Judge Gordon Sullivan has a walking plank. Wait, that's not how the cliche goes...
Show no mercy. Seize what's yours.
Pirates, especially in their post-Jack Sparrow configuration, are very performance-oriented creatures. Which is to say that with all the unnecessary jewelry, wild hair, and Kohl-rimmed eyes, they're not exactly out to pass as regular citizens. There's probably some historical justification for this kind of dress—it's easier to inspire terror when you look like a madman—but it works just as well for cinematic portrayals as well. The exaggeration is easy to sell and looks visually interesting. Until this Eddie Izzard-helmed Treasure Island, however, I had never quite connected pirates and drag. Of course, that association is created much more by Izzard's transvestite standup comedy than by this Syfy miniseries. Drag or not, Izzard shows himself game to take on larger roles, even if the overall project is only so-so.
Facts of the Case
Excepting a few twists here and there, Treasure Island sticks with Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel: young Jim Hawkins (Toby Regbo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) is the only living person with knowledge of the location of a famous treasure stashed on a hidden island. Jim hopes to get the treasure, but ship's cook Long John Silver (Eddie Izzard, Ocean's Thirteen) might have other plans. Along the way, the gang has merry (and not so merry) adventures as everyone wonders just what Silver has in store for Hawkins.
Treasure Island gets a few things right. The first is the choice of cast. Initially, you could be forgiven for thinking that Eddie Izzard was going to play a poor man's Johnny Depp with his role as Long John Silver. Luckily for viewers, that's not the case. Izzard is comparatively restrained, and generally avoids the tics that have become associated with the notorious Captain Jack Sparrow. He's well matched in an otherwise well-rounded cast. Young Toby Regbo is charming as Hawkins without ever getting too saccharine. Elijah Wood gets to play a man driven mad by isolation, letting go with a comic fury that's fun to watch, while Donald Sutherland plays an elder pirate with line-chewing gusto.
The show also gets the production right. This was produced as a Syfy miniseries, much like its take on The Wizard of Oz as Tin Man. However, unlike previous efforts, there's no attempt to change the genre of Stevenson's original; this is not a steampunk Treasure Island. Instead, the series benefits from a decent cable-sized budget without the genre trappings. Costumes look good and locations are used well, though no one is ever going to mistake this for a Pirates of the Caribbean movie any time soon.
Treasure Island (Blu-ray) is strongly in the film's favor. The 1.78:1/1080p VC-1-encoded transfer looks good throughout. The film isn't above changing stock and colors throughout, so consistency is sometimes sacrificed for artistic intent. With that said, detail is generally strong, colors are well-saturated (especially the island locations), and the overall look boosts the quality of the production. The only major problem is the detail in blacks; several interior scenes get murky in ways that don't feel intentional. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, however, is without any major difficulties. Dialogue is clean and clear (despite the variety of accents) from the center channel, while the surround kick in for atmosphere regularly. Directionality is good, and the low end shows its stripes during all of the gunfighting.
Extras arent't extensive, but the quality outweighs the quantity. Things kick off with a commentary featuring director Steve Barron and actor Eddie Izzard. The two are pretty chatty throughout, and we learn quite a bit about the various shooting locations as well as the changes the production made to the source novel. Then, we get three short (less than 5 minute) featurettes on various aspects of the film, from the basic making-of to the stunt work in the film. There is also a set of cast interviews, and the film's trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though the foundations are there, Treasure Island never quite figures out how to orchestrate all its elements perfectly. The main problem is that it's just too long. At three hours, it's just too long. Part of me wants to appreciate the production's attempts to flesh out Stevenson's novel, but in the end it just means that there's more to sit through before the thrilling conclusion. Even when some of the added scenes—like Donald Sutherland's turn as the pirate responsible for Long John Silver's wooden leg—are as good as some in the novel proper, they slow things down too much.
Also, while I like the idea of a steampunk Treasure Island, I'm glad this miniseries avoided the usual Syfy trappings. However, the production does try for a certain amount of visual flair. I'm not against that idea in general, but here it detracts from the rip-roaring adventure yarn the film is trying tell. The edits and excessive camera movements tend to distract rather than enhance the story. I can kind of see why they were included, but the project would be much better off without them.
Disney still holds the record for best Treasure Island adaptations, whether you choose the '50s live-action version or the sci-fi Treasure Planet. With that said, Treasure Island gets points for a strong cast willing to give buccaneering a go, and the settings and costumes are particularly good-looking. The series is worth a rental for fans of the novel or any of the actors. Those who enjoyed the series while it was being broadcast can buy Treasure Island (Blu-ray) with confidence: the audiovisual presentation is strong and the extras are more informative than many similar shows get.
Treasure Island doesn't need to walk the plank. Not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Other Reviews You Might Enjoy
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
Review content copyright © 2012 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.