Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas
review by Zach B.
MPAA Rating: PG (Adventure Action, Some Mild Sensuality and Brief Language)
Running Time: 85 minutes
Starring the voices of: Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dennis Haysbert, Joseph Fiennes
Written by: John Logan
Directed by: Tim Johnson, Patrick Gilmore
Retail Price: $26.99
Features: Audio Commentary with Co-Director Tim Johnson, Co-Director Patrick Gilmore, Producer Mireille Soria, Production Designer Raymond Zibach, Head Of Story Jennifer Nelson, Animation Supervisor Kristoff Serrand and Layout Supervisor Damon O'Beirne, Cyclops Island, The Makin Of "Sinbad", Production Notes, Cast and Crew Bios, Sneak Peeks. DVD-ROM: Sinbad PC Game Deno, Games/Activities
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Scene Index (24 Scenes)
Released: November 18th, 2003
Sinbad (voiced by Brad Pitt) is a thief and adventurer sailing along the high seas. Armed with his crew to steal whatever he can steal, this heartless thief's life begins to unravel when he runs into his old best friend, the royal Proteus (Joseph Fiennes) who he has not seen in about ten years. Still, this is all fine for Sinband since Proteus has the legendary Book Of Peace to bring back to his home in Syracuse. Sinbad wants it for himself, but before he can truly claim it in the midst of battle, he encounters the Goddess of Chaos, Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer). Eris also wants the book and cuts Sinbad a deal in that if he brings the book to her, she will make him very rich.
However, one should never trust an evil Goddess, as Eris ends up tricking Sinbad. She transforms into him and steals the book in Syracuse. Framed by Eris and sentenced to death, Sinbad tells Proteus what has really happened. Despite Sinbad's mistreatment toward Proteus, Proteus believes Sinbad and is still loyal to him. As a result, Proteus offers his own life in place of Sinbad's. Sinbad receives a few days to trek to find Eris in Tartarus and recover the book. If he fails, Proteus dies. Sneaking along for the ride is Proteus' fianceé Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to make sure Sinbad keeps his word. Will Sinbad show the loyalty he once had for Proteus once again? Will he and his crew be able to recover the sacred book?
As some of you probably know, "Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas" has a pretty infamous reputation. The film opened domestically during the July of 2003 and was a major bomb for Dreamworks. The film had some mixed-to-pretty decent reviews, but family counterprogramming against the likes of "Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines" and "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde" during July 4th weekend just didn't cut it. The film fell under quickly and made a rather pitiful gross. So much so, shortly after the film's release, Dreamworks announced it would be closing up shop for 2-D films for good and focus only on computer animated features. For traditional animated film fans like myself, this was yet another nail in the coffin for 2-D animated flicks - a breed that is slowly dying out as 3-D animated films gain even more popularity (as evidenced by Pixar's "Finding Nemo," which made over 330 million dollars domestrically over the summer and outgrossed Disney's "The Lion King" as the biggest animated moneymaker of all time).
It's all sad really about 2-D animated films, and it's also sad that "Sinbad" had such a miserable box office reception - the film did not deserve to die such a brutal death and it did deserve to get seen by more people. "Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas" is a pretty great animated film and a pretty great film in general. There is a lot to like about this movie for all ages, and it's hard to believe that one film could sink a whole animation unit (but hey, it seems to happen a lot these days). I personally thought Dreamworks had a good chance in rivaling Disney in 2-D animation since their past three films were also pretty good and had strong animation quality. I haven't really enjoyed much of Disney's 2-D films in the past five years (the only one I think I really liked was "Treasure Planet"), and I was thinking Dreamworks would have a shot at outdoing them at the box office and with their stories - but I guess we'll never know. They probably had a better shot too since Disney apparently doesn't have any 2-D films in production these days (but one of their last efforts, "Brother Bear," has had healthy box office). While "Sinbad" tanked hard, "The Prince Of Egypt" was a hit and there was some respectable amounts to be had by "The Road To El Dorado" and "Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimmaron."
But back to "Sinbad." It's true that the film's story isn't really true to the Sinbad legend, but who cares? Most people watching the movie probably won't know the difference anyway. The film is entertaining and works, and that's what should count. Still, "Sinbad" even has more going for it. The film is pretty to look at and is well-handled. It'd be probably really easy to mess this movie up, but directors Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore give this movie an even hand. The film has a nice balance to it in that there are some impressive and involving action sequences, but also a good story to back it up. I really enjoyed the action sequences since they were so creative and original, not to mention in that it really gave me the sense that Sinbad and company were on such an important and epic adventure. John Logan's script has a lot of nice comic touches to it that are amusing, but he also weaves characters that are well-developed and you do come to care about them - even Sinbad. The story itself is quite involving and logical, and it's a good sign when a movie does move quite fast.
As far as the animation, it's once again another winner for Dreamworks. Their last effort proves how talented the studio is... err, was. There are some nice CGI elements that are seamlessly blended with the traditional animation, which itself looks great. The animation has a lot of detailed, is colorful and moves so swiftly and smooth. The animation looks really amazing and it's just a lot of great eye candy to take in and marvel at, especially since the film creates this whole mythological universe that at times can be a bit overwhelming in design. On another level, the always excellent and always reliable Harry Gregson-Williams provides a rich, textured score that highlights the film's sense of heroics, adventure and more moving moments all while unifying to a theme of strength.
