I've always thought Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" is one of the most timeless adventure stories written and it has probably been the book solely responsible for the entire Pirate romanticism that has permeated media for generations. Few people really think of pirates as actual criminals, murderers, thieves and violent gangs who stopped at nothing to get what they wanted, including the rape, torture and killing of women and children. Instead, we think of pirates as adventurers who are willing to give their lives for a few coins of gold, ruled by some code of honor that never really existed. Cruising the azure seas of the Caribbean we glorify them in many ways, and "Treasure Island" has been part of that myth - if not the actual source. Here now, we have a new two-part television mini-series of the book, giving the material a much deserved facelift.
After the death of his father, Jim Hawkins (Toby Regbo) is doing his best to help his mother (Shirley Henderson) support their little livelihood, an inn in the middle of nowhere, England. One day man appears on their doorstep, haunted by unseen ghosts and spooked by everything around him, Billy Bones (David Harewood) is clearly on the run from someone and may not be the perfect house guest, but at least he pays for his food and lodging. One day, however, he is found out, and soon a group of pirates descend upon the inn, searching for a treasure map that Bones had been hiding. Jim manages to grab the map and he and his mother disappear into the night before the pirates can kill them. They flee to the only person that could help them, family friend Dr Livesey (Daniel Mays).
With the fabled Captain Flint's (Donald Sutherland) treasure map in their possession, they realize that they could become rich beyond their dreams and decide to hunt for the treasure themselves. With the financial help of Squire Trelawney (Rupert Penry-Jones) they buy a ship, hire a crew and a captain and set out to sea.
Little do they know that half their crew consists of Captain Flint's old crew. Lead by the charismatic Long John Silver (Eddie Izzard), the pirate crew is waiting for the right moment to strike, to obtain the map and to get the treasure for themselves - at any cost!
I enjoyed this version of "Treasure Island" quite a bit. Like most TV mini-series it is a bit slow at times, just stretching things a bit for additional air time, but overall, the story was told in an engaging manner that was captivating and built as it went along. A lot of it has to be attributed to the cast of the film. Eddie Izzard is clearly pivotal for the success of this film, as the entire plot revolves around his John Silver character. He is the glue that keeps the pirates in check while also playing on the much smarter playing field of the military strategists that make up the ship's officers. Izzard is witty, funny and at the same time dangerous. With his bald, tattooed head, his piercing bright eyes and his calculating diction, he commands the screen every moment he is in it.
But the rest of the cast is also putting in marvelous performances to bring this story to life. Richer and more lively than any film version of the book I have ever seen, this film goes deeper than just entertaining for pleasure's sake, but also explores the moral dilemmas of the various situations of the numerous double-dealing characters.
Elijah Wood appears in the film as Ben Gunn, a character that plays a smaller role, but is key to the unfolding of the film's story, of course. Slightly on the crazy side, this is a fun part for Elijah, giving him the chance to show a different side of himself, one that is less controlled than Frodo ever was, and it was great to see him excel in the part.
GAIAM Vivendi is presenting the movie in a 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer on this disc. The transfer is clean throughout without a hint of blemish or speckles. Unfortunately, however, the studio decided to squeeze the entire three-hour movie on a single disc, along with a number of bonus materials. As a result, I am sad to report that the presentation does contain a variety of compression artifacts. Banding is the most evident of them, as night time scenes show clear delineations of banded color gradients that shift through the picture like ghosts. Since a good deal of the film is playing at night and in dark environments, it was a notable letdown that was very evident. Sadly, I had no access to the Blu-Ray version of the film to see how that turned out by comparison. It may have handled to material somewhat better, but that's just a guess.
Overall level of detail is good, though not spectacular. Colors are strong and generally bold, bringing out the lush colors of the island, along with the rich blues of the ocean-faring scenes.
The release features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track in English. While closed captioned, the release does not contain subtitles, which is a major oversight in my opinion, in this day and age.
Among the bonus materials on the release you will find a commentary track with Eddie Izzard and director Steve Barron as they discuss the movie in quite some detail.
Also included is a making-of featurette, interviews, a tour of the hip, and other little tidbits.
I enjoyed this version of "Treasure Island" quite a bit and if you are a fan of the book or are just in the mood for a cool pirate movie, do give this release a try.