem Caroline Munro splashes the screen with revealing costuming in a film generous with its colorful array of clothing designs, enough to titillate senses before starring ‘Dynamation’ escapades can overlap in superiority.
There is a liveliness and triumphant energy to this disconnected sequel which makes waiting for the inevitable splashiness of visual proficiency easy going. Human characters are not running interference to expectant displays of stop motion, rather traversing into traveling matte adventures and cautiously paced, heightened action. The tease is appropriate and appreciated.
As with the best in Hollywood, Golden Voyage hoists a proud manta of “best for last,” exploding in its closing act with breathtaking choreography in a sequence matching the vaunted heights of Jason & the Argonauts. Six-armed Kali spawns swords to deflect the strikes of Sinbad’s crew, moving from a clearly defined plate, up stairs, and ducking between pillars. Not content, Harryhausen scatters another rumble between the one-eyed centuar and a gryphon, collapsing flawlessly into closure against human foes – stop motion and live ones.
This entire film is a splendor of energized mastery, given life through its frisky and vivacious cast even outside of Harryhausen’s scene stealing work. As an aside to baked in nostalgia and friendly vintage demeanor, there exists a comfortable quaintness or simplicity in this magically charged saga. No, they don’t make them like this anymore, although not because of changing trends, but rather they can’t. No one can. Harryhausen was that defining.
Twilight Time issues this stop motion masterpiece as part of their limited edition series via Sony’s master, brought to Blu-ray with precision clarity at its peak. With sharpness topped off, fidelity becomes indistinguishable from modern cinema, splurging on facial definition and costume rendering. Close-up or mid-range is irrelevant; Golden Voyage is dominantly pure.
Issues are within the source itself, from chemical fades which dim imagery to the myriad of ill considered optical zooms which feel like directorial patchwork. The mildest of print damage exists in the opening act before being dispatched for good, and Harryhausen’s plate work will double up on inherent grain.
Thankfully, encoding work is in its prime. AVC compression is invisible, handling natural spikes without flubs. Challenges from super imposed fog are brushed off sans complications. Fluctuating grain patterns remain locked to a consistent level of filmic beauty. Black levels are afforded assist status by rendering total darkness with pure, untouched black. Age-based fading has not afflicted this feature.
Eastmancolor provides its duties with lavish hues, especially golden touches and Caroline Munro’s red dressing. Again, it’s consistency, from the saturated horizon lines at sea to interior sets with notably varied coloration. Emerald greens announce Kali with satisfying hues, dousing the screen in brightness. If this fantasy is called colorful elsewhere, it’s referring to more than its upbeat narrative.
Brought to life with DTS-HD and in 5.1 (no mono available), the mix is subtle and well choreographed as to not intrude on the proceedings. Touches of LFE prop up stormy seas and a collapsing cave without feeling unnatural to the piece. They’re small bursts meant to add hints of weight, and sound natural in doing so.
Stereos and surrounds are employed to catapult action, splitting channels wide enough to be noticeable, and not wide enough to exaggerate. An early horse chase captures the stomping hooves traveling to the right of the soundstage and sword clashes will slip into proper channels as needed. Much of the film is rightfully dropped into the center with menial loss of clarity. Clean-up has worked dialog into a naturally dry and stern quality, with Miklos Rozsa’s swelling score amplified to perfection. Lows and highs are punctuated with little discernible loss.
Extras veer from Golden Voyage, with an exception for the trailer. Three featurettes focus on Earth vs the Flying Saucers, Three Worlds of Gulliver, and Mysterious Island. Harryhausen-philes will have seen these before, but they remain no less interesting.