I continued in the cinematic education of my children over the weekend by showing them the 1958 film, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Along with Jason and the Argonauts, this is another film I vividly recall seeing in the theater when I was a child. The cyclops in particular made a powerful impression upon me, as did the roc. Of course, there's a wealth of memorable scenes in this film, not all of them centered on Ray Harryhausen's "dynamation." Torin Thatcher's portrayal of the evil magician Sokurah stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, most of whom give serviceable performances that work just fine in what is, essentially, a children's movie.
On that level, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is a nearly perfect film. It provides everything one would expect from a children's fantasy: strong archetypal characters, exotic locations, eye-popping spectacles, and a simple but umabiguous moral compass. My nine year-old daughter enjoyed it a great deal, though she found the cyclops a frightening the first time it appeared. My six year-old son, on the other hand, is much more conflicted in his opinion about it. Though he watched every bit of it, he confessed to me, "That movie puts weird ideas in my brain," which is his rather peculiar way of saying that he found some of it strange and a little scary.
Personally, I'm happy they both reacted as they did. I'm firmly of the opinion that fantasy should be weird and often frightening. It is, after all, a visit to "another world," one whose rules aren't like those of our everyday existence, even if they're clearly derived from it. That's why I think Harryhausen's magic holds up so well: there's a solidity to it that helps us suspend our disbelief. Even though we tell ourselves that it can't be real, we keep looking to see if maybe we were wrong in this assessment. Fantasy that doesn't challenge our preconceptions and expectations is hardly worth the name in my opinion. That's why I thought it important to expose my kids to movies like this. They're not truly horrific or terrifying but they are awesome in the truest senses of the word.
I see movies like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad as perfect introductions to D&D. They lay the conceptual and dramatic groundwork for the game Gary and Dave created. They prepare the way for creating one's own Sinbad, who willingly braves the dangers of the Island of Colossa to free Princess Parisa from Sokurah's curse. They enable flights of fancy at once grounded in reality and yet obviously not part of it.
In short, they put weird ideas in the brain.