Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage, with its story torn from the pages of The Thousand and One Nights and its stop-motion monster effects, clearly aims to be the heir to Ray Harryhausen. Unfortunately, with its haphazard storytelling, barely-there characters, and wildly inconsistent visuals, it’s a closer relative to Bert I. Gordon. But like the films of his B-movie forebears, there is something undeniably endearing about the whole project. It was clearly a labor of love for Shahin Sean Solimon, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, stars in the title role — in interviews, Solimon has proudly noted that he may well be the first Persian actor to play the role of Sinbad on film — and even distributed it himself. The film may be a total mess, but the passion is clearly there.
Solimon largely eschews CGI in favor of Harryhausen-style stop-motion effects. Unfortunately, the stop-motion animation is considerably less impressive than Harryhausen’s decades-old effects. Whereas Harryhausen’s monsters were incredibly detailed and lithely animated, many of the effects in The Fifth Voyage look like someone shaking a toy. Even worse, the stop-motion is incorporated into the film with some terrible greenscreen work, and practically every scene is filtered through a haze of cheap digital fog. The overall look of the film is plastic and chintzy.
There are some exceptions. Sinbad’s encounter with Rok, wonderfully detailed with actual feathers, is a gleefully cartoonish update of the Harryhausen style, and one of the last scenes, in which a balloon ascends before a blazing volcano, is genuinely beautiful. But the quality control is wildly erratic. The effects veer from passable to laughable from one shot to the next.
It doesn’t help matters that the storytelling is often completely incoherent. There are flashbacks within flashbacks, baffling crosscuts, and plot points dropped a few scenes after they’re introduced. What story there is is narrated by Sinbad as an old man (Patrick Stewart, in a surprisingly committed bit of voice-over), who tells of his voyage to save his beloved princess, even though her father disapproves of Sinbad. Along the way he encounters monsters, genies, death, and belly dancer vampires.
Unfortunately, none of this is quite as fun as it sounds. There is no spark to the story, no real characters, no sense of adventure. It all feels more like a VFX reel than a full-fledged movie. Unfortunately, the effects are not nearly consistent enough to make up for the movie’s deficiencies. While it is really interesting to see someone attempting to bring back the practical effects of yesteryear (and doing it with a small budget, no less), Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage is likely to make you wish you were watching The 7th Voyage of Sinbad instead.