"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Monday, May 07, 2012

Treasure Island

On Saturday night, 05 May 2012, the SYFY Channel made a foray there.

To their credit, and true to their apparent resolution that their new name is just a meaningless bit of noise giving them license to show whatever they wish without the necessity of it having anything to do with "science-fiction", they did not introduce a device or being from another world into the story (as they actually have done in some of their previous efforts with classics).

Unless you count the casting of ...
Eddie Izzard as Long John Silver  in Treasure Island (2012) - from theartsdesk.com

... comedian Eddie Izzard as Long John Silver.

But, this is not a diss on Eddie Izzard. Indeed, he is easily the best thing in an otherwise forgettable savaging of the story, and is the only reason to check it out when it it is inevitably repeated, becomes available on Netflix, or is issued on DVD (probably within a few months).

His take on Long John is one of the best in ages, deserving to be in a far worthier movie. He adds a tremendous amount of depth and presence to a cunning and almost completely amoral character.

His problem is that, except for an appearance by Donald Sutherland as Captain Flint (this should make most of you who know the story react with, "WHAT?!!!"), he is mostly a one man band here. The rest of the cast is competent, but that's all I can really say about them. That translates pretty well as forgettable.

I have argued before and, after this, still consider the absolutely finest version of the story to be ...
(All images below are screencaps from this DVD)

Charlton Heston created perhaps the finest version ever of Treasure Island (1990) as a made-for-TV movie, and populated it with a wonderful cast (he did pretty well with his part as well, considering that Long John Silver is not an easy role, having to be tough enough to control a pirate crew and still manage to be sympathetic to a young boy).

Long available only on VHS tape, late last year if finally became available on DVD (and about damn time too.)

Considering that I described Charlton Heston as "did pretty well with his part as well, ...", you might be wondering, "In that case, what's so special about this version?"

My answer would be, "Just about everything else."

From the music soundtrack by Paddy Maloney and The Chieftains augmenting their traditional pipes and whistles with native drums and the unmistakable bass-note stuttering Whonk-wong-wonnnggg of an Australian aboriginal didgeridoo (those additions are not gimmicks, but fit perfectly with the mood the movie is trying to set at times), to the casting of major A-List players for various parts.

Such as ...
Oliver Reed as Billy Bones

and ...
Isla Blair as Mrs. Hawkins and an impossibly young Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins

along with ...
Christopher Lee as Blind Pew"SIT, right where you are!", as he confronts Billy Bones

and also ...
Pete Postlethwaite as George Merry

Those are A-List actors, some for parts that would normally be filled by lesser players. And this pays off in the result.

Of course, for Long John ...
Charlton Heston as Long John Silver

Although I praised Eddie Izzard for his interpretation of Long John, I still maintain that Charlton  was just fine in that role, just a bit less obviously so because he surrounded himself with exceptional talent. As he produced the movie, making the whole thing possible, here's another picture with him ...
Robert Putt as Job Anderson, Michael Halsey as Israel Hands,
and Chuck as, well you know.

Note that dude in the center. Israel Hands is one of the most interesting characters in the story, and Michael Halsey (I'd never heard of him before, but he's done quite a lot of work in television) absolutely owns the character.

Early in the voyage, before disappearing overboard one night, First Mate Mr. Arrow ...
... had this as his last sight.

Israel Hands was Captain Flint's chief gunner, so if you are not a friend of Israel,...
... this is not where you would wish to see him.

After Jim has had a confrontation with Hands, ...
"Oh, Jim. You didn't keep your powder dry. Didn't they learn you nothin'?"

A classic painting for a special issue of the book set up these scenes ...

Bottom line: Michael Halsey absolutely owns this role, and he alone would be ample reason to seek out and buy this DVD, but there is so much else as well. You can probably find it in bargain shelves at Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and others.

I would so love to see this on the big screen, with an audience, perhaps as a midnight movie at the River Oaks Theater. I actually think it would do well and the audience would love it. But, I wont hold my breath waiting for a dream.

(Yes!  I really think it's that good.  Go find it, buy it, and tell me what you think.  Ok?  :-)

To an unknown viewer in Minnesota, who has lately appeared many times on my site meter (seeking "michael halsey actor") ...

I'm delighted at the interest in a post I'm quite fond of.  My email address is linked in the left column on my page. If you feel like it, I would love to hear from you.
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4 comments:

Foxfier said...

Buffy's first watcher as a pirate captain?!?!

Paul Gordon said...

Yup!

Donald Sutherland has maybe 15 or 20 minutes or so, in various flashback scenes (plus an opening scene of an action that rates my description of "savaging" the story), and he is just fine.

Of course, having seen countless movies that he appears in, I cannot recall an instance where he was NOT just fine.

Canada sends some interesting people our way.
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KMT said...

What a great review. I thought I was the only one who truly appreciated this version of Treasure Island. Michael Halseys Israel Hands is probably my favorite character.

Anonymous said...

THE BEST version of TI, as well as just a fantastic movie all around.

"THEMS THAT DIES WILL BE THE LUCKY ONES"

~illznitch

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