Saturday, 8 June 2013

Mysterious Island (1961)

More high seas high jinx from Jules Verne with this sequel of two previous seabound adventures. Unfortunately this film isn't really too accurate with the source material but still keeps hold of a few major ideas. The story idea is ripe for utilizing Harryhausen's skills but I don't believe any of his large creations actually feature in the original novel? may be wrong.

The film/story has a familiar theme which...dare I say reminded me of 'The Wizard of Oz'. A group of northern US (Yankee) soldiers escape from a Confederate prison using a hot air balloon as their getaway vehicle. Once up in the air they enter into a huge nasty storm which carries them off uncontrollably into the unknown, that's the Oz theme right there. In time they spot land and crash down into the sea, welcome to the mysterious island.

Despite being one of Harryhausen's films this probably has the least amount of his work in a film. I'm not surprised seeing as everything he creates for the film didn't appear in the novel (I believe). That in mind you still can't deny how awesome the simple creatures are, the first that rears its head is a gigantic orange crab. Easily the best sequence in the film as the crab looks stunningly realistic in both visuals and movement. I guarantee just seeing images of this sequence will have you drooling to see the film...for fans of the genre.

After that it gets a bit sparse really, Harryhausen wise. The film plays out like a Swiss Family Robinson/Robinson Crusoe type affair, it has all the regular desert island motives and visual concepts you would come to expect. In all honesty after a great start and with the whole notion being so cool the film does become a little drab in the middle. Although the acting from all the cast is actually pretty good this time round. Joan Greenwood and her husky voice is the perfect English lady, Gary Merrill is a likeable all round regular Joe whilst Michael Craig plays the good looking no nonsense Captain.

Kudos to Herbert Lom as Nemo, despite looking like a Bond villain with his odd silvery white hairdo he's easily one of the best Nemo's alongside James Mason.

One thing I still don't get (in this film anyway) is the hot air balloon escape. One of the men in the balloon knows how to fly it, yet they still allow themselves to be blown away. He mentions how he knows how to land the balloon so why on earth didn't they land earlier? it seems they could of done what they wanted at any point, but they choose to float or drift off in the storm.

Anyway apart from the mighty crab sequence we don't get too much Harryhausen awesomeness. There is a nice small gigantic bumblebee sequence which again looks tremendous but you feel they could of done more with it, seems restrained. The last monster sized creature worth mentioning is the (again small) colossal cephalopod under the sea sequence which does seem to have been stuffed in there to maximize on the Nemo angle in the story. Not sure if its in the original novel but does this kind of beastie ever fail to win? no, no it doesn't, its always a thumbs up for giant sea monsters.

In all brutal honesty I was slightly disappointed with this film as I expected there to be tonnes of oversized creature madness. I've not read the novel and only ever seen snippets and images from this film which always looked so fudging cool (big crab! big crab!!).

Unfortunately the film isn't quite as excellent as hoped. Its not a bad film, although the matte painting against live action effects are very ropy, but it just doesn't quite feel as fantastic as it could of been. I think I may be letting other fantasy films of the time influence me too much, but it is quite Harryhausen-lite and lacking some much needed excitement at times. But visually its very pleasing to the eye.