Wednesday, July 2, 2003
There's no wind in the sails of this 'Sinbad'
I suppose it was time for "Sinbad" to return to the cinematic seas. The grand myths remain timeless by continuing to connect with the contemporary vernacular.
"Lord of the Rings" aside, we haven't seen this kind of mythological magic since Ray Harryhausen lovingly created impossible adventures and fantastic worlds of wonder with his painstakingly stop-motion medusas and minotaurs and fighting skeletons. Unreal, yes, but isn't that the point?
With the limitless possibilities of modern animation techniques at their disposal, directors Tim Johnson ("Antz") and Patrick Gilmore (a former video-game producer making his feature debut) fail to deliver anything close to Harryhausen's awe and wonder in DreamWorks' take on the Sinbad adventure. The ploddingly literal screenplay by John Logan doesn't help matters.
Plundering pirate Sinbad (lazily voiced by Brad Pitt with a glib nonchalance that stands in for personality) is little more than a smart-mouthed aquatic delinquent.
The obligatory odyssey involves the stolen "Book of Peace" (apparently some sort of supernatural shield against the capricious gods and goddesses of the ancient world), a journey to the edge of the Earth and a battle of wits with the Goddess of Chaos (Michelle Pfeiffer in a purring, playful performance).
Sinbad's best friend, Proteus (Joseph Fiennes), a stiff, sanctimonious straight prince bucking for sainthood, and his bride-to-be Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a court diplomat with the untapped heart of a tomboy adventuress, prod the cocky cavalier brigand into embracing that obligatory heart of gold hidden under all that tinny dialogue.
The mix of traditional cel animation and the computer-generated digital paintbrush becomes distracting. To their credit, the directors use the technique to free the "camera" and let it roam, swinging from the rigging, soaring through the air, diving down the mast.
But amid the Maxfield Parrish fantasy kingdoms and the video-game creatures, the humans are less "real" than their magical world.
If animators are actors, as a Disney veteran once explained to me, the DreamWorks team is the equivalent of bad community theater, struggling to communicate even simple expressions of joy, jealousy and starry-eyed infatuation.
Not that there are any real human dilemmas to ponder. Why worry about sacrifice when problems are resolved through super-heroic effort and everyone is saved from the consequences of duties and decisions?
This rosy happily-ever-after is handed out like a bag of jewels: another treasure painlessly plundered by the incorrigible pirate boy.
Sean Axmaker is a movie reviewer and free-lance film writer based in Seattle. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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