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Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas

DreamWorks Animation (July 2 2003), DreamWorks Home Entertainment (November 18 2003), single disc, 86 mins plus supplements, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround, Rated PG, Retail: $29.99

Storyboard:

Eris (voiced by Michelle Pfeiffer), the disgruntled Goddess Of Discord, wishes to bring a state of chaos to the world – something that can only be achieved by stealing the fabled Book Of Peace. She arranges a deal with Sinbad (Brad Pitt) that later places him in trouble, leading him on a quest to clear his name and regain the Book from Eris before her plan can fully take shape. Joining him on his journey to the far corners of the Earth is Marina (Catherine Zeta Jones), due to be wed to Sinbad’s old pal Proteus (Joseph Fiennes), who stays behind in Sinbad’s place with only the sailor’s word that he’ll return. Marina proves a distraction for the crew, as well as a lucky charm on more than one occasion, ultimately providing Sinbad with a life and death choice that will either bring Eris’ desired chaos, or restore peace, to the world…

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The Sweatbox Review:

DreamWorks’ last attempt at finding an audience for their 2D animated films, Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas, opened to mediocre reviews and poor box office earlier this year. It did find a small but enthusiastic fan audience, but by then it was a case of too little word of mouth too late. And while I did think a couple of the sequences were above average, I have to come clean and say that I wasn’t a big fan of the film overall. However, standing by their film, DreamWorks have put out a fairly decent disc, with many more extras than one would expect for such a lacklustre performer.

Whatever happened to making really good, tight 85-minute animated films that entertained and enthralled, leaving us all wanting more? With Sinbad (it’s interesting that the remainder of its title amounts to the acronym “LOTSS”), we get the more: much more, and actually to a degree where I did feel at one point that I would be grateful if the whole big mess would come to an end. DWs’ fourth “tradigital” animated offering starts off well enough, with old friends Sinbad, a rogue-ish sailor, and Proteus, his more conservative mate, catching up with each other during a clash with a sea serpent. But then it stays on that level of playful dialogue banter and action-adventure theatrics, never dipping for pause or rising to introduce any new twists or turns.

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In the theater, I felt that Sinbad dragged, and coming out and checking the length, couldn’t believe how relatively short the film actually was. Even at only 86 minutes, and after a second watch, I still feel that Sinbad could do with a little trimming. Quite often (and as with most live-action blockbuster films of today), I had had enough of the action scenes and needed a little more time with the characters. Roles of the kind the characters’ parts play in films of this genre have always been rather two dimensional (no pun intended), especially in animation, but here there is no attempt to even bring another half a dimension or originality to the cast we take the journey with.

Pitt slips into his character like a glove, and Pfeiffer does well enough in her almost thankless role. But Jones and Fiennes never really hit the target, both having, in a way, too big an ego to lend themselves to an animated character and give up some of the spotlight. Originally, Gladiator Maximus himself, Russell Crowe, was down for the Sinbad part, but “scheduling problems” meant he couldn’t commit to the film. I wonder if he, too, had the same kind of problem being heard but not seen? I found that the lip-sync was pretty poor throughout, and Eris, for all her flourishes, twists and turns, boils down to simply some of the most basic animation I’ve ever seen this side of Quest For Camelot. The film’s rather episodic nature meant that secondary villainous characters come and go without much explanation – and quite exactly why Eris, who seems quite an ineffectual Goddess, wants to create a world of chaos is never expanded upon.

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The musical score fares little better, with Harry Gregson-Williams seemingly quite happy to sit back and revise several themes from the Road To El Dorado score (shades of the “Team Zimmer” approach coming through good and strong most of the time). There are some memorable theme moments, but these never really repeat themselves enough to become motifs, and about the only reason to buy the soundtrack score would be for the choral theme that intros the film. The editing, like the music, is too staccato, with not nearly enough rhythm in things, throwing the pacing of the overall film into a “start-stop” frenzy. When things go, they really go, but when they stop, it’s all too heavy. Likewise, I felt the overall framing of the film – all tight close ups and packed angles, was too intense, as if the camera needed to take a step or two back.

