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A small, motley group of soldiers and civilians flee the 1865 siege of Richmond via a hot air balloon, and end up on an isolated island crawling with over-sized crabs, birds, and bees. Even more astonishing, they discover three other humans inhabiting the island: two shipwrecked women and the illustrious, long-lost Captain Nemo. Based on the 1870 novel by Jules Verne.
For more about Mysterious Island and the Mysterious Island Blu-ray release, see Mysterious Island Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 14, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Michael Craig, Gary Merrill, Michael Callan, Joan Greenwood, Herbert Lom, Percy Herbert
Director: Cy Endfield
» See full cast & crew
Mysterious Island Blu-ray Review
No mystery here: it's fantastic.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 14, 2011
Salt Lake City wasn't exactly the most progressive place to spend the first ten years or so of my life, but the somewhat backward, change resistant environment there actually was a fantastic benefit for my film going experience. Probably at least fifteen to twenty years after the practice had ceased to be regular in larger, more supposedly forward thinking metropolises, Salt Lake City still had neighborhood theaters that offered Saturday kids' shows, where hours and hours of entertainment could be had for a dollar or so, including tons of cartoons, old serials like Batman or Flash Gordon from the thirties and forties, and then, to cap it all off, usually a double feature of completely unrelated films. It was at such a theater in a little neighborhood known as Sugar House in Salt Lake City that I first stared in wide eyed wonder at the iconic films of Ray Harryhausen. This was obviously well before the days of CGI, and even before the then revolutionary special effects of films like Star Wars, and even though I and the rest of my little friends were aware that the Harryhausen techniques had a slightly choppy appearance some of the time, we were blown away by the sight of everything from marauding skeletons to mutant animals to flying saucers. It's amazing what images can be more or less permanently imprinted on a young, probably five or six year old, mind, but watching Mysterious Island on Blu-ray instantly took me back to my very young childhood, and when I was greeted by the opening scenes of the escapees' long balloon ride and then their incredible battle with the gigantic crab, it was like time traveling back more years than I care to admit to a simpler time, when such special effects wizardry wasn't the exclusive purview of technicians with a computer mouse and animation software.
Jules Verne's works of fantasy had provided filmmakers source elements since the earliest days of the silents, but Verne's oeuvre had a renaissance of sorts starting in the fifties when Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea became a surprise smash, breaking box office records and proving that the magic Disney touch could extend into live action dramatic fare, not just animated wonderments. Of course 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea features one of the characters who also shows up in Mysterious Island, the enigmatic Captain Nemo, played in the Disney film by James Mason, but in the Charles H. Schneer-Ray Harryhausen opus by Herbert Lom. Nemo's pedigree is much more fleshed out in the Verne novels, and neither 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea nor Mysterious Island really frankly capitalizes on some of the depth and nuance of the character which Verne sought to inhabit him with, but the interesting thing is in Mysterious Island Nemo is more or less a good guy, albeit one with some "issues" and certain "mad scientist" proclivities which spell danger for our island castaways.
Mysterious Island is built around a daring escape by some Union soldiers who are prisoners of war during the siege of Richmond. They manage to break out of their Confederate prison and commandeer a weather balloon which takes them aloft, but which is caught in ferocious winds of a freak storm, depositing them thousands of miles out at sea on the titular landmass. The cast of characters includes Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig), war correspondent Gideon Spilett (Gary Merrill), an African American Corporal named Neb (Dan Jackson), a young recruit named Herbert Brown (Michael Callan) who is fighting recurrent fear of battle, and a Confederate tagalong named Sergeant Pencroft (Percy Herbert), whom the Union crew allow to stay on the balloon since Pencroft is the only one who knows how to operate the device. After this haphazard assemblage crash lands on the island, they're joined by two survivors of a shipwreck, Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her nubile ward Elena Fairchild (Beth Rogan).
While there are obviously lots of humans on Mysterious Island, it's the magnificent creations of Ray Harryhausen, nary a human among them, that make the film such a delightful example of the "Super Dynamation" stop action process that has made Harryhausen's name synonymous with an old school, but incredibly impressive, branch of special effects. It turns out that Captain Nemo has been on the island for years doing a series of experiments which has led to a bunch of mutant creatures roaming around the island, and our castaways repeatedly come into contact with these beasts in some of the film's fantastic set pieces. Early in the film we have an unbelievably visceral fight with a gigantic crab, certainly one of Harryhausen's most believable creations. Later interactions with a prehistoric bird, a humongous bee, and an antediluvian octopus fill the screen with a lot of spectacle and childlike wonder. Yes, it's old fashioned, and it certainly isn't as smooth and shiny as today's CGI, but perhaps for that very reason, it's all the more impressive. When we see one of Harryhausen's bees seal Callan and Rogan inside a honeycomb by putting little bits of wax over the opening, one can't help but think of the enormous time and effort that must have gone into crafting a sequence of such delicacy.
