Sinbad Movie Largely Ignores Tale's Arab Origins

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
July 2, 2003

The sea monsters and seductive sirens battling Sinbad in the new animated movie, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, may not be the most formidable foes the swashbuckling pirate has had to face. To even get to the silver screen, the rogue adventurer first had to endure the test of time.

The story of Sinbad, a sailor born in Baghdad, and his seven voyages around the world, has survived for more than a thousand years. In its latest incarnation, a hip Hollywood production starring Brad Pitt as the voice of Sinbad, it's easy to forget that Sinbad's adventures are part of One Thousand and One Nights, Arabic folktales that have been handed down for centuries.

In these tales, Sinbad embarks on a series of voyages to restore his lost fortune. Landing in undiscovered countries, he faces cannibals and huge serpents, is sold into slavery, and even buried alive. Despite his misfortunes, he always manages to amass a fortune and return home a rich man.

The original tales were often dark and adult. The challenge to the filmmakers behind the new movie was to make the story suitable for kids.

"The original stories have great anthropological and literary appeal," John Logan, who wrote the screenplay for Sinbad, said in a telephone interview. "But most importantly, we wanted our Sinbad movie to be a fun ride."

Unknown Origins

The classic tome The One Thousand and One Nights, or The Arabian Nights, as it came to be known, dates back to the 10th century, and could be seen as a valuable source of Middle Eastern social history. But the origin of the stories remains a literary mystery. No one knows who first told them—or where.

Despite its name, The Arabian Nights has its roots not only in the Arab world, but also in India and Persia (the region that is now present-day Iran). Some chroniclers believe the tales first appeared in Hazarafsaneh ("A Thousand Stories"), a collection of Persian folktales, though academic opinion is divided.

The tales—which include Ali Baba and the famous story of the 40 thieves and Aladdin and his magic lamp—may have originated from true stories, which were then embellished over time for entertainment value.

The stories of courage and strength became hugely popular in the Middle East. The exotic and romantic imagery also provided great inspiration for Western travelers of the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1858, British explorer Richard Burton, who once disguised himself as a Muslim to gain access to Islam's holiest sites, completed an English translation of The Arabian Nights.

The Swashbuckling Rogue

Sinbad popped up in several Hollywood movies in the 1940s and 50s, and he featured in Roy Harryhausen's cult classic stop-motion animated films.

Continued on Next Page >>


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