Indiana Jones means more to me than Star Wars. Ever since falling in love with Spielberg's timeless trilogy as a kid, I've always had a soft spot for rip-roaring treasure hunts. I mean, I even like Sahara. And the National Treasure movies.In an age of wonder, a hero sets off on an epic quest in search of the greatest treasure the world has ever known, but in so doing must face off against a sinister adversary and a fearsome monster. 'Tis a most familiar set-up, one which storytellers far and wide have utilised for time immemorial, and for one simple reason: it's ace. Come on, don't we all get at least a bit of a buzz from a good old fashioned swashbuckling adventure? I know I do. Put it this way:
But if we're talking Greek mythology and/or Sinbad the Sailor, one name obviously comes straight to mind: Ray Harryhausen. His movies defined fantasy for generations of armchair adventurers, thanks not only to the man's still-astonishing special effects, but also a wholesome, simple, boy's own approach to storytelling. It's no wonder so few filmmakers have dared revisit those particular myths since; what chance do they think they have of topping those old favourites for sheer iconic power? Clash of the Titans, anyone?
And so into the arena strolls Sinbad and the Minotaur. Boldly, it throws two of those mythic worlds together, including a classic monster that old Ray somehow never got round to bringing to life. And does it come close to dethroning Harryhausen?
That's a rhetorical question, naturally. Of course it doesn't, nor is it trying to. Rather, this is a workmanlike straight-to-DVD effort in the mould of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, where the budget is low and the tone even lower. Period detail and historical/mythological/geographical accuracy are of no concern whatsoever; these heroes and villians of a byegone era invariably sport contemporary haircuts and urban accents. The quality of the CGI isn't too great a concern either. And if you can take all that as a given, Sinbad and the Minotaur is actually quite good fun.
Sinbad is portrayed here by Manu Bennett (of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, a show I've heard good things about but have regretfully yet to see). Happily, he makes for an entertaining hero, his wild eyes and ever-so-slightly-out-of-it intonation a wee bit reminiscent of Captain Jack Sparrow. In this instance, however, the hero's sailing credentials are largely disregarded; perhaps unsurprisingly given the budget, very little time is spent at sea. We meet him stealing a scroll from an evil sorceror's tent in the desert which tells the location of the head of the Collossus of Rhodes, which will of course make Sinbad and his crew rich beyond their wildest dreams. But once they find the island in question, they have that same sorceror and his minions on their trail, plus locals who may not be entirely friendly, and of course a certain monster...
However, it's not quite the Minotaur of legend. I'm not referring to the fact that the beast is brought to life via third-rate CG; again, that's a given in so low budget a movie. Rather, it's the design of the creature that breaks with convention, as instead of a half-man half-bull walking around on two cloven feet, we instead have simply a bull, albeit one of unusual size and aggression; kind of a bovine variation on the beast from The Brotherhood of the Wolf. I dunno; I guess everyone wants to make their mark and do their own thing with the tried-and-tested monsters of yore - after all, Harryhausen himself was also prone to such reinterpretation - but as a fan of Greek mythology I can't help being disappointed that we're not getting the classic model.
And that's not the only curious artistic decision. The tone of Sinbad and the Minotaur is more than a little uneven. For the most part it's the kind of family-friendly fare you'd expect to find on TV any given Bank Holiday afternoon, but then (as the 15 certificate reflects) there are a number of surprisingly gruesome scenes, with a spot of Passion of the Christ-esque lashing, more than a few impaled and/or lacerated Minotaur victims, and Sinbad pulling off a two-sworded decapitation Gladiator style. Given these leanings toward a slightly older (I won't say more 'mature') audience, it's surprising they don't go to similar extremes sexually, as such 80s sword and sorcery cheapies like Barbarian Queen did. There are plenty of opportunities to do so, with Sinbad popping in on a hareem and taking one along as his love interest, and yet things remain entirely chaste and, a few cleavage flaunting outfits aside, modestly attired.
The net result is a movie in danger of cancelling itself out; it's too mild for lovers of old school sword and sorcery trash, yet too nasty for family audiences. But what the hell, there's still some fun to be had, even if it's simply laughing at the naffness of the sound mix, the special effects and the histrionic performances. That said, Manu Bennett does make for a surprisingly endearing hero, Steven Grives is an enjoyably hissable baddie, and - once again - there's always something to be said for a good old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure. Yes, it's cheap, it's silly and it's enormously derivative, but as those kind of movies go it ain't half bad.
Sinbad and the Minotaur is released to Region 2 DVD on 7th February, from Chelsea Films.