Even though it’s Sinbad, and the basic story points are known, I found the whole thing very “predictable” – not in the sense of knowing what had to come next, but in DWs’ execution. Disney managed it with Hercules, changing enough and keeping enough in so as to keep it interesting for today’s audiences. Of course that film was played pretty much as a comedy, while Sinbad can’t quite make up its mind what it wants to be: there’s nothing of the laugh out loud slapstick that usually permeates these types of movies, though Sinbad himself is as flippant as they come (one line reminded me of Depp’s “Pirate!” line from Curse Of The Black Pearl: when asked if he is just going to leave the scene of an attack, Pitt simply replies, “uh, yeah”, with sarcastic relish).

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There are some very effective moments in the film, such as the bird attack and escape, showing that animation still has the edge over any live-action film that attempts to carry off a similar sequence. The bright spots, though, are marred by a continuing play for the kids – dog and fart jokes play out among the more risqué adult lines. Again, who is this film aimed at? Ultimately it seemed pushed toward the Atlantis/Titan AE/Treasure Planet demographic, but a late and stumbling advertising campaign didn’t help it gain that, or any other audience. As with many of those films that crash and burn at the box-office, DVD allows the casualties to have a second chance with the home crowd, which is perhaps where Sinbad will play best.

Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas isn’t a truly bad film. It perhaps suffers from being pulled in several directions at once; something that, though it didn’t help their commercial fortunes, at least the above-mentioned action-adventure animated films did not have to contend with. Those films found their vision and locked on to it and, for good or bad, stuck to their guns and went down blazing. Titan AE and Treasure Planet did animation in space (and did it well), while Atlantis took on mythology and wrapped it up in a Boy’s Own-styled romp. I’d put Sinbad on a level with Atlantis, though it is a little more slapdash overall.

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Sold primarily on its A-list cast, the Shrek-like plan didn’t strike lighting twice for DreamWorks. Once again, and without opening the 2D–3D debate, it’s unfortunate that the Studio has decreed that it will not continue with its “tradigital” animated offerings based on the performance of such a lop-sided effort (does that mean we also won’t have to sit through the ill-advised Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron DTV sequel? And what is it with DWs and these amazingly long titles?). The style, the camera angles, the in-you-face-CGI-but-suprisingly-flat-2D, the tone and feel – it’s all here, present and correct and wrapped up in a safe enough package. But somehow, it just doesn’t feel fresh enough. It’s not bad, it’s just…Sinbad.

Is This Thing Loaded?

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Ahoy! Although Sinbad didn’t bring home the big box-office booty, that’s not to say that DreamWorks haven’t given us a treasure chest full of extras! Most are aimed at the younger audience, but a fair few will please us older fans. On kicking in the disc for the first time, we’re “treated” to a generic DWs animation promo for their other titles (“from the creators of Shrek!”) as well as a Universal push for whatever their new Land Before Time DTV is called (no look at the new edition of the original film though) and a theatrical teaser for The Cat In The Hat. The extras proper are divided up into two sections: a regular Special Features option, and a DreamWorks Kids area, which features a couple of video-based clips worth checking out.

Starting off with the traditional bonuses, and the 17-minute behind-the-scenes special The Making Of Sinbad, presented in 4×3 fullframe, is by turn interesting and frustrating. For once, the documentary focuses more on the human voice cast than the multitude of special effects artists, but what they have to say isn’t too exciting: the actors all bang on about the same old things we’ve heard before.

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Brad Pitt is obviously proud of the film (“this’ll be the first time I’ve done an animated film” he says, putting the debacle that was Cool World behind him), while Catherine Zeta Jones “reveals” that she didn’t realize that the voices came first and that the animators followed: “I thought you would dub to what they animated” – yeah right. Has she never watched any doc on animation ever? Still, we get a ton of behind the scenes footage, Dennis Haysbert (Palmer in the brilliant TV thriller 24) comes off as being as intelligent as the characters he plays, plus the usual smiles and honors poured all over Katzenberg. There’s a little talk about how Sinbad (“that fabulous adventure character” according to director Tim Johnson) “breaks boundaries technically” and how “we’ve got things in this film, like the Sirens, that I don’t think anybody has ever seen before”, but in the end, this “making of” does its job and does it well, for what its worth.

