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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Taur Tuesday: Harryhausen's Cyclops Centaur Folly

This You Tube video is a an excerpt from the Ray Harryhausen animated/live action film, "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad". I saw this film when it was first released and haven't held a good space in my heart for it since. 

One thing it has going against it is its lead actor, just possibly the worst actor in Hollywood next to Adam West: John "I'm too pretty for my own good" Phillip Law. He made a much better blind angel hauling Jane Fonda around in "Barbarella". In that film his semi-naked body was far more arresting than his acting skill. Here, his dreadful accent keeps you from ever believing he is Sinbad. Would that the Roc would only carry him away forever. No such luck.

The other thing that flaws this movie should have been its real claim to fame: the set piece battle royal between a centaur and a griffin. I'm not faulting Harryhausen's animation here. It is, as always, sterling. Especially when you consider how long before CGI this film was made. But what isn't up to snuff is the horrible design of the centaur. He wasn't monster enough without being made a cyclops, too? I suppose it was easier to animate the one huge eye then two smaller more realistic ones.

I've collected a lot of different centaur figures over the years but I have always avoided the models of this design like the plague. An ugly monster is acceptable up to a point, but bastardizing mythology and crossing a centaur with a cyclops is beyond the pale in stupidity. It is fairly unforgivable and always makes me regret what might have been had the animators had the sense to go in a different direction. What a shame, what a waste.

If this centaur held half the wonder of the naga dancer in the earlier film, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, I wouldn't be expressing my frustration. Instead, it follows in the hoof steps of the cyclopian unicorn-horned satyr. Another bastard mix of mythological creatures. Perhaps the whole design concept was executed to create a more novel approach that was seen as singularly Harryhausen. To me it is just an overdone failure. Though I will admit it is sort of fun watching him best the unjustly weakened griffin. 

In the end, the centaur suffers the same inglorious defeat and death as most gay males and people-of-color characters do in films with straight white leads. But he is, when all is said and done, a creature who never should of hoofed his way onto the screen. So dispatching him makes sense. I probably would have been more upset if a less monstrous centaur were eliminated because even this hideous clay model has more emotional impact, appeal, and acting chops than Mr. Law.  

There is one outstanding piece of animation in "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad". It is the six-armed sword wielding Goddess Kali. A real show piece in the category of dexterous stop motion cinematography.

I expect that, with the box office success of the redone "Clash of The Titans", we will be seeing remakes of other films that featured Harryhausen's stop motion animation. I'd be surprised if "Golden Voyage of Sinbad" is one of them though. It would appear that "Jason and The Argonauts" is ripe for the plucking. But, if they do somehow find the capital to fund a remake of this movie, I sure as hell hope they do a more representative and classically based centaur. 

If there was one thing the new "Clash" had going for it it was the monster designs that managed to stay true to the originals and yet were a step up in most respects. I thought the flying Pegasus in that film was the best flying horse on screen since "Fantasia" and "The Thief of Baghdad" almost 70 years ago. It gives me high hopes for what will appear on the screen in the near future.

I'm just hoping I live to see the Guillermo del Toro films of "The Hobbit". Anything else will be gravy.

This video is courtesy of JMoneyYourHoney.

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