It has long been said that in Hollywood, nothing succeeds like success. A corollary of that is, in Hollywood, you know you're a success when somebody imitates you.
When stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen was seeking funding for Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, one of the producers who turned him down was United Artist's Edward Small. When Seventh Voyage became a big moneymaker, Small immediately signed Nathan Juran (the director) and Kerwin Matthews and Torin Thatcher (the hero and bad guy, respectively) to make a near carbon copy.
The "Black Prince" Pendragon (Thatcher) returns from a lengthy exile to put in motion a plan to reclaim what he feels is his rightful kingdom. This involves using a size-changing ogre to kidnap the beautiful princess Elaine (Judi Meredith). He doesn't count on the ogre running afoul of the heroic farmer Jack (Matthews), who manages to slay the beast. Knighted for his valor, Jack becomes the princess' bodyguard and needless to say, boyfriend. Equally needless to say, Pendragon eventually manages to steal Elaine away, and Jack has to journey to the wizard's island fortress to rescue her, aided by a Viking, a plucky cabin boy, and a leprechaun who speaks only in verse.
Viewers expecting something to equal the Harryhausen flick are going to be disappointed - imitation hardly ever means comparable. The stop-motion sequences are limited to the beginning and ends of the movie, and the fantasy elements that take their place in the middle of the story seem dreary and overlong in comparison. The models employed lack the detail of Harryhausen's craft, looking simplistic and cartoonish.
Harryhausen and crew didn't quite agree; litigation caused United Artists to pull the movie from circulation and transform it into something Seventh Voyage was not: a musical. Apparently dreadful beyond belief (as the actors weren't hired to do retakes - I'll just let that sink in), the musical version has sunk from sight - but it would have made an interesting extra.
The picture is of MGM's usual high quality. Though quite colorful, the palette doesn't seem ideally saturated for a fantasy movie, and at times looks a bit washed-out - but flesh tones are generally spot-on, and the detail is quite sharp. In this day and age, it also worth noting that the picture is not anamorphic, either. Make your peace with those black bars.
No effort was made to remix the audio for surround systems, but really - that wouldn't have brought much to the party, anyway.
There is a theatrical trailer in excellent shape, presented full-frame.
Released with very little fanfare and practically no video or audio enhancements, it seems that MGM may have expected very little from this release - it took very diligent searching on my part at a favorite chain store to locate this disc, because it had been filed in the children's section. At that, this may have been the right place for it. As a parent with a monster-hungry young child, I can at least say that Jack the Giant Killer makes for good Saturday afternoon viewing.
Dr. Freex, 5/5/2004