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The filmmakers are heard again on the full-length Audio Commentary, featuring directors Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore, producer Mireille Soria, production designer Ramond Zibach, head of story Jennifer Yuh Nelson, animation supervisor Kristof Serrand, and layout supervisor Damon O’Beirne. With such a line up of speakers, things should rarely get dull or quiet, and this is the case here: we’re let in on such details as alternate versions, computer animated cheats, the evolution of story and character, working with the voice artists (though nothing on Crowe’s walking from the picture) and Katzenberg (biggest contribution: more Spike The Dog), and the high level of input from Prince Of Egypt and live-action Time Machine director Simon Wells, who provided a large number of action storyboards for the film. The guys are amiable, without being flippant, and all have interesting things to say along with several amusing anecdotes. It’s a good track, bordering on the technical, but always enjoyable. This commentary is accessible from both the Special Features and Audio set-up menus, and has been subtitled in English, French and Spanish, as noted above – why don’t more discs offer this option for their commentaries?

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The rest of the “adult” extras are all pretty much still frame based – an Art Gallery takes us through five subsections: Characters, Monsters And Creatures, Chimera, Journey To Tartarus and Syracuse. Featuring a good few images, these provide looks at character size comparison charts, character designs, early concepts, props and vessel blueprints, staging and set design – well worth checking out for some interesting alternate takes and versions of scenes and characters. Rounding out this section are Production Notes and Cast And Crew Bios.

One of the biggest draws on the DVD, and also optional from the main menu, is Cyclops Island, a new story that goes one better than all of those “choose your own path” interactive adventures – this one is completely animated especially for this release! As groundbreaking as the “Make A Movie” feature on the Spirit disc, Cyclops Island really uses DVD the way we all heard about way back when the format was launched. Running almost as a mini-sequel to the main feature, the clip has the crew vegging out on their getaway island, but trouble is never far away. Going off to explore, Marina is soon under attack from a gang of dim-witted but big Cyclops brutes – and where the fun lies is in which version of the story you choose to follow. Okay, so it’s not exactly changing the events and actions of the characters themselves, but in the several different choices there are a good few minutes of fresh animation here, all voiced and scored by the original crew, with quality matching the feature – fun stuff!

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Back to the main menu, and selecting Spike The Dog from the bottom right corner leads us “This Way To Play” to DreamWorks Kids, where the majority of the fun is to be had. Cyclops Island is available again, as are Character Biographies (fictitious looks at the animated cast) and Favorite Scenes: groupings of sequences from the film given “cool” kid-friendly names, such as Monsters, Gross Out and Spike Slobber. The Voice Of Spike is another 4×3 video-based clip, running three minutes, that has a fun look at how the crew spends a day with a real dog in the studio trying to get the required spits and growls needed to bring Sinbad’s pooch to animated life. There’s the usual “oh, how he’s trouble on set” and star attention paid to the sidekick, but ultimately this is a nice little addition.

Finishing off (nope, we don’t get any theatrical trailers for the film itself) is a bunch of set-top games: Sinbad’s Sailing Adventure, The 3D Tour Of The Chimera and Save The 12 Cities. The Adventure features three challenges, all of them playable on the viewer’s remote, and all pretty pointless, though younger kids will probably have some fun with it. The Tour is very much what it sounds like, playing as the wander around the ship on the Treasure Planet DVD did, pointing out what various things do on a ship like the Chimera. Finally, the 12 Cities task is basically a puzzle game, where twelve symbols must be restored to the Book Of Peace to ensure Eris doesn’t have her wicked way again! All of the games come with film elements and new CG animation melded together, though none offer any reward, and the hefty pages of text that intro the games might put the target players off.

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However, pitching the disc into a PC drive, and there is some real fun to be had for small kids in the disc’s DVD-ROM section – tons of stuff to try out in another packed DreamWorks title. First up is the PC Demo for the game of the movie (“now available from Atari”), as well as four other challenges: Spike Saves The Day, Reach The Realm Of Chaos, Grind The Granite Gates and Marina Sails The Dragon’s Teeth. Quite what, or how good these games are, remains a mystery, as the included InterActual player couldn’t “load the default skin”, despite my attempting to follow its advice to reinstall the player. From the pictures and descriptions on the disc, they look quite fun though, mostly looking like first person adventures.

