There is perhaps no stop motion animator and special effects wizard as well known as Ray Harryhausen. He left movie lovers a wealth of classic films whose effects are still incredible in this era of computer-generated imagery. In his early days he worked in the genre of science fiction, creating such classics as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), but arguably it would be his fantasy films for which he would become best known. Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974), and Clash of the Titans (1981) are today regarded as classics. The first of his classic fantasy films is also regarded by many as one of his best. Arguably The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958) changed the course of Ray Harryhausen's career forever.
Curiously given its status as a classic and one of Ray Harryhausen's very best films, it would take some time for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad to reach the screen. In many respects Mr. Harryhausen was an auteur, more often than not developing his own projects. Among the projects he had developed was one based upon the Sinbad the Sailor stories from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. It was in 1949 that Ray Harryhausen wrote a two page outline entitled "Sinbad the Sailor" and made drawings of possible sequences for the film, including Sinbad fighting a dragon and a sword fight with a skeleton. While Ray Harryhausen took the project to the various studios, he could not interest anyone in the project. Unfortunately in Hollywood fantasy was out of vogue in the early Fifties. The project remained dormant until Ray Harryhausen mentioned it to producer Charles H. Scheer, with whom he had made It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), and 5 Million Years to Earth (1957). Charles H. Schneer not only took an interest in the idea, but was enthusiastic about it.
After having shot their first few films in black and white, it was Mr. Schneer who suggested that The 7th Voyage of Sinbad be shot in colour. As hard as it may be to believe, Ray Harryhausen was initially resistant to the idea, but Charles H. Schneer convinced him with the argument that the subject really demanded colour and that shooting it in colour would help at the box office. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad then become Ray Harryhausen's first feature film ever shot in colour.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad would also mark another first for Ray Harryhausen. Beginning with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Ray Harryhausen developed his own stop-motion animation technique that allowed for better interaction between live-action subjects and stop-motion animated models. This technique would remain unnamed until The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, when it was finally given the name "Dynamation" (a portmanteau of "dynamic animation"). Although it was not the first film in which Dynamation was used, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was the first to use the term in its promotional materials.
Not surprisingly The 7th Voyage of Sinbad would prove to be a complicated film to make. It took Ray Harryhausen 11 months to complete the stop-motion effects for the film alone. In contrast, Charles H. Schneer had decided to shoot the live action sequences in only three weeks. Much of the film was also shot in Spain. Shooting in three weeks in Spain would make the film difficult enough to make, but The 7th Voyage of Sinbad would face yet other hurdles while it was filmed. When Ray Harryhausen and cinematographer arrived in Barcelona to begin shooting, they were told by production supervisor Luis Roberts that there was no equipment to be had--no lights, no electricals. Two cameras were coming from Los Angeles. Unfortunately when the cameras arrived it turned out that they had been damaged. Fortunately a film being shot by Paramount in the area had gone into liquidation and so they were able to get everything they needed for around £20,000.
Over the course of the filming of the live action there would be other problems. Wilkie Cooper had to shoot using a new Kodak stock, which presented some difficulties. Indeed, it would be some time before they could see any rushes as the negatives had to be sent to Technicolor in London. Ten minutes into shooting at the Alhambra the lights failed because someone had forgotten to get fuel for the generators. When they moved to Majorica lights and other equipment were damaged when they were unloaded from a ship. With the various accidents and a very tight shooting schedule, it was not unusual for the cast and crew to shoot throughout the night. Fortunately, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was completed on time.
The score for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was composed by the legendary Bernard Hermann. Mr. Hermann was already a well established film composer at the time, having scored such films as Citizen Kane (1941), Jane Eyre (1943), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and many others. He was already on his way to becoming the composer most identified with Alfred Hitchcock, having composed the scores to The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Wrong Man (1956), and Vertigo (1958). Bernard Hermann would go on to create the scores for Ray Harryhausen's films Mysterious Island (1961), The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960), and Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Ray Harryhausen regarded Bernard Hermann's score for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad to be the best of the scores Mr. Hermann had composed for his films.
The screenplay for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was written by Ken Kolb, drawing upon groundwork laid by Ray Harryhausen. At the time Ken Kolb had worked only in television, writing episodes of such shows as Medic, Have Gun--Will Travel, and Peter Gunn. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was his first screenplay. While the film is titled the 7th Voyage of Sinbad, it actually draws little upon the story of that title in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. Instead, it draws upon bits and pieces of the various Sinbad the Sailor stories. The incident with the Cyclops would appear to be drawn from an incident with a man-eating giant in "The Third Voyage of Sinbad". The encounter with the roc (the giant bird in the film) comes from "The Fifth Voyage of Sinbad". The sword duel with the skeleton does not appear to have been drawn from the Sinbad stories at all, but instead was entirely a creation of Ray Harryhausen. Ray Harryhausen would repeat the battle with a skeleton in Jason of the Argonauts, although giving that film's heroes an entire army of them to battle.
Despite its difficulties in making it to the screen, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad would prove very successful upon its release on December 23 1958. The film received overwhelming positive reviews. Indeed, today it is one of the few films to be rated 100% at the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. It also proved highly successful at the box office. Made on a budget of $65,000, it made $3.2 million at the box office.
Ultimately The 7th Voyage of Sinbad would prove very influential as well. Arguably it sparked a cycle towards fantasy films that lasted into the Sixties. In the wake of the success of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad there would emerge such films as Hercules (1959) and a host of other Italian sword and sandal films, The Thief of Baghdad (1961), Jack the Giant Killer (1962), Lancelot and Guinevere (1963), and Ray Harryhausen's own Jason and the Argonauts. The film also marked a shift in Ray Harryhausen's career. He went from making primarily science fiction movies to the fantasy films for which he is best known. Had The 7th Voyage of Sinbad not been a success, it seems certain we would not have Jason and the Argonauts or Clash of the Titans, let alone The Golden Voyage of Sinbad or Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. The film would also have a lasting impact on various directors through they years, including Sam Raimi, John Landis, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas.
Given its influence there should be little wonder that The 7th Voyage of Sinbad should be considered one of the greatest fantasy films of all time. Indeed, alongside Jason and the Argonauts it is considered Ray Harryhausen's crowning achievement. It is not a simple case that it features some of the most spectacular stop motion effects on film. It also benefited from a strong screenplay and good performances from its cast. The live action sequences having been shot in only three weeks and with a budget of only $65,000, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is a triumph in artistry.