At some point last year, I reviewed Disney’s Aladdin. Aladdin originated in The Arabian Nights, a collection of Arabian myths from many centuries worth of storytellers, with roots going everywhere from Arabia, Greece, India, Turkey and Jewish legends. Another such legend from Arabian Nights is The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor. This legend wasn’t part of the original Arabic collection of Knights from the 14th century, but was added by various European translations in the 18h and 19th century.
My quick research can’t seem to pinpoint exactly when Sinbad was created, but his legend takes place in the 8th and 9th century. Long story short, he’s a sailor from Bagdad who’s taken fantastic adventures in magical realms, encountered monsters and witnessed all sorts of supernatural phenomena in his adventures.
Before doing this research, I knew about Sinbad as a character, but not much about his legend. The most I knew was of a TV show I remember seeing a couple times as a kid called The Adventures of Sinbad. It was a live action show that lasted two seasons and 44 episodes. The show was successful and they even planned a third season, but contract disputes led to its premature cancellation. The show was filmed half in Southern Ontario, Canada (where I’m from) and Cape Town, South Africa, and it strongly resembles Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess in style and tone. One quick search discovered that there are entire episodes of the show on YouTube if you’re curious enough to check it out.
Having virtually no memory of the show, I went into DreamWorks’s own Sinbad movie with zero expectations either way. It’s also a movie I didn’t even know existed before I started researching for this DreamWorks blogathon as a whole.
While he still worked at Disney, DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg pitched the idea of a Sinbad movie to Disney. Clearly it was rejected. Soon after forming DreamWorks, he brought up a number of his scrapped and rejected ideas, including Prince of Egypt, Antz, and this movie. Interesting enough, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas was the first movie ever produced fully using the Linux operating system. The human characters are hand drawn, yet the backgrounds and most of the monsters are computer generated, similar to the blend of animation styles that Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron used. But I’ve got to say, they used the blend much better in Spirit.
Russel Crowe was originally going to voice Sinbad, but dropped out for scheduling problems. Instead, Brad Pitt agreed to voice the title character after his role in Spirit didn’t quite work out. He’s fine in the role, but his performance isn’t anything special. I can’t help but feel that this is a perfect example of how a professional voice actor would have worked better than a celebrity name.
Michelle Pfeiffer voices Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos, as the lead villain, and unlike Pitt’s bland performance, she’s probably the best part of this movie. Everything about her performance is somewhere between mischievous, a bit of a sexual temptress and at times, blatantly angry. She clearly had fun with the role and it’s hard not to have fun listening to her performance.
Catherine Zeta-Jones portrays Lady Marina, who travels with Sinbad, proving herself to be useful to the crew. She’s also in a love triangle with Sinbad and Prince Proteus, Sinbad’s childhood friend portrayed by Joseph Fiennes. That rounds out the only characters that get any kind of development in the movie.
I couldn’t find much more about this movie’s creation, so let’s get into it. Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is ok. There’s really not much else to say. The movie starts with an action scene where Sinbad is never the least bit worried, despite how his ship is being attacked by a giant sea monster. It sets a tone early on where you’re never worried about him or his crew, even when the movie tries to make you think he’s in danger. There are times when Sinbad tries to convince himself that he’s completely irresponsible, even though the movie’s clearly moving him towards having a great redeeming moment. The development where Sinbad and Marina hate each other at first, but eventually fall in love, is also apparent before it starts to happen. It makes for a very predictable movie. The hand drawn animation is mostly good, but the CGI often feels cheap even by 2003 standards.
The movie received very mixed reception, with a 45% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 48% on Metacritic. A number of critics noted that the movie all but removed Sinbad’s Arabic origins, connecting him to Greek mythology instead. That said, Roger Ebert praised the film as another strong entry in “the recent renaissance of animation”. It released in sixth place in theaters, behind Terminator 3, Legally Blonde 2, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Finding Nemo and Hulk. As if that wasn’t already stiff enough competition, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl released the next weekend. That killed whatever excitement there might have been surrounding Sinbad. Talk about bad timing.
The movie ended up bombing, earning $80 million on a $60 million budget. DreamWorks as a company ended up losing $125 million as a whole in 2003, which nearly bankrupted the company. At that point they decided to abandon traditional animation in favour of computer animation, which they’ve pretty much exclusively stuck with since. Thankfully, Shrek 2 came along the next year to become at the time, the most profitable animated movie in history.
I wouldn’t recommend Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas unless you’ve already seen it and you’re feeling nostalgic. There’s a reason hardly anyone ever talks about this movie anymore. Apart from Pfeiffer’s entertaining performance as Eris, it’s so average that it’s not really worth talking about. Next up is Shrek 2, followed by Shark Tale and Madagascar. And however you feel about those three movies, at least there’s something to talk about with each of them.