Thematically, "Sinbad" is excellent. The movie has action, adventure and a bit of a love story but it's mainly about friendship and loyalty. None of it is preachy, but rather, believable and honest. It's been awhile since I've actually seen a movie that deals with these issues quite heavily, and "Sinbad" works with the themes perfectly and shows their importance. The characters help make the themes interesting. Sinbad has burned Proteus before and plans to do it again on a much grander scale, but Proteus still believes there is good in his old friend and literally trusts him with his life. Proteus is quite likeable, maybe even crazy, in just how willing he is to accomdate everybody. The relationship between Sinbad and Proteus may be the most important as it does go to many lengths to show what friendship is, but there are others that do the same (such as Kale guiding Sinbad to an extent and Marina's love for her future husband).
The problem with Sinbad himself is that he puts trust into those he knows he shouldn't and barely knows (just Eris, really) and doesn't put much trust to those who really care for him. Still, during the course of the film, Sinbad changes and learns to realize the errors of his ways. There are some great dialogue exchanges Sinbad has between Marina and between Proteus that really go with what friendship means. The film also does a very nice job of developing the characters, as we do learn about some of their pasts and what made the once compassionate Sinbad change his ways. All this helps add interest and depth to the movie, and by the finale, it pays off and becomes quite satisfying in how certain values enact and show their worth, all of which give closure and give light to a pending bleakness. Without giving too much away, promises come back and things run their course which tie things up nicely.
"Sinbad" has also faced a lot of crticism as far as voice acting - a lot of critics made a big deal that Dreamworks hired A-list voice actors for the movie and it was distracting. I don't blame Dreamworks for adding star power to the movie in order to attract some attention, and while it's probably true there are other actors who could voice the characters, I must say the wattage Dreamworks powered into the film do a grand job. The voices are distinct, but I did not find them distracting in the least bit. I personally thought Brad Pitt made an excellent Sinbad. He's witty, he's selfish but there's a whole sense of fun and excitment to him too. Pitt finely crafts an obnoxious hero who slowly comes to terms with his life and perfectly enacts a gradual change within his values.
Catherine Zeta-Jones, who has played strong heroines in live-action films, uses her vocals to lend the same kind of strength to Marina. She's a bit feisty and soon becomes adored by the crew. She shows selflessness to Proteus since he puts him before herself, to sneak along and guarantee his safety. Zeta-Jones does fine work and is likeable. In smaller performances, I enjoyed the deep throbbing voice of Dennis Haysbert as Kale who turns in a soothing but confident performance as well as Joseph Fiennes as Proteus, who is also quite assured and gives off some purity - you can really hear his sense of understanding and trust in his voice. However, Michelle Pfeiffer steals the show as Eris. She makes the character not only sexy, but manipulative, sleek and exciting. When she talks, you want to listen - she is fresh and enthusiastic without going overboard (no pun intended, I swear like the Gods). Pfeiffer was an excellent choice for the role and is really outstanding.
I'm still puzzled why Dreamworks dropped the film from consideration for the Academy's Best Animated Feature award. "Treasure Planet" (one of my favorite films from 2003) suffered a similar fate as "Sinbad" at the box office but Disney still let the movie contend - and it scored a nomination in the catagory. This movie is not a disaster, and there has been many worse animated films. Many, many worse. With that said, if you shrugged off "Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas" during its original theatrical release, give it a chance on DVD. It was simply a film opening at the wrong time (with terrible consequences to be had), but it's not as bad as you may have been led to believe. Even if you're not a kid, I think it's pretty hard to not find one thing at all to like about this movie - there really is something for everyone. "Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas" is a strong but unexpected swan song for Dreamworks 2-D animation. Oh well...
"Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas" is given a glorious, near-perfect 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (a full-screen edition is available separately). Other than a gleam of edge enhancment that's rather hard to notice and some constant noise due to a high contrast, this transfer is quite remarkable and shows off the film's skillful and beautiful animation. Black levels are solid and detail is just marvelous. Even better is how vibrant and fully realized the colors are since the animation just pops right out at you (it gives off a look filled with much depth). The movie has a giant color scheme to deal with - color palettes constantly shift (such as the specific blues of the ice area and the more dry desert tones) and nicely keeps up with it. The transfer is very smooth and sharp, as it does justice to the excellent animation. I can't see how anybody can complain in what's offered here.
Even more impressive are the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks - this is a five-star showcase all around. This is an animated action-adventure, and the tracks perfectly grasp the film's adventure-mode atmosphere. Each track is quite discrete and will bring any home theater system to life. Much of the film is compromised of the characters battling their way out of one action scenario to the next. With that said, you'll be instantly sucked in and feel like you're in the middle of all this action as swords clash, sea monsters wreck ships, ocean waves brush up, sirens sing their beautiful songs, characters fight, giant ice birds try to eat prey and so on - this film has a lot of action going on that isn't always the same thing. Dialogue is easy to hear, crystal clear and centered and the fantastic score from Harry Gregson-Williams is well-mixed and adds a nice layer as well as ambiance to the tracks.
