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STUDIO Vivendi Entertainment
RUNNING TIME 183 minutes
• Commentary by Director Steve Barron and Director Eddie Izzard
• “Making Of” Featurette
• Cast Interviews
• A Tour of the Hispaniola
• Anatomy of a Stunt
Eddie Izzard as a pirate is not quite as fun as you’d expect.
Eddie Izzard, Elijah Wood, Toby Regbo, Donald Sutherland
Adventure heads to the high seas in this daring, gritty, and authentic re-imagining of the world’s most beloved pirate tale. When young Jim Hawkins (Toby Regbo) stumbles upon a coveted treasure map, he sets off on a frenzied voyage across tumultuous waters to find the legendary loot. Jim’s only friend aboard the ship is a charismatic Cook named Silver (Eddie Izzard), whose real motives soon become deadly clear.
When a DVD case has a sticker on the front that proclaims “As Seen on SyFy”, that’s usually somewhat of a deterrent. Luckily, Treasure Island wasn’t made for SyFy. It’s a British production, made to air on the UK’s Sky1 Channel. So rest assured, this ain’t no Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. Treasure Island may have its problems, but when it comes to TV movies you could do a lot worse.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate adventure has been adapted countless times. Hell, even The Muppets took a pass at it back in ’96. This latest adaptation is directed by Irish director Steve Barron, who has a long list of music videos under his belt, including the classic video for A-ha’s “Take On Me”. He also directed the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and The Coneheads, oddly enough).
What’s immediately intriguing about this adaptation is the decision to cast Eddie Izzard as Long John Silver. “You mean that English comedian who dresses up in drag?” Yeah, that guy. I’ve been a huge fan of Izzard’s comedy for a few years now, but I was unaware that Treasure Island had even happened until I saw it on the shelf at my local big-box store.
As far as plot beats go, this adaptation is mostly faithful to the novel. The greatest deviation is a shift in the motivation of several major characters. If you consider the book to be sacred, you probably won’t like these additions. Screenwriter Stewart Harcourt takes Stevenson’s basic adventure and turns it into a fable about greed and moral ambiguity. While I think these might be some interesting concepts to inject into the narrative, some of these changes are clumsily executed.
For instance, Squire Trelawney, who is quite benevolent in the novel, is a greedy bastard in this adaptation. While I don’t see much wrong with emphasizing his greed, this choice ultimately messes with the narrative structure of the third act. When our heroes discover the treasure, it doesn’t feel like a triumph, since the story’s climax happens later in this adaptation.
The film’s acting is also a bit spotty. The extremely talented Eddie Izzard gets top billing here, but his performance as Long John Silver is somewhat reserved. It’s not a poor performance, but Izzard could’ve gone for something much more special. The same goes for Elijah Wood, who plays the slightly crazy Ben Gunn. Again, he’s not bad, but Wood doesn’t really go for it.
David Harewood’s performance as Billy Bones doesn’t work at all due to a bizarre accent. Donald Sutherland strangely slurs through his cameo as Captain Flint. On a brighter note, however, the young Toby Regbo is surprisingly good as Jim Hawkins. I think he’s got a very bright future ahead of him.
At three hours, Treasure Island is spread very thin. The film has a good deal of fat, mostly related to a subplot about Jim’s mother. The film continues to cut back to her story, even though it doesn’t drive the narrative forward. It just ends up feeling like the film is needlessly long, even though I watched it in several sittings.
Another odd thing about Treasure Island is the camera work. Director Steve Barron seems to love shooting in handheld closeup, with an extremely shallow depth of field. The camera shakes and swerves unsteadily, going in and out of focus. This helps create a feverish, drunken, and claustrophobic feel. This technique is effective in several scenes, but it’s used so often that it becomes unwelcome. I frequently found myself wishing for wider shots, especially when the Hispaniola is sailing on the high seas.
While Treasure Island has its share of issues, it’s certainly much better than most of the made-for-TV movies we’re getting these days. Sure, it could’ve used some bolder performances and tighter edit. And yeah, the camera work could’ve been better. I’m pleased to report, however, that you could do a lot worse than Treasure Island.
The video quality on the disc is fairly impressive. Colors are extremely vivid and saturated, the blacks are deep, and the sharpness is pretty nice for standard definition. The 5.1 audio track is a huge disappointment, since there’s hardly any ambience. This could’ve been a knockout audio track if the sound design had placed more emphasis on ambiance and atmosphere.
As far as special features are concerned, this disc is pretty light. The “Making Of” featurette is only a few minutes long and doesn’t reveal much. The additional cast interviews help to flesh it out, but you’ll see some repeated footage. “A Tour of the Hispaniola” introduces us to the film’s marine coordinator, and he gives us a brief story about how the production had to sail the actual ship from Ireland to Puerto Rico to shoot the island scenes. “Anatomy of a Stunt” very briefly details a single stunt from the film. I would have rather seen all of these short featurettes edited into one longer documentary, because they mostly feel like fluff. The best feature on the disc is the commentary by Steve Barron and Eddie Izzard, who reveal the most interesting facts about the making of Treasure Island.