A behind-the-scenes look at how Sherwood Schwartz put Gilligan's Island on the air.
Surviving Gilligan's Island—The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three-Hour Tour in History is a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most beloved and enduring sitcoms of all time. With narration by three of the real actors—Dawn Wells (Mary Ann, and also a co-producer of the show), Russell Johnson (The Professor), and Bob Denver (Gilligan himself)—interspersed with "dramatic re-enactments," the audience gets a first-hand look into the making of this classic. From Sherwood Schwartz's stubborn attempts to greenlight the show to diva attitudes, this is a "Behind the Music" of seven castaways, endlessly waiting for a rescue. Will Artisan's disc of Surviving Gilligan's Island leave you thirsty for more…or satisfy you like a tall piña colada?
Dawn Wells gets recognized a lot. So much so, in fact, that routine flights start with airplane passengers serenading her with the theme song to Gilligan's Island, the show she was a part of for its brief three years. No one can forget her character, the sweet Midwestern Mary Ann, or, for that matter, Ginger the Movie Star, Skipper the…Skipper, and good old Gilligan. Heck, all seven of those characters have been burned into our memory for life.
At first, the future of Gilligan's Island was tentative at best. Sherwood Schwartz, an established television writer yet to create his greatest opus (The Brady Bunch, of course) tells network execs he wants to create a sitcom that showcases a "social microcosm." He gets blank stares in return. They just don't think it's good enough for prime time.
As docudrama footage of present-day actors give a behind-the-scenes feel, Wells, Johnson, and Denver glue the story together with their narration. To add to the campiness, they speak to us from behind some cheesy set pieces, like a bamboo oven that Wells uses to cook pies. (Not necessary in my opinion, but forgivable.) As they tell us bits of trivia about the inception of the show, we get a feel for the original cast members' point of view. Natalie Schafer (the snooty but endearing "Lovey" Howell), for example, thought the show would never take and was horrified when it did. On the other hand, Alan Hale Jr. (the Skipper) was so enthused about the show, he wore his skipper's hat everywhere. Plus, Tina Louise (Ginger) is portrayed as a total diva. What's a movie-of-the-week without some good gossip?
These fascinating tidbits, plus the sincere re-enactments of GI's trials and tribulations, make this a solidly watchable piece of nostalgia. The actors portraying their screen doubles are overwhelmingly so well cast, they save this movie of the week from…well, being a cheesy movie of the week. Sure, watching Wells cook coconut cream pies on a rattan counter is pushing it, but this is Gilligan's Island. There's a great wrap up at the end of the production with Well's own home movies from the set that makes for a poignant finale to this reminiscence. These grainy pictures from the past make you wax nostalgic for the old days, when island castaways had a full wardrobe and wore makeup all the time.—sigh --
This disc is loaded with extras, too. The cutesy menu leads you from one hut to another, featuring a redux of Well's home movies, over 20 tropical recipes (I'm a bit of a cook, so I give this disc extra credit points for that), and a picture gallery of cast pictures from the movie of the week. I would have enjoyed some archival pictures of the original cast, so this last bonus didn't thrill me too much.
Also interspersed throughout the disc menu are "fun facts" about the present-day production and the original GI. Behind the Scenes Comparisons reveals director's-eye-view footage split-screened with the final result. I enjoyed this extra quite a bit, as it's always fascinating to compare behind-the-scenes messiness (cables, PAs running around, cameras everywhere) with the polished results. Also on a behind-the-scenes tack were outtakes from the present-day production were fun—the cast did a lot of goofing around, and these were pretty entertaining.
The Castaway Trivia Game was nothing to get excited about, but for Gilligan fans, should be quite a test of their knowledge. Buffs will really get excited about the detailed listing of all 98 episodes of the original GI—airdates, synopses, guest stars, the whole bit. A really nice touch here.
And last but not least of the extras were casting sessions of Surviving Gilligan's Island's actors, which are always fascinating. A good cast selected here, and kudos to the casting directors—the actors combined with a relatively straightforward script made for fun but substantial viewing.
As far as specs, the disc sounded just fine, with a 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround setup. There was a nice use of side speakers, no hum or hiss, and good detail in the sound mix. A 2.0 is really all that was needed for a movie lacking major effects or action, and I was fully satisfied with it.
The picture was spotless, a lovely transfer. It's in full screen 1.33:1 aspect ratio, this being a television movie of the week, which was annoying, but I'll let it get by. After all, no one complained that Gilligan's Island wasn't technically superior—that's why we liked it. I can give its official documentary a pass on the full-screen-osity.
Any television trivia hound will enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at a trifle of a show that impacted people so much, some folks back in the day actually thought those seven castaways were really stranded—seriously. Such trivia and good-natured recollection make for a surprisingly entertaining production. Plus, this technically-sound disc is loaded with extras—so you won't be stranded with nothing to do after viewing the main attraction.
A pineapple-boat full of fun for the whole family and TV fans alike. Free to go and be the coconut cream pie of television docudramas!
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