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Feature


Following years of successfully buying and releasing multi-part, made-for-television adaptations of T.H. White, Lewis Carroll, Frank Baum and J. M. Barrie’s most famous works, the Syfy (ugh…) Network aired Sky Movie’s rather sci-fi-free adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. This version, which takes some liberties and expands upon the original novel, follows young Jim Hawkins (Toby Regbo), who takes to the seas with family friend Dr. David Livesey (Daniel Mays) in search of a legendary island known for buried treasure. They board a ship headed by a proud and cruel man named John Trelawney, where Jim befriends a mysterious cook named John Silver (Eddie Izzard), whose true motivation on the journey challenges Jim’s trust in the entire crew.

Treasure Island (2012)
Treasure Island is directed by ‘80s music video prodigy Steve Barron, who is best known for medium-budget, rubber effects-heavy, ‘90s releases, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Coneheads. However, I’m guessing his involvement here has a lot more to do with his made-for-television miniseries work, which includes Merlin (1998) and Arabian Nights (2000). Barron is a workman director with a solid sense of visual control, which does a lot to cover this mini-series’ lack of blockbuster budget. He doesn’t go out of his way to make the film his own, but does a decent job of aping Gore Verbinski’s particularly Baroque Pirates of the Caribbean movies, which seem to have become the standard for which all swashbuckling cinema is now judged. Barron’s shortcomings lie mostly in his use of modern camera and editing techniques, including skipped frames, speed-ramps and shivery hand-held camera work. The traditional and modern styles simply do not blend attractively together for the more naturally-anchored first part of the story and the mix still hasn’t earned its place, even by the slightly more surrealistic second half. One gets the impression that perhaps Barron was more interested in making something a bit more experimental, while the producers had their hearts set on making something a bit more conventional, leaving the audience with something indecisive and awkward.

This odd little surprise of a review disc was especially strange for me, having just reviewed the 10th anniversary release of Disney’s Treasure Planet. This animated film takes the basics of Stevenson’s novel and applies them (kind of boringly, but very prettily) to science fiction conventions. I suppose I was expecting something more of a ‘re-imagining,’ based on newly instilled memories of the Disney film and the story qualities of Nick Willing’s Tin Man and Alice, both classic literature adaptations that originally aired on Syfy, back when it was called Sci-Fi. Obviously Barron and screenwriter Stewart Harcourt aren’t Nick Willing, but the channel’s title does lead one to certain assumptions. This is probably my biggest problem with the entire movie --– it’s such a bland adaptation that it’s made mostly moot by its lack of ambition. It has grit and grime no other filmed version of the story has featured and the runtime allows Barron to film more of the story, but otherwise seems to be content going through the motions. It’s also hard to defend the choice to make such an elongated feature, because there’s an awful lot of easily clipped fat on display here (any scene featuring Jim’s mother, Meg Hawkins, is probably a good place to start).

Treasure Island (2012)
I had little interest in yet another adaptation of Stevenson’s story, and, like most of you, Barron isn’t exactly a director I tend to follow, but who doesn’t want to see Eddie Izzard flexing his acting muscle beyond its usual constraints? We already knew he was a comedic genius, and he’s proven himself a decent dramatic actor recently, but he’s never really done an imposing character before. The best John Silvers should be able to turn on a dime from fatherly warmth to genuinely intimidating, all while believably hoodwinking the protagonists without making them look like idiots. For his part Izzard is good here, but the screenplay limits him and, unfortunately, his stand-up comedy personality (the jokes, not the cross-dressing), which will always make it a little difficult to see him as a hardened type (though I suppose his Silver is ultimately never really presented as a tough guy). Lead Toby Regbo isn’t the standout he needs to be, but shows possible signs of future greatness with a decent range. Viewers on the lookout for Sutherland won’t want to blink in during the opening sequence or the final minutes or they might miss him, but Elijah Wood fans should be satisfied with his diminished capacity performance as the mad man, Ben Gunn.