Even better is that the imaging is great on both tracks and the sounds are fully realized and have a lot of depth to them. Fidelity is high, the dynamics are excellent and subwoofer use is phenomenonal. Also a plus is that each track is balanced perfectly, so nothing tends to overcome anything else. So which track is better - the DTS or Dolby Digital? Like usual, I have to go with the DTS. The Dolby Digital sure is great and provides a great experience, but I felt the DTS was more tighter, deeper and sharper which made it a bit more satisfying. Still, you can't go wrong with either track. The DVD also features a few more sound options which include Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in French and Spanish, an English Dolby Surround mix, plus subtitles in Spanish, French and English.
Sad to say, the DVD doesn't pack way too much as far as bonus materials (though given the film's box-office reception, it's nice some things were provided). But what's here is pretty good, and balances nicely between things for kids and adults. First up is Cyclops Island - which is probably as close as we're going to get for a sequel to the movie. I have no idea if this was made for the DVD release specifcally or was going to be used as something else, but it acts as an epilogue to the movie as Sinbad and the gang head for vacation on Cyclops Island - but trouble awaits.
But what makes this interesting is that you get to choose who the action focuses on. Every now and then during the segment a character icon will pop up. Click the icon and that character will be the center of the action. It's pretty fun to watch and go through a few times, but after awhile, the combination becomes pretty limited. Still, for the first few times it's entertaining stuff - and yes, the story makes sense every time (so click check it out a few times to see all the animation bits). The animation is rather good for the segment, though I'm not sure if it's up to the film's animation quality (though it is quite close). It's all presented in 1.85: 1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 which is quite nice. Also a plus: the original cast voices are in these segments.
A feature that probably won't really entice the kiddies is the Audio Commentary with Co-Director Tim Johnson, Co-Director Patrick Gilmore, Producer Mireille Soria, Production Designer Raymond Zibach, Head Of Story Jennifer Nelson, Animation Supervisor Kristoff Serrand and Layout Supervisor Damon O'Beirne. That's a lot of people, and believe it or not, they're all together watching the movie. This track is a bit dry and technical in nature which may not appeal to all adults. Still, you get to hear a lot of different perspectives on making the movie and a lot of challenges the crew faced. You'll hear a lot of namedropping of others who worked on the movie and a lot of story ideas that were cut out. Hearing the filmmakers' approach is quite interesting since it seems they went out to make a rather ambitious film. There are some corny jokes cracked too, and believe it or not, a few silent gaps despite the presence of so many people. The track isn't incredibly engaging and probably if you're only really detailed-oriented will you want to listen to all of it. There's a lot on the technicality, but I would have liked more on developing the story and more about the voice talent. Also, some state rather obvious observations. As it is, this track will appeal to only a few. It's nice to have and there are some interesting production stories, but despite all those on the track, it's only a decent commentary at best. Oh, and once again kudos for Dreamworks for providing subtitles to the commentary track - in English, French and Spanish no less. I wish other studios would follow suit. Maybe one of these days...
The Making Of "Sinbad" lasts about seventeen minutes, has full screen interviews but non-anamorphic widescreen footage plus subtitles in English, Spanish and French. You know right from the start this is promotional thanks to the cheesy announcer. It's nothing too amazing... writer John Logan, producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, director Tim Johnson, director Patrick Gilmore, supervising animatior Jakob Hjort Jensen, supervisin animatior William Salazar, supervising animator Dan Wagner, 2-D animator Stephen Wood, producer Mireille Soria, the cast and others explain the premise of the film, the animation aspects, the voice work, etc. It's nothing new at all and pretty basic in showing you how 2-D animated films are done, but some of the interview segments are interesting, as well as some behind-the-scenes footage, rough animation and stills. A usual exercise in making the film appealing to a mass audience - I think this featurette has aired on HBO (and probably will again when they begin showing the movie).
There isn't too much left to cover. Some vast Production Notes that seemed to be taken from the film's press materials make a good read, as does some extensive Cast and Crew Bios. Kudos to Dreamworks for not only highlighting the cast and main crew, but many technical crew members and animators as well - it was nice to learn more about their backgrounds and work. There are some Sneak Peeks for Dreamworks and Universal theatrical and DVD titles, and for DVD-ROM users they'll get a demo of the Sinbad PC game, over 15 games, information about Spike The Dog and looooads more. It's nice to see Dreamworks providing such extensive ROM material, even if it is just for the kids.
"Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas" is a fun animated film that should have done better box office - it's a shame that this highly enjoyable film is responsible for sinking Dreamworks' 2-D animation department. Hopefully this fine film will find better life on DVD. The sound mixes are excellent, the transfer is pretty incredible and there are extras that appeal to both kids and adults. Given I've seen this DVD online for 15 dollars, if you like strong animated films or have children, then this is a highly recommended purchase.