There are also several other DVD-ROM Activities, aimed at younger kids, but providing a great deal to be getting on with. Here you’ll find the Cyclops Island Printable Book (“read about Sinbad’s all new island adventure”), a Cyclops Island Printable Board Game, Cyclops Adventure Maze, a fun Cyclops Mask, a Spike Mask, printable Mobile, Eris’ Zodiac Calendar, and a bunch of coloring pages. Reflecting their new partnership with Hewlett-Packard, is it no surprise that “DreamWorks recommend using genuine HP products for all Sinbad printables”? There is also a “requirements” page, a helpline for those who can’t figure it all out, and a link to the DreamWorks Kids website – a very fair amount of added content that will bring a smile to those who really loved the movie.

Case Study:

The dreaded “curse of the inserts” strikes again, and for all of DreamWorks’ work in putting together a more than half decent disc, somebody forgot to add a chapter insert. Adding to the loss is the fact that a promotional sticker has been attached to the front cover, not on the shrink-wrap, but on the plastic of the case itself. Trying to lift this sticker off results in the infamous DreamWorks glue residue that we’ve all come to abhor since Shrek and Spirit played the same trick. By now you’ll have your own ways of dealing with this, but at least when it is removed, we are not left with the hideous “Two Thumbs Up!” quote on the bottom of the cover in a glaring red strip – thankfully the actual art is a lot more subdued. Still, that lack of insert doesn’t help beg for total forgiveness!

Ink And Paint:

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Wow! Making up somewhat for the flat storyline is an image that is razor sharp and has lots of depth. A direct digital-to-digital transfer, Sinbad is available in two versions (fullscreen pan-and-scanned and widescreen), each sold separately. As one should do anyway, we’re looking here at the original aspect ratio presentation, reproducing the film’s 1.85:1 widescreen shape (and for once it is true 1.85 – note the tiny slivers of black along top and bottom), with anamorphic enhancement. As with Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron, DWs have given us a stunning picture transfer, awash with bold colors that stick where they should. My one nit-pick is that this amazing image shows up the differences between the 2D and CG effects work a little too clearly, but this is probably stylistic of the film and cannot really be faulted here. Absolutely top-notch!

Scratch Tracks:

Wow again! Whatever I think of the movie, when Sinbad kicks into action, it gets nice and noisy, and the DTS 5.1 track on offer really helps kick in the tension. It’s an enveloping mix with pretty active surrounds for once, while the included Dolby Digital and standard 2.0 surrounds also do the business. With such picture and soundtrack transfers, this could be a new demo disc for up-to-date animation fans (meaning that you don’t have to subject your audiences to the whole film!), but griping aside, this really does deliver. French and Spanish 5.1 dubs (and subtitles) are also included, recorded at the time of the film’s post-production and sounding just as good! A nice touch is the subtitle availability on the commentary track, in English, Spanish and French – good move!

Final Cut:

Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas has its fans out there, and offers a robust if uninspiring adventure that will while away the hours. DWs have put together a nice if undistinguished disc with a few touches that should please fans of the movie as well as those simply looking for a fun time. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike Sinbad, I just felt that somehow things had been rushed on the final production which led to the film being of a choppy nature – and I’m not just talking about the titular waters! Ending DWs’ series of 2D films, Sinbad deserves to join The Prince Of Egypt, The Road To El Dorado and Spirit on your shelves as one of a small series of films that truly put up a good fight against Disney’s domination of the animated feature medium.

Though I didn’t find it to be the swashbuckler some were expecting, its certainly a cut above another recent Sinbad animated movie, the CG/motion captured Beyond The Veil Of Mists (which, despite some similar design elements, took the more tried and tested Wizard vs. Hero and Princess story route). Legend Of The Seven Seas is probably more exciting for today’s audiences than the Ray Harryhausen flicks of yesteryear, and for anyone out there needing a fantasy adventure fix until Pirates Of The Caribbean comes to disc and The Return Of The King hits theaters, this should provide all the Sinbad action one can handle, whichever way you look at it!

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

sinbad13.jpg MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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