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Rip roaring adventure
on December 11, 2003
Mysterious Island was always a favorite Harryhausen film of mine as a kid. The screenplay and direction (like those for The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and The Argonauts)is top notch. Director Cy Endfield has a solid cast and the pacing along with Bernard Herrmann's classic score creates an eerie and, well, mysterious feeling for most of the movie. The stand out in the cast is, of course, the marvelous and under rated Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo. If you haven't seen the film, I'd rather not spoil the third act of the film for you so won't go into too much detail.
The Civil War is tearing America apart. A small group of Union soldiers and a reporter escape a military prison during the seige of Richmond, Virginia. They also have a There's a scouting balloon just outside the prison walls. As the attack rages, the prisoners escape in the balloon. They are washed up ashore on an uncharted island with a brewing volcano.
It's not ordinary island (no surprise)though as they discover a giant crab and later, giant bees, chickens and other creatures. They're joined in their Robinson Crusoe adventure by a couple of women who are later washed ashore from a shipwreck. They soon discover the origin of the giant beasts and some nasty news about the volcano as well.
The cast gives a good performance. Gary Merrill (best known for All About Eve and former husband of Betty Davis) and Michael Callan are the most recognizable faces. Callan was a regular in a number of movies and television shows as a supporting actor. Joan Greenwood also gives a convincing performance as well. Still, the stand out here is the brooding performance as Herbert Lom. Lom always managed to raise the bar in any film he appeared in.
The screenplay (for those that are interested)isn't all that faithful to Verne's novel. The basic premise is drawn from his novel.
The transfer is pretty good although not stellar. Given the use of traveling mattes, matte paintings and other optical effects the image is occasionally grainy and indistinct. There's quite a bit of compression artifacts due to the grainy stock that was used to shoot the film and the multiple exposures for optical effects. Still, over all, the print looks pretty good. There's also some analog artifacts as well but these are mostly in the war sequence at the beginning which were clearly drawn from stock footage in the Columbia library (much as Jason used stock footage for the attack at the beginning and Sinbad for the longshot of the ship passing in the fog. In the latter film its pretty clear as the crew can be seen wearing 18 century sailor garb if one looks carefully).
As it has been noted in previous reviews the soundtrack is in mono and sounds a bit flat. My guess is that, perhaps, Columbia used a different master for the video version of Mysterious Island or just compressed the heck out of it and boosted the bass to make it sound acceptable for video. The sound is quite good but Herrmann's score is in mono here. It would be nice if Columbia could go back to the original orchestral masters to remix and master this but I'm not sure if the original elements are event available.
The extras are quite nice. The Making of Mysterious Island is quite informative as is the vintage "This is Dynamation" featurette included. The photo gallery and theatrical trailers are an improvement over previously issued Harryhausen DVDs. While this isn't quite up to the quality of, say, the Criterion Jason and The Argonauts laserdisc released a decade ago, it's an improvement over many of the vintage films being dumped onto the market for DVD.
All told this is a pretty good (although not perfect) package from Columbia and a noble effort to release vintage films with extras on DVD.