Cy Endfield was a director who never really catapulted into the front rank of helmsman, despite some fairly spectacular work in at least a few of his films, notably Zulu and Sands of the Kalahari. But it may be Mysterious Island which best shows off Endfield's talents, with a number of really impressively staged sequences, and not only those utilizing Harryhausen's special effects wizardry. Endfield keeps the film moving along briskly and he also does a good job with a rather disparate group of actors. The film does have a few sticking points, notably its final fifteen minutes or so, which just kind of seem pasted together and have little cohesion or narrative flow. But these are fairly minor qualms in what still remains one of the most fun and exciting Harryhausen outings, one that can instantly transport any viewer back to a childhood sense of wonder and magic.
Mysterious Island Blu-ray, Video Quality
Mysterious Island is presented on Blu-ray courtesty of Twilight Time with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.67:1. This second Blu-ray release by Twilight Time, and the first of their Blu-ray titles licensed from Columbia, looks largely spectacular in high definition, certainly heads and shoulders above any previous home video release of this title. The bulk of the film is incredibly colorful, sharp and extremely well detailed. (In one of the odd things I noticed for the first time after having seen this film countless times through the years, the film's credits themselves list the film as having been shot in Technicolor, while quite a bit of the promotional material state it's in Eastmancolor by Pathé, though in those days Technicolor often processed dye transfers from Eastmancolor negatives, so perhaps that's the case here, and I'd be delighted to hear from anyone who knows for sure). Be that as it may, colors are incredibly robust and beautifully saturated throughout the film. As is to be expected, the opticals featuring Harryhausen's special effects work look quite soft by comparison with the rest of the film, with the added grain and occasionally dirt that the optical printing process brings with it, and this film is fairly grainy even in non-effects sequences. There are also a couple of odd, non-effects, anomalies where the image is noticeably softer and grainier than the bulk of the film, almost as if 16mm elements had been interpolated, but these moments are very brief and overall not a major distraction from what is a gorgeous and precise looking transfer.
Mysterious Island Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Mysterious Island has three audio options if you include the supplemental isolated score (one of the hallmarks, and a much appreciated one by fans of great film music, of the Twilight Time releases). The two dialogue options are the original mono track presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as a nicely, if sparsely, immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 repurposing. The 5.1 re-do isn't overly gimmicky, though I personally didn't like the added boxiness of Craig's narration. Discrete channelization is used quite effectively in several sequences, including the opening battle and storm segments, as well as some of the special effects set pieces. The mono track sounds surprisingly spry in this DTS-HD Master Audio rendering, and both tracks offer some lustrous low end, courtesy of both Bernard Herrmann's brilliant score and some fantastic sound effects. Fidelity is very strong and dynamic range is exceptional on both of the DTS tracks.
Mysterious Island Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Mysterious Island Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's a tossup between Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts for my favorite Harryhausen film, and I'd be hard pressed to really come down firmly for one over the other. Mysterious Island may not have the narrative flow or mythic stature of Jason, but it's just so much fun most of the time that it hardly matters. It's an unsually sumptuous looking film, especially for what were typically modestly budgeted Schneer efforts, and it simply looks magnificent on this new Twilight Time Blu-ray. Though the supplemental material here is rather slim, it at least contains one of Twilight Time's calling cards, an isolated score, and this time it's one of Bernard Herrmann's most thrilling, made even more so by being presented in lossless audio. Highly recommended for kids of all ages.
Mysterious Island is available exclusively from Screen Archives.
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Mysterious Island Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: Mysterious Island - November 14, 2011
Blu-ray.com and Twilight Time are offering two Blu-ray.com members the opportunity to win a copy of Mysterious Island, the 1961 Cy Endfield film which featured spectacular special effects by the iconic Ray Harryhausen. Mysterious Island streeted on November ...
• Twilight Time Acquires Columbia Library Titles for Blu-ray (Updated) - August 31, 2011
Twilight Time, a specialty label which focuses on releasing vintage films previously unavailable on DVD, has struck a deal with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment to license and release classic films from the Sony-owned Columbia Pictures library in high-definition ...
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