Mysterious Island
Director: Russell Mulcahy

Director: Cy Endfield

Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet

Directors: Lucien Hubbard,
Benjamin Christiensen & Maurice Tourneur

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Mysterious IslandT three & a half hour dvd of Mysterious Island (2005) was originally a two part mini-series for the Hallmark Channel. Thailand stands in for the Mysterious Island. Kyle MacLauchlan is Captain Cyrus Smith who escapes with others from a American Civil War prison camp by balloon & (just as happened in Jules Verne's novel) is then blown most improbably from the Atlantic seaboard to the South Pacific where they land in the place that Captain Nemo calls home.

Nemo is played by Patrick Stewart, who together with his sweety Joseph (Roy Anthony Mould) wear very faggoty hats & look at one another meaningly, Joseph being the wife of the partnership trying to keep his butch captain from doing anything too evil while pursuing his dream of inventing a super-weapon so super that mutually insured destruction will begin a century sooner than actually happened. Captain Smith knows the world will destroy itself, but half-crazed Captain Nemo thinks universal terror will ring in an era of peace.

The lengthy teleplay has all the faults one would expect of a miniseries but worse since the Hallmark Channel tends toward the infantile when not being merely preachy. Set design is "pretty good for a telefilm" & Nemo's bat cave (complete with theme song that sounds awfully like the theme from the Batman movies) is more convincing than most of the many caves visited in sundry Star Trek shows; but look at them too much & they become fairly minimalist. The submarine Nautillus is kinda cool though seemingly much larger on the inside than the outside. Nemo keeps it parked in the cave & never uses it, not even to escape from the Island when the volcano goes kaboom.

Mysterious IslandPart One shows the escape to Mysterious Island where right off the bat a giant preying mantis bites the head off the only "extra" character who came along. The rest of the cast were needed for the story si all encounters with giant bugs that follow are pretty easily dealt with. Part One also pretty much assumes there is only one example of each giant thingy, but in Part Two they corrected that assumption as there were lots of big spiders.

The bugs aren't badly animated compared to Saturday morning cartoons, but one curiosity is how the opening scenes of the film manage never to show the balloon, but only the basket that is rocking in front of the camera with people in it. If the FX crew could give the film one giant scorpion, one truly goofy giant mosquito, one not-at-all-bad giant preying mantis, one ultra-cartoony giant cobra, why the heck couldn't they show the balloon? The cheapness of the film just about does it in even as a kiddy flick.

I liked that Nemo & Joseph made googoo eyes at one another in what seemed to be a private joke between gay actors rather than a directorial choice, but the more overt romance between Captain Smith & the Civil War nurse (Gabriel Anwar) was so tepid the kiddies watching this thing might not even realize there's a love story in it.

Scanty & mediocre though the giant bug animation happens to be, these provide a few good seconds of fun at long intervals. Part II however doesn't give so much, devolving into a bad pirate movie where the pirates are such exaggerative cliches it's a wonder none of them say "harrrr matey" & carry stuffed parrots on their shoulders Monty Python style. But to give Vinnie Jones his due as Pirate Bob, the goofy fun he's having hamming it up as an absurdist villain is sometimes infectious.

Mysterious IslandThe pirate assault on Mysterious Island is quite careful never to be scary or violent & it's one long yawner until there's a joke with a squid tentacle & finally that's all over & we can have a climax that involves shooting lots of giant spiders which are as convincing as the giant spiders in most other giant spider movies. In all, this version of the Jules Verne classic failed to live up to even my low expectation.

The reason I watched this bad thing to the very end is because it had Kyle & Patrick in it & I can look at them very happily even in bad films.

Plus I always so adored the 1961 version driven by the stop-motion animation FX of Ray Harryhausen, artistic master of the form, & there's always a temptation to compare a newer version to that excellent film.

It has an effective score from Bernard Hermann. And instead of cheezy CGI insects one at a time like the easily squashed giant mosquito of the Hallmark Channel miniseries, Harryhausen gives us a truly scary bee hive with our best-liked characters getting sealed in a waxy chamber.

Mysterious IslandCredibly animated puppets include the infamous flightless chicken & a terrifying crab that looks so real because Harryhausen used actual crabs, which he afterward ate.

Also the balloon escape that launches the adventure is a visual marvel, as what kind of retarded Hallmark Channel filmmaker would it have taken to have a balloon escape in a movie & never manage to show the balloon. The timing of Harryhausen's FX is such that action never flags, but the story carrying the film from one spectacular event to the next is fully engaging.

Mysterious IslandThe fifteen-chapter serial version of Mysterious Island (1951) directed by Spencer Gorden Bennet featured Leonard Penn as Captain Nemo, Richard Crane as Captain Cyrus Harding, Gene Roth as the pirate, Terry Frost as the wild man.

Set during the American Civil War as in the Jules Verne original, & beginning with a flight out of the Deep South by balloon, little beyond that resembles Verne.

Amidst much else there's a conquering Princess Rulu (Karen Randle) from outer space & a savage lost race called the Volcano People. It mixes Buck Rogers with Jules Verne & if you already know how silly Columbia serials could be & you like them anyway, this one's par for the course.

Mysterious IslandThe wonderfully silly 1929 version starred Lionel Barrymore, Montagu Love, Jane Daly, & Lloyd Hughes. The submarine journey was originally in two-strip Technicolor, though the color version does not survive. Plus the largely silent film has sound sequences. It cost four million dollars to make & recouped only a tiny fragment of its investment, so was a pricy gamble MGM would not again make for many years.

Count Dakkar (Barrymore) has founded a technologically advanced utopian city near a Graustarkian nation. When things go awry there are battles with a sea serpent, a giant squid, a battle between submarines, & an encounter with an underwater city populated by an unknown race of humanoids called Ictholites & which are the cutest damned things, kind of like the Teletubbies crossed with Donald Duck.

Some of the finest early special effects are in this film, & even after all these many decades it is less unconvincing than low-grade CGI FX for cable TV.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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