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'Sinbad' captains voyage into rip-roaring adventure

Wednesday July 02, 2003

By Michael H. Kleinschrodt
Movie critic

"Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" takes audiences on a fantastic voyage in a blend of traditional animation and computer-generated elements.

The rip-roaring adventure is DreamWorks Pictures' latest bid to grab a slice of the lucrative animation pie for itself. "Sinbad" will be trying to steal the thunder away from "Finding Nemo," a Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios computer-animated film, which is still performing strongly in its fifth week of release.

In "Sinbad," Eris, the goddess of chaos, has framed the legendary sailor for the theft of the Book of Peace, a priceless artifact sacred to the city-state of Syracuse. Just as Sinbad is sentenced to die, his old friend Proteus, a prince of Syracuse, steps forward to take his place.

It is Proteus' hope that Sinbad will sail after Eris, retrieve the Book of Peace and return to Syracuse within 10 days -- just in time to stop Proteus' execution.

To make certain that Proteus' plan is followed, his strong-willed fiancee, Marina, stows away on Sinbad's ship. Marina not only prevents Sinbad from running off to Fiji, she also helps Sinbad defeat the mythological creatures Eris sets upon them and rediscovers her own longings for a life of adventure.

Brad Pitt easily finds the humor in the role of Sinbad, and Catherine Zeta-Jones makes it clear why the no-nonsense Marina is such a powerful match for him. Dennis Haysbert gives sly voice to Kale, Sinbad's first mate, but Joseph Fiennes struggles to find a spark of life in the noble but bland Proteus.

However, the stand-out in this cast is Michelle Pfeiffer, whose seductive, purring performance as Eris is well-matched by some of the film's most imaginative animation. Slinky Eris, like Nightcrawler in "X2: X-Men United," constantly disappears in wisps of smoke only to rematerialize a few feet away. The effect is most disturbing to the humans she encounters.

The movie also features a menagerie of beasts based on the constellations. Instead of being created by Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation, as they were in the live-action "Sinbad" films of the 1970s, they are animated by computer.

One of the most impressive creatures is Cetus, a giant squid that interrupts Sinbad's unexpected reunion with Proteus on the high seas early in the film. Tentacles writhe, a barbed tongue flies like a spear, and both men's ships nearly are lost. It's a sequence that puts "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" to shame.

There's more adventure as Sinbad's ship comes under attack by the seductive Sirens just as he is trying to navigate a maze of jagged rocks. The sirens are impressive creations of flowing water, not unlike more detailed versions of the creature from "The Abyss."

Another stunning sequence depicts Sinbad's and Marina's visit to Eris' realm of Tartarus -- just beyond the edge of the world (a location that inspires a great joke). Tartarus is a fallen kingdom revealed only in pieces while shifting desert sands roil as turbulently as ocean waves, uncovering and then reburying various landmarks (and lots of skeletons).

The movie's only downside is its reliance on barf jokes and gracelessly inserted sops to adult humor. Sinbad also has a gratuitous butt shot, which would be funnier if Mel Gibson were voicing the role. (Gibson is famous for showing his backside in his movies.)

Still, children who already have seen "Finding Nemo" two or three times might enjoy the change of pace. "Sinbad" is a colorful film with vibrant characters and exciting action.

The movie was directed by Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore. Johnson previously worked on "Antz," but Gilmore is making his directorial debut.

As a special bonus, theaters will be handing out one copy of "Shrek and Fiona's Honeymoon Storybook" with each paid child's admission to "Sinbad." The read-along CD-ROM, which requires a computer to view, bridges the narrative gap between 2001's "Shrek" and next summer's "Shrek 2." (It's the same story told in the "Shrek 4-D" attractions at the Universal Studios theme parks.)

The giveaway continues through Sunday or as long as supplies last.

. . . . . . .

Michael H. Kleinschrodt covers movies. He can be reached at mkleinschrodt@timespicayune.com or at (504) 826-3456.

_________________________

SINBAD: LEGEND

OF THE SEVEN SEAS

(STAR)(STAR)(STAR)

Plot: A notorious seafaring thief must steal a treasured object from a malevolent goddess to save the life of an old friend.

What works: The rip-roaring adventure beautifully blends computer-generated elements with traditional animation.

What doesn't: Sops to adult humor are worked rather gracelessly (and needlessly) into the script.

Voices: Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joseph Fiennes and Dennis Haysbert. Directors: Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore. Running time: 86 minutes. Rating: PG, for language, action and mild sensuality. Where: Grand, Elmwood Palace, Clearview Palace, West Bank Palace, Hammond Palace, Hollywood 9, Chalmette, Holiday 12, Movies 8.

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