Way back in 2003, Dreamworks got us acquainted with a swashbuckling sailor and his elaborate adventures in Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. The underrated gem sees Sinbad and his pirate crew traveling to the land of Eris, the evil goddess of discord, after she frames him for the theft of the Book of Peace.
Sounds like all the elements of a classic hero's journey, but most people don't realize that the original tale of Sinbad contains way more drama, shock, and even death. Let's take a look at the Middle Eastern tale that inspired the movie favorite.
But first, how did the movie portray Sinbad?
Sinbad brings along his pirate friends to Syracuse, Sicily on the hunt for the rare Book of Peace. The Book is protected by Sinbad's former best friend Prince Proteus, but they end up working together to fight the giant whale Cetus. When Sinbad gets sucked underwater, he's saved by Eris, who has her own plans for chaos.
Eris impersonates Sinbad to frame him for stealing the Book, which leads Sinbad to hunt her down to retrieve it and avoid being put to death. Proteus's fiancée Marina accompanies him to ensure that there's no funny business from the unpredictable sailor. Along the way, the ragtag teams contends with sirens, Roc (the enormous bird of prey), and other mythological creatures.
Eris reveals that her plan was to have Proteus killed in Sinbad's place, which would leave Syracuse without an heir. They make a deal that the Book of Peace will be returned to the heroes if Sinbad will sacrifice himself. In the end, Sinbad overcomes his selfishness and Eris saves him from execution for sticking to their oath and also returns the Book. Proteus allows Marina to leave him for Sinbad, and they all presumably live happily ever after.
The real origins of the tale
The legend of Sinbad stems from a story-cycle from the Middle East about a fantastical sailor who does encounter many monstrous creatures, but it's way more complex than the movie had time for.
For starters, the events of the tale take place in what is most likely modern-day Iraq, but the movie chose to move them to the Mediterranean. Additionally, Sinbad had many voyages (seven in total) that could all really span the length of a feature.
The first two voyages see Sinbad battling a giant sea horse (an actual underwater horse, not the cute little sea creature) and the Roc, but things don't really start getting crazy until the third voyage.
A horrific monster with a taste for human flesh
On his third voyage, Sinbad and his crew get captured by a truly horrifying beast that sounds like it'd be way too intense to put in a kid's movie. Seriously, check out this vivid description from the story:
A huge creature in the likeness of a man, black of colour, ...with eyes like coals of fire and large canine teeth like boar's tusks and a vast big gape like the mouth of a well. Moreover, he had long loose lips like camel's, hanging down upon his breast, and ears like two Jarms falling over his shoulder-blades, and the nails of his hands were like the claws of a lion.
At this point, Sinbad is forced to watch as her crew gets cooked and eaten, and he must listen to their abject screams while devising a plan. He ends up blinding the beast with his own fiery iron spit that he was using to roast his human meals. Even when they escape to the raft, the giant kills most of them by crushing them with rocks. Not exactly family-friendly fare.
Drugs, cannibals, and murder
On his fourth voyage, Sinbad and his new crew get shipwrecked on an island full of savages who ply the men with an herb that takes away their reason. Sinbad recognizes this and abandons the rest without eating one bite, and they presumably all get eaten by the cannibals.
Sinbad ends up in a strange new land where he meets the king who grants him a wealthy wife. When she falls ill and dies soon after they're married, Sinbad discovers that this culture buries the living spouse alive with the dead one. So, Sinbad gets entombed in a cavern with a dead body while living on a meager supply of bread.
But wait, it gets way, way worse. Just when he's about to run out, another married couple get thrown in. Sinbad brutally bludgeons the living wife to take her food and CONTINUES KILLING every person that gets imprisoned there. He also steals their gold and jewels along with their food until a wild animal shows him the way out. Jeez, Sinbad, talk about a bad role model.
Enslaved and aggravated
In his sixth voyage, Sinbad gets shipwrecked yet again (you'd think he'd be a better sailor by this point) and immediately gets enslaved by the Old Man of the Sea. The guy has a particularly peculiar way of treating his newfound slave: he rides on Sinbad's shoulders while keeping his legs painfully twisted around his neck.
In a situation that seems like it's straight out of torture porn, Sinbad pretty much becomes this guy's horse until all he can do is pray for death. He eventually escapes (duh, he's Sinbad), but the worst part of this whole escapade is that this was actual treatment that slaves would get during this time. Obviously, many slaves throughout history received far worse fates and punishment, but there's something particularly degrading about losing all agency and becoming purely an extension of someone else.
Clearly, Sinbad was put through the ringer, and we didn't see the half of it.
It's safe to say that Dreamworks made the right decision to exclude these particular hardships that Sinbad faced, but it's high time that they're brought to life in their own right. I'm thinking Sinbad deserves a mini-series on HBO that doesn't skimp on the gore, murder, or torture. Then, we'll get the full picture of Sinbad's real story.