Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mysterious Island (1961)

Director: Cy Endfield

Writers: John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, Crane Wilbur, Jules Verne

Composer: Bernard Herrmann

starring: Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, Herbert Lom, Beth Rogan, Percy Herbert, Dan Jackson, Harry Monty

More info: IMDb

Tagline: adventure! mystery! excitement!

Plot: During the US Civil War, Union POWs escape in a balloon and end up stranded on a South Pacific island, inhabited by giant plants and animals. They must use their ingenuity to survive the dangers, and to devise a way to return home.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Maybe.

This one has some ups and downs.  The downs are the poor dialogue, performances (except for Lom) and some shoddily written scenes.  The good is, of course, the Ray Harryhausen special effects and Bernard Herrmann's score.  Harryhausen's stop motion work is always a treat regardless of what movie frames it.  One cool thing they did in this one was to take an actual crab, gut it and add the stop motion armature to it.  No wonder it looked so real.  The story is pretty ho-hum until Captain Nemo (Lom) shows up.  That's when it suddenly got better and a hell of a lot more interesting. Sadly that's only in the last 26 minutes.  The effects for anything but the stop motion are at times really shoddy.  Normally I turn a blind eye to it but there's such a huge divide between the stop motion work (OUTSTANDING!) to the incorporation of the matte paintings.  The models are great but when some of it is processed with the live action stuff it looks cheap.  I'm honestly not looking at this through the eyes of a 21st Century movie fan as I have a great deal of respect for these artists.  But there's something oddly cheap about this as if most of the money was spent on different aspect of the effects. Just look at how wonderful the effects were all around on JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) just two years later or even THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) which predates this picture.  Anyway, it was still fun watching this on a pretty big screen despite its flaws.  I'm going to cut loose with the Columbia DVD.  Maybe someday there will be a nice Blu-ray box set of these Harryhausen pictures.  I might give it another spin if that happens.  This DVD has trailers for MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (all fullscreen). The other extras include the three and a half minute featurette, "THIS IS DYNAMATION" (non-anamorphic widescreen), which seems to be on every Harryhausen DVD.  It's a great little piece about the effects from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.  You also get the excellent featurette, THE HARRYHAUSEN CHRONICLES (58 minutes), narrated by Leonard Nimoy.  It's fullscreen and very informative as well as entertaining.  The last bit of fun is a 9 minute featurette on MYSTERIOUS ISLAND which is all Harryhausen talking about how they did what they did on this film.  He packs a lot of information in such a short time.  It's great.  This disc is highly recommended for fans of this kind of fantasy.  Even though the film has its shortcomings, the extras make it worth the price of the disc.

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