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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Mysterious Island (1961)

"I can bring you down, but not necessarily alive."
- Pencroft (Percy Herbert)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 24, 2003

Stars: Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill
Other Stars: Beth Rogan, Herbert Lom, Percy Herbert, Dan Jackson
Director: Cy Endfield

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:40m:40s
Release Date: May 27, 2003
UPC: 043396078949
Genre: adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- BBB+ C+

DVD Review

Jules Verne certainly would have flourished had he lived in 20th-century Hollywood. Not only was he an incredible high-concept man, but he embraced the notion of the sequel quite readily. His novel Mysterious Island was a sequel to his enormously successful 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, giving his public more of the intriguing Captain Nemo.

The story opens in Richmond, Virginia in a Confederate prison camp in the waning days of the American Civil War. Yankee Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) hits on a plan to steal the rebels' observation balloon and make an escape with comrades Herbert Brown (Michael Callan) and Neb (Dan Jackson). The plan is successful, though they find themselves accompanied by war correspondent Gideon Spillett (Gary Merrill) and the balloon's pilot, Sgt. Pencroft (Percy Herbert). A horrific storm blows them far to the west, over the Pacific Ocean. When the balloon finally gives out, they are just barely able to reach an isolated island. But there are numerous strange things about this place, including the presence of giant and prehistoric animals. When Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Elena (Beth Rogan) are shipwrecked on the island, things begin moving toward a wild climax, complete with pirate ships and an exploding volcano.

Craig decently portrays the stoic hero, though the other members of his group are fairly one-dimensional. In particular, the romantic interests (Callan and Rogan) are bland and uninvolving. Joan Greenwood is a delight as always, with that amazing throaty voice lamenting her fate with a delicious sauciness. Gary Merrill wildly overacts as the war correspondent, but he's at least fairly entertaining as he chews the scenery. Herbert Lom makes a brief but memorable appearance as Captain Nemo (a big surprise in the book, the presence of Nemo is revealed on the keepcase, in the trailer and in the credits, so it seemed safe to mention here). While the part doesn't call for more than a poor man's James Mason (and Lom is very definitely made up to look that way), he has his own special brooding intensity that gives the part a distinctive flair. Nemo is more humanitarian this time out, but still manages to cause a fair amount of mayhem in the name of peace.

But this is a Ray Harryhausen picture, and as usual the real stars are the stop-motion special effects. This picture contains some of his best work, including the very convincing giant crab (which must have been terribly difficult to animate with all those legs), giant bees, prehistoric birds and to match Disney's squid, a giant kraken that proves quite lifelike indeed. The miniatures work, especially in the balloon sequences, is uniformly excellent to the point that one seldom realizes that miniatures are being used at all. The rear projection and melding of human actors with the animation is still a bit dodgy, but there's enough animation here to keep the viewer satisfied. To top it all off, composer Bernard Herrmann contributes one of his very best scores to the picture; it can readily stand among the classic scores that Herrmann produced for Hitchcock with its pounding triplets and insistent dissonances.

Although the opening takes a while to get going, once the island is finally reached the pacing quickens to provide regular thrills and adventures, with few breaks for the yawn-inducing romance or Pencroft's tepid comedy relief. The last 20 minutes are highly suspenseful and carry the picture to a rousing conclusion. The Disney influence is readily visible on the designs of the Nautilus and numerous other bits. Lom even plays Bach's Toccata in D minor, just as Mason did, though not as well. But this sequel holds its own quite well, propelled by the Harryhausen effects.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks decent. There is a fair amount of grain that tends to be somewhat sparkly and distracting. The color is surprisingly vivid, considering it's early 1960s Eastmancolor, which was notorious for its instability and tendency to fade. Minor ringing is present, as is usual for Columbia's transfers, but this is certainly watchable, with decent detail, particularly on closeups. Speckling occasionally appears, but it generally is limited to reel changes. Although Harryhausen shoots his effects in full frame, they are generally all contained within the widescreen frame here, and nothing appears to be unduly cropped off.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono soundtrack is presented in 2.0. It's quite clear and hiss and noise are only nominal. Herrmann's score sounds fabulous throughout, with good range and presence. The volcano eruptions at the climax are lacking in deep bass authority, but that's probably a fault of the original.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:18m:18s

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: In addition to the same tired old extras of the This is Dynamation featurette and The Harryhausen Chronicles documentary, there are a few useful bonus materials. A nice-looking trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen, as are trailers for two of the Harryhausen Sinbad films. A short interview with the special effects wizard himself (9m:05s) provides a ton of detail on the effects for this movie in particular, and is essential viewing for the fan. Finally, a gallery provides four concept sketches, 14 stills and a pair of posters for the feature. While the documentary is an interesting and valuable document, it has appeared on just about every Columbia Harryhausen release thus far; I'd just as soon see the bits spent beefing up the video transfer a little to help deal with the grainy film. However, if you don't have any other discs in this series, the documentary is very well done.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

An entertaining little adventure yarn resuscitates Captain Nemo and provides plenty of adventure and fun. The casting is a bit uneven, but the whole is gratifyingly fast-paced. The extras are the usual for the series and the transfer is acceptable.


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