The Cinema Behind Star Wars: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

For many filmmakers, Ray Harryhausen is one of the most important names in the movie business. He was a pioneer of stop-motion special effects and holds a special place of inspiration in the history of Star Wars. He’s famous for a lot of films, but perhaps the most important would be 1958s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, the first film using stop-motion special effects to be shot in full color.

I knew this movie was important to the history of cinema, but it wasn’t until an interview I did with Phil Tippett on Full of Sith that I realized its importance to Star Wars. This was the film that inspired Tippett to get into the business of making films, and his contributions to Star Wars can’t be undersold. He was one of the key the artists who created the holochess game we see played in A New Hope. He was the man behind the go-motion techniques that brought tauntauns and AT-ATs to life in The Empire Strikes Back. He was the man who operated the Rancor’s head in Return of the Jedi.

And none of it would have happened if he hadn’t gone to see the 1958 classic, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. This film tells the tale of Sinbad the sailor. Although he’s headed to Baghdad to marry the Princess Parissa, she is shrunken by an evil magician named Sokurah. Sokurah tells Sinbad that if he accompanies him to the monster filled island of Colossa and retrieves his magic lamp, he will be able to return the princess to her normal size. On Colossa, Sinbad and his crew fight cyclopean beasts, the Roc, a Dragon, skeletons, and all other manner of stop-motion monsters.

It’s a swashbuckling adventure in the vein of Flash Gordon and Robin Hood, with fantastical visuals, all in color. It’s no wonder it inspired a seven-year old Phil Tippett to get into filmmaking as a stop-motion animator and set him down the path that would get him hired by George Lucas in 1975 to create the figures on the Dejarik board.

The stop-motion animation techniques and giant monsters of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad served as a direct inspiration on Star Wars in quite a few places. Parallels could be drawn between the giant monsters of Return of the Jedi and Attack of the Clones (particularly the Reek) and the monstrous fare in Harryhausen’s classic.

The film was scored beautifully by Bernard Herrman, who imbued the fantasy film with the classical, emotional sort of film music that would inspire George Lucas to seek out John Williams. John Williams has talked warmly of his appreciation for Herrman’s work and has conducted many of his pieces to live audiences.

But watching the film and ignoring the monsters and sword-fights, fans of Star Wars would still find one of the most obvious references borrowed for the galaxy far, far away. After Sinbad battles a skeleton to the top of a circular staircase leading nowhere and topples him over the side, he’s able to escape with the princess. Unfortunately for him, the evil Sokurah is on their heels and uses his magic to destroy the bridge that would let them escape. The genie from the magic lamp comes to Sinbad’s aid, providing him nothing more than a rope from which to swing. With the Princess pressed against him, Sinbad swings across the chasm in a shot and direction that matches Luke and Princess Leia’s swing on the Death Star exactly.

For those interested in watching the film, it’s rated G for general audiences. I rewatched it with my 12-year-old son for the purpose of this column and he was blown away by the special effects as soon as I told him when the film was made. It’s definitely suitable for the whole family.

It’s available widely on DVD and Blu-ray. Streaming options include rentals on Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play. The technicolor effects of the film, though, definitely warrant you springing for the remastered Blu-ray.

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmakerjournalist, and the editor in chief of BigShinyRobot.com! He’s also the co-host of the Star Wars podcast, Full of Sith.

You can also follow him on Twitter.

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