BY JEFFREY M. ANDERSON
Of The Examiner Staff
Sinbad the sailor comes from the "Arabian Knights" collection of tales, the same 300-year-old collection that spawned Aladdin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The stories were originally told by Shahrazad -- sometimes spelled "Scheherazade" -- whose husband, the king, routinely killed one of his wives every night. By telling the stories, and keeping the king's mind occupied, Shahrazad saved her own life.
Unfortunately, if the new animated "Sinbad" were among the stories she told, poor Sahrazad wouldn't have lasted five minutes.
Coming from Dreamworks' animation studio, tapping the same empty vein as "The Prince of Egypt" and "The Road to El Dorado," "Sinbad" looks as if it borrowed pieces from every single successful animated cartoon of the past 10 years and spit out a kind of combination, so as not to startle viewers with anything new.
Likewise, the filmmakers have totally erased any references to Arabia and Arabs, for fear of startling viewers any further. The all-American Brad Pitt provides the voice for Sinbad, an all-American sailor who tries to steal the Book of Peace and in the process runs into his boyhood chum, now a full-fledged prince, Proteus (voiced by Joseph Fiennes).
A huge sea monster suddenly attacks, leading Sinbad to an underwater confrontation with the mischievous goddess Eris (voiced by Michelle Pfieffer). Proteus gets the book, Eris steals it for herself, and Sinbad gets blamed for the theft. Proteus steps in to take Sinbad's place, with the promise that Sinbad will confront Eris and steal the book back. Just to be safe, Proteus' betrothed girlfriend Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones) goes along for the ride.
The filmmakers then try to build a love triangle between Sinbad and Marina and Proteus by showing Sinbad and Marina constantly bickering. It's supposed to build sexual tension between them, but all it does is build a tension headache.
Not only do the characters generate no chemistry, they don't even seem to be in the same movie with each other.
Rather than good storytelling with twists and turns and suspense and imagination, the movie treats us to a series of roller coaster rides, or more appropriately, set pieces that can be later converted into roller coaster rides or video games.
In one scene, Sinbad and Marina escape a giant bird by sliding down a snow-covered mountain on the back of Sinbad's shield. The slide lasts forever, with the mixed CGI and hand-drawn animation bombarding us the whole way.
Only one scene works fairly well: when Sinbad and crew encounter the legendary sirens, whose singing voices cause men to fall in love and lose their minds. Marina and Sinbad's faithful dog Spike must maneuver the ship through a rocky graveyard and keep the men from throwing themselves overboard to the whirling, mesmerizing spirits. Directors Patrick Gilmore and Tim Johnson take it slow, swooping through the scene like a low-flying hang-glider instead of the usual heat-seeking missile.
In addition, Eris proves to be a memorable foe; her long, blue hair drifts like seaweed, curling in upon itself, and causing her whole body to disappear and reappear every few moments, making a normal conversation quite disconcerting.
But when giant CGI monsters attack, the filmmakers pay more attention to them than to the heroes. In other words, they're more interested in special effects than in humans. Par for the course this summer.
"Sinbad" hedges its bets every step of the way. It's too afraid to try anything outside of the time-tested kid movie formula. None of the cast particularly fits their roles, save Michelle Pfieffer, who has a lot of fun cooing along with her liquid-haired villainess. The mix of boxy hand-drawn animation and slapdash CGI doesn't quite mesh, and the screenplay is another clunker from one of the worst living film writers, John Logan ("Bats," "Gladiator," "The Time Machine," "Star Trek: Nemesis").
It's really nothing more than a giant advertisement for action figures and Happy Meals. What "Sinbad" desperately needed is filmmakers telling us a real story as if their very lives depended on it.