Friday, May 10, 2013

Treasure Island Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
The Syfy Channel has released their own fresh, new spin on the classic tale, Treasure Island, featuring an all-star cast led by Eddie Izzard (“The Riches”, Ocean’s 12) as Long John Silver, Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) plays Ben Gunn, and Donald Sutherland (Pride and Prejudice, Ordinary People) portrays Flint.  Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling adventure story about fantastical treasure, youthful courage and murderous greed focuses on the young Jim Hawkins (played by Toby Regbo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 1), who is unexpectedly drawn into the world of piracy when he discovers a treasure map and finds himself battling Silver for the treasure.  Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jones) and Nina Sosanya (Love Actually) round out the Treasure Island cast.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

While Syfy isn’t known for quality movies, they seem to do better on adaptions that they do on their own original movies.  For example, if I had to choose between Tin Man or Mansquito, it would be an easy decision. Their adaption of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is one of their better efforts but not as good as it could have been.  This miniseries had all of the right elements to make a great remake, especially its great eclectic cast that includes Eddie Izzard, Donald Sutherland, and Elijah Wood.  It’s unfortunate that it was directed rather poorly by Steve Barron who unwisely tried to make it more hip with a bunch of jump cuts that undermines the series which jolts the viewer out of the historical narrative.
The basic story is all still here as it begins with Jim Hawkins (Toby Regbo) and his mother (Shirley Henderson) trying to make a living while operating a run down inn.  A strange pirate named Billy Bones (David Harewood) arrives with a pirate chest and he pays to stay at the inn and gives a little extra to Jim so that they boy will keep an eye out for any sea-going men.  Bones is scared to death that his former pirates will find him along with their leader Captain Flint (Donald Sutherland).  Bones unravels more and more as the days go by as his nerves can’t take the suspense of what might happen.  He starts drinking heavily and is therefore unprepared when one of Flint’s men finds him at the inn looking for Flint’s map that is supposed to lead to hidden treasure.
It’s not long before Bones is killed and Jim obtains the map which to him seems like a lifesaver.  He enlists help from his friend Dr. Livesey (Daniel Mays) and they persuade a wealthy benefactor, Squire Trelawney (Rupert Penry-Jones) to finance an expedition to find Flint’s missing treasure.  Since Trelawney refuses to wait any longer than necessary, the crew to man the ship is assembled quickly by Long John Silver (Eddie Izzard) who hand picks his own men.  Once the ship gets underway, Silver and his men start plotting to mutiny once the time is right.  For Silver’s men, there is no better time than the present, but Silver wants to wait until their chances are just right.
Silver had a good reason to want the treasure since Flint betrayed Silver and the rest of his crew, when he decided to keep all of the treasure for himself.  In fact, Flint is the reason that Silver only has one leg since Flint fired a cannon at his crew which took Silver’s leg off.  Because of that injury, Silver has to rely on his wits and charm to get what he wants and he wastes no time in trying to win over  Jim’s loyalty.  That task isn’t too hard since Jim genuinely likes Silver and the alternative is the greedy Trelawney who had already taken the map for himself and cut out Jim and Dr, Livesey from their portion of the treasure.  The only completely honest person on the ship is the honorable Captain Smollet (Philip Glenister) who realizes as the journey goes on, that he’s surrounded by cutthroats and in a tenuous situation.  One they arrive on Treasure Island, everything comes to a head as mutineers fight those loyal to Smollet, and the long lost and slightly crazy Ben Gunn makes his return as well.
This is a great looking production and it appears to be to be one of Syfy’s biggest releases.  The cast are all great in their roles, especially Eddie Izzard as the mercurial Long John Silver.  It’s a tough role to play since Silver is part rogue, part villain, and something of a father figure to Jim Hawkins, but Izzard pulls it off well and makes the role his own.  In my mind, the only person that comes to mind when I think of Long John Silver is Robert Newton, but Izzard does a nice job creating a new but recognizable Silver.  The rest of the cast are good too and both Philip Glenister and Elijah Wood are excellent in fairly small roles.  Rupert Penry-Jones and Donald Sutherland make for believable adversaries but Sutherland is only in the movie for about five minutes total.  This miniseries is entertaining but it could have been even better with a different director that would have been more interested in capturing the time it was set in than resorting to superficial tricks to attract younger audiences.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks really good which isn’t that surprising since it was filmed digitally.  This transfer looks sharp and offers a lot of excellent detail that allows the viewer to see every single whisker and bead of sweat on display.  Colors pop off the screen but an over-reliance on filters drains a lot of color in many scenes.  Flesh tones look natural and realistic throughout the movie and black levels are dark and solid.  The entire three hour miniseries is squeezed onto one disc which causes some minor banding issues but overall this transfer looks good.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Treasure Island’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also very impressive for a television miniseries.  The center channels offer crystal clear dialogue that’s always intelligible even during sword-fights and cannon fire. The rear channels offer a very immersive sound environment that places you in the center of the action with very accurate directional effects and ambiance.  The LFE channel also is in constant use between the cannons and the music and it sounds great.  This is a feature quality mix that really brings this series to life.

Extras (3 out of 5 stars) 

There really isn’t much on here but it’s better than nothing.  All of these extras are very short but they are in high definition.
  • Audio Commentary – Director Steve Barron and actor Eddie Izzard team up for this  commentary track.  While Barron focuses more on the making of the film itself, Izzard offers comic relief which adds a lot of entertainment value to this commentary track.
  • The Making of ‘Treasure Island’ - A four minute talk with the cast and crew about the series and their characters.  Most of these clips are repeated during the cast interviews so I would recommend skipping this one.
  • Cast Interviews - A ten minute talk with the cast as each of them talk about their characters.  This includes: Eddie Izzard, Elijah Wood, Toby Regbo, Philip Glenister and Rupert Penry-Jones.
  • A Tour of the Hispaniola - A two minute discussion of the ship used in the movie that’s hosted by the film’s marine coordinator, Dan Malone.  It’s not so much as a tour than him talking about the ship but since I love pirate ships I still enjoyed it.
  • Anatomy of a Stunt - A brief look at the stunt that was performed on the tall mast.

Summary (4 out of 5 stars) 

This miniseries boasts some impressive production value and some fine performances from Eddie Izzard, Elijah Wood, Donald Sutherland, Toby Regbo, David Harewood, Rupert Penry-Jones, Philip Glenister, and Daniel Mays.  It mostly adheres to Robert Louis Stevenson’s story but does stray on occasion so if you are purist, you may not like this.  This Blu-ray’s video and audio quality are better than expected, but the extras are somewhat disappointing. While I didn’t like the director’s choice to do a lot of quick cutting which took me out of the movie because it seemed so out of place, I’d still recommend the series to those people who like the story of Treasure Island and who would like to see a new interpretation.
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