Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is planning his next vacation on Malta.
"Tell me, Sinbad, are you running to or from something?"
If you're thinking about spinach right now, that's a coincidence. A water tank in Sinbad also kept one of the ships afloat in Popeye.
Sinbad's seven voyages survive in Arabic text, Wikipedia tells us. This version of the classic seafaring adventure gives us a neophyte (Elliot Knight, in his first TV role) who gets advice from villains ("Misfortune binds people together. Leaders know that.") as they're planning to sacrifice him.
His crew includes Anwar (Dimitri Leonidas, Centurion), a doctor; Rina (Marama Corlett, The Devil's Double), a thief; Nala (Estella Daniels), a princess; Gunnar (Elliot Cowan, Hammer of the Gods), a now-pacifist warrior; and Cook (Junix Inocian, The Lady), the ship's cook with a gourmet passion. Their adversaries are Lord Akbari (Naveen Andrews, Lost), whose son was killed by Sinbad, and the witch Taryn (Orla Brady, Fringe).
Facts of the Case
At the start of Sinbad: The Complete First Season, the soon-to-be-sailor is on land in seventh-century Basrah, having a bad day: the man he killed in a fight was an heir to the throne, Sinbad's brother's throat is slit, he's stolen a case with something valuable which he threw away, and his own grandmother placed a curse on him:
"You will be cast out to drift, unable to set foot on land for more than one cycle of the sun. This is my gift to you, my cfurse, so you can learn until you find atonement. You will never know peace."
The twelve episodes are on three discs:
• As Lord Akbari plots revenge for the death of his son at Sinbad's hands, the crew is captured by the Water Thieves, who are hoping to enjoy meat for dinner. Hmmm…
• Anwar bets the ship for provisions—and loses, which means that Sinbad has to head to the Palace of Games to win the Providence back. Soon, he's not the only one whose life he's gambling for.
• The crew boards a ghost ship with one surviving passenger (Timothy Spall, Blandings). They also find a wedding feast, and it might be already set for Nara.
• Sinbad wakes up on an island with a mysterious beauty. His curse is gone for now; he's forgotten it. Soon, he may forget everyone and everything else.
• When Taryn captures his grandmother, Sinbad sails back to Basrah. Anwar finds that the university is undergoing a hostile takeover from Taryn.
• The crew frees a god from a box. This could turn out to be a big mistake.
• A professor hires the Providence to transport her egg, which contains a "life" she built. Naturally, it's going to hatch aboard the ship.
• Gunnar warns Sinbad that his quest for the Land of the Dead is dangerous, but it's Gunnar who faces death when he's accused of being a werewolf.
• In the Land of the Dead to seek his brother, Sinbad sees how his friends' lives would have been without him. It turns out that Taryn has a quest, too.
At the start of Sinbad, our hero is seen in his milieu, dodging the blows of a rival in a fight and then leaving the man to die, stealing a case with his brother, and hanging out with his buds. He's heroic in the face of the water monster, but in the second episode, Elliot Knight's expressions suggest that he might just leave the crew to be eaten or to some other horrible fate in order to escape by the next dawn. However, he goes back to save them, and even rescues a giant bird who helped him. Soon, he'll be the guy his crew would follow into the Land of the Dead.
Early episodes show a similar journey for Rina (Marama Corlett), who actually does desert when the chips are down. She still keeps her handy ability to pick locks, though. Anwar (Dimitri xxx), the doctor who left his studies in Basra to set sail, has a journey into heroism, although he's there for the SF/fantasy procedural-like aspects of the story. Gunnar is running from a violent past, while Nara set sail with her father on his quest. Cook's quest is usually for spices, which he's always seeking from the rest of the crew.
The villains are complex. Akbari has soldiers toss a man from heights without a thought, but is eventually wracked with remorse. Taryn wants to keep the magic alive, but it involves knocking off scientists and destroying scrolls; she actually shows a hint of softness in the finale, but it might be a ruse.
In old-fashioned Doctor Who style, there's a new monster almost every week, but these beasties—mostly CGI—don't play a big role in a typical Sinbad story. The performances and character interactions are what end up drawing you in. Nobody here sounds like they're from the seventh century, and most of the cast could wear their clothes around Malta, where the show was filmed, without much notice (which apparently was the costumers' goal). This doesn't sound promising at the outset, but after an episode or two, I was drawn into Sinbad's universe.
The picture shows off the buildings of Valletta and the sparking waters off its coast beautifully. The CGI work blends into the production seamlessly.
There are extras, which give a good bit of background on the production. The best is "The Magic of Malta," in which Marama Corlett, herself from Malta, gives a tour that shows the locations of the series, and lets us in on which other productions (including Popeye) were also done there. "The Magic of Sinbad" introduces the cast—and a few spoilers. "The Magical Costumes of Sinbad" shows how the costumers created their own world—mixing modernity into antiquity—for the series.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's a sea change in the story around the middle of the season. Thus, it might feel like episodes seven and eight were the finale, with a few more episodes of the next batch thrown in for an anticlimactic season ender.
While the violence isn't graphic, there's a lot of nasty stuff going on, especially in the opener. Small kids might be scared.
Sinbad: The Complete First Season doesn't sail into uncharted waters—it's an oft-told legend (two other versions will pop up in an Amazon.com search)—but it handles the familiar tale well. The first episode crams too much in, but as it unfolds, it's very watchable (six in a day at one point for me). If you're looking for a day of powerwatching, it's worth a purchase or rental, and it's available for streaming at Amazon.com.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
Review content copyright © 2013 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.