Directors – Allan Jacobs & Evan Ricks, Screenplay – Jeff Wolverton, Producers – Usha Ganesarajah & Sricam Sundar Rajan, Music – Chris Desmond, Music Supervisor – Andy Hill, Technical Director – Ganesarajah & G.V. Babu, Production Design – Joe Alves. Production Company – Pentafour Digital Imaging Center.
Brendan Fraser (Sinbad), Jennifer Hale (Princess Serena), Leonard Nimoy (Baraka), John Rhys-Davies (King Chandra))
The princess Serena finds the sorcerer Baraka washed up on the beach and grants him shelter at the palace. Baraka shows her father King Chandra some of his potions, however this is only a pretext for him to cast a spell that causes him and Chandra to swap bodies. With everybody thinking he is Chandra, Baraka has the real Chandra thrown in a cell and usurps the throne. The only one who understands what has happened, Serena flees the palace with one of the pages from Baraka’s spell book. She gains the aid of the sailor Sinbad in an initially testy relationship. They set sail to the mysterious realm referred to as ‘Beyond the Veil of Mists’ on the page from the book in search of a means of defeating Baraka and releasing her father.
As the initial rush came to jump aboard the computer-animated film bandwagon begun with Pixar and Toy Story (1995), Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists must count as the B-budget equivalent of a computer-animated film. It was the debut feature of the Indian software company Pentafour, primarily known for producing computer games. The gimmick that Pentafour promoted Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists with was that it was the first full-length use of ‘motion capture’, a process used extensively in computer games. ‘Motion Capture’ is the CGI equivalent of the old hand-drawn animation process of rotoscoping – that is drawing over the top of live-action footage – but in this case the process involves shooting live-action models whose movements are digitally recorded and replicated within an animation program, producing more life-like movement. The process came into its own with the creation of the Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and then the big-budget The Polar Express (2004), before such became commonplace.
Maybe it is simply that Pixar’s high quality cinematic renderings have spoiled one but Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists only emerges as looking like a Pixar test reel, a rough cut that has not yet been put through the dissonant texturing that goes into making up the Pixar quality. The animation is minimal and limited – it feels cut price. For all its claim about realistic movements, many scenes – in particular the barroom fight sequence early in the show – are dully directed and uninvolving. Certainly, few audiences went to see Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists when it came out and it received a very sparse theatrical run.
While nearly half of the film convinces one that the results are going to be entirely routine, it is during the middle sections that the film turns around to surprise one’s expectations of it altogether. Despite the limited animation, some scenes like the navigation of the waterfall with the crew trying to escape from the ship hanging on the edge of the rocks, followed by the venture into the maze and encounter with the various creatures there are built into something exciting.
The maze sequence becomes increasingly surreal and eventually develops into something altogether amazing – with Sinbad and Serena being swallowed by a giant manta ray that turns out to be a giant robotic sea harvesting creature; their passage through a field of giant mushrooms that are being harvested by fish people; and visions of upward flowing rivers and waterspouts that are seemingly holding up the bottom of the ocean. It is here that the film blossoms out of Arabian Nights cliches and becomes something almost science-fictional. The results take one aback with the conceptual wildness of imagination.
One other good thing about the film is that its non-American origin gives it ethnically realistic faces for the Arabian Nights mythological background it draws on – indeed, this is the first Sinbad film to feature non-Caucasian faces (although the hero and heroine are definitely drawn with more of an ethnic neutrality).