Stranded (2002)
Artisan Entertainment
Cast: Liam Cunningham

After recently revisiting Disney’s 1960 version of "The Swiss Family Robinson" I was quite eager to check out this Hallmark Entertainment television miniseries of the same story. While the Disney film is a lot of fun and remains my favorite retelling of Johann Wyss’ story, "Stranded" offers a much more serious look at the events that befell the ill-fated Robinson family.

When David (Liam Cunningham), the patriarch of the Robinson clan, is sentenced to time served in the penal colony at New South Wales for proselytizing his fervent religious beliefs, his wife Lara (Brana Bajic) petitions to have the family join him and soon they and their sons Fritz (Jesse Spencer), Ernst (Neil Newbon), and Jacob (Andrew Lee-Potts) and their daughter Sarah (Emma Pierson) find themselves aboard a British ship caught in a fierce storm. When the rest of the crew and prisoners abandon ship all the Robinsons save for young Jacob stay aboard to rescue the trapped Sarah.

Through some miracle, the ship founders on a reef not far from a deserted island and the Robinsons are able to swim ashore and set about making themselves comfortable. While the rest of the family is eager to be rescued, the father has dreams of making a life there on the island where he can practice his own brand of religion without persecution. His unyielding nature places the family in grave danger and only when the threat of death intrudes does he begin to see the error of his ways.

A jump in the film of seven years finds the Robinsons doing quite well for themselves on the island while youngest son Jacob is now sailing with some South Seas pirates. The physical and philosophical conflicts that surround Jacob’s inevitable reunification with his family provide the film with some real gravity and a very fitting and rousing conclusion.

My only major complaint is that the film seems to be padded in order to fill the extended runtime required for a miniseries. There are long passages where nothing of note happens and far too many extended shots of the admittedly beautiful Thai scenery. I often found myself reaching for the fast forward button but other than that minor nit the film really is quite good.

Presented in 1.77:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> "Stranded" looks pretty good on DVD. The image is fairly sharp and colors are wonderfully vibrant as is befitting the exotic settings. But black levels tend to waver in the many nighttime scenes and there are some unfortunate instances of compression artifacts (the storm during the opening credits is quite blocky in appearance). In addition, film grain comes and goes throughout the film and the lack of any consistency makes it all the more noticeable. Still, "Stranded" looks decent enough and the transfer aptly conveys the beauty of the locations.

Audio comes in an English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 Surround mix that lacks the discrete nature of a 5.1 soundtrack but still manages to be quite immersive. Dynamic range is very good with clear highs and ample deep bass. Surrounds are used to good effect where appropriate and dialogue is always crystal clear.

There are no extras on the disc which is a good thing considering the long runtime. Even with no bonus features or alternate audio tracks digital artifacting is clearly evident so I shudder to think what the video would have looked like with even less space allotted for the transfer.

"Stranded" is a well-made adaptation of a very well-known yet seldom read story. While a bit weak at times, this new adaptation still manages to bring many new experiences to the oft-told tale and is able to keep the viewer engaged throughout most of the 3-hour runtime. Certainly well worth a rental, Artisan’s solid DVD presentation of this Hallmark production is a keeper for those who dream of the life of a cast away.