Treasure Island (2012)

Video


I can’t find any specs online, but I’m assuming Barron and cinematographer Ulf Brantås shot Treasure Island using digital HD cameras, based on the general lack of grain and noise. This transfer’s most consistent issues surround the darkness of the photography. I assume this soft, candle-lit look was intended, but there are sequences that definitely suffer from a lack of sharp highlights, creating a muddy swath of black and brown. Cramming 183 minutes onto a single disc does lead to some issues with compression artefacts, though these remain relatively minor outside of banding and blocking effects, most of which are delegated to the less-defined background images. The blown-out quality of many of the background whites also leads to some odd edge artefacts that make even the set-shot footage appear green-screen enhanced. Early in the film colours are often desaturated, especially in the darker scenes with an emphasis on either earthy greens and browns (night and under decks), or softer yellows and blues (perpetually magic hour daylight). Poppy elements are relatively rare, but there are some rich red elements that stand apart with only minimal digital noise issues. When the crew arrives on the island, the greens and reds begin to take control and overall the photography turns much more vibrant (though I notice an odd lack of blue overall, which makes this a bit more, sigh, orange and teal).

Treasure Island (2012)

Audio


This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack doesn’t feature any notable problems, but does suffer a bit of made-for-TV disease. It’s a busy track with plenty of effects and music, but everything is a bit thinly layered and effects often sound ‘canned.’  Dialogue volume levels are consistent and centered, assuming they’re meant to be centered. When characters are speaking off-screen their voices are appropriately positioned in the stereo or surround channels. Other stereo and surround work includes basic seafaring effects (creaking wood, rushing water), a handful of shoot-out/battle scenes (gunshots, clanging swords) and desert island ambience (wind in the trees, more water, loud birds, Elijah Wood screaming crazily from off-screen). One of the better audio-heavy sequences is a sort of musical scene where the crew sings a morale-boosting song. Here, the on-screen vocals mix with Antony Genn and Martin Slattery’s score and the sounds of the ocean warmly, subtly, and with rich LFE enhancement. However, at the end of the song the score takes over, the track turns to something much more aurally flimsy, and the bulk of the LFE enhancement all but disappears. Despite problems like these I found the music to be one of the film’s more impressive elements.

Treasure Island (2012)

Extras


The extras begin with a feature (series?) length commentary track by director Steve Barron and star Eddie Izzard. Despite Izzard’s brilliant ability to work off the cuff throughout his career, this track is a rather long dirge through facts and figures with both participants seeming to be basically uninterested in the process. Izzard does include a few behind the scenes bobs that have little or nothing to do with the film itself, but for the most part no one is too concerned with entertainment value. The whisper-soft Barron mostly defers to Izzard (when they aren’t stumbling over each other), who, interestingly enough, appears to have been a strong force in making the feature. I appreciated the occasional humour and any note of the differences between the book and this adaptation (it has been way too long since I read it to trust my memory at this point), but overall the experience was extensively dull, and I have to admit that I gave up before I made my way through the epic runtime. I will give the track credit for its general lack of blank space, at least in the bits I listened to.

Other extras include The Making of Treasure Island EPK (4:00, HD), featuring behind the scenes footage and interviews, separate cast interviews with Izzard (2:50, HD), Elijah Wood (3:10, HD), Toby Regbo (2:10, HD), and Philip Glenister & Rupert Penry-Jones (2:00, HD), A Tour of the Hispaniola (2:00, HD) with marine coordinator Dan Malone, Anatomy of a Stunt (1:20, HD) with stunt coordinator Manny Siverio and actor Geoff Bell, a trailer, and trailers for other SyFy programming.

Treasure Island (2012)

Overall


Treasure Island follows the lead set by so many other two-part, made for British TV movies (many of which also aired on Syfy) – it’s well made, looks pretty good (considering its budget) and features some fine performances, but also carries on way too long. If it ran an hour or two shorter I’d have an easier time recommending it, though I’d still question why, exactly, the filmmakers felt the need to retell this oft-told story. This Blu-ray suffers some minor video issues (likely due to cramming 180 minutes of movie onto a single disc), sounds average for type, and features a few disappointing extras, including a disappointing commentary track with the director Steve Barron and star Eddie Izzard.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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