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Mysterious Island
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by MP Bartley

"Monsters. Harryhausen monsters, too."
4 stars

A rag-tag group of people forced together after an aerial disaster end up marooned on an island of uncertain geographical location and home to several mysteries (hey!). There are monsters on this island. There is evidence of previous inhabitants littered around the place. There are dangerous people with evil intent approaching the island. There is someone with advanced technology that could save them all somewhere on this island. And somehow John Locke has been killed and been brought back to life.

No, wait. Sorry, that was Lost. This is Mysterious Island an adaptation of Jules Verne's novel where a bunch of soldiers from the American Civil War - on both sides - end up escaping a jail in a hot air balloon, but are blown off course to the titular island of mystery. However, John Locke aside, all the above elements also feature in this film, most notable for another memorable roster of Harryhausen monsters.

The key to why Harryhausen's work has lasted so long and is still more technically more impressive than a great deal of CG or 3D work today, is that he infused his creatures with some kind of genuine character. The way he works and designs them, elevates them above mere clever effects work into something you can genuinely believe is there, from the effort and attention to detail he puts into them. Here, his monsters are pretty common animals that we're all used to seeing, but altered to a monstrous size, such as a crab and a bee. While I wouldn't quite put them up there with his best work such as the skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts, they're still mightily impressive and make for some exciting sequences that no doubt blew audience's minds back in the day.

It's not wall-to-wall monsters, however. Enfield, no slouch as a director, is just as interested in portraying how the soldiers would survive without their contemporary comforts and so when they're not fending off attacks, it becomes a film as much about survival as it is about exploration. Briskly paced and splendidly shot on location in Spain, it has the devil-may-care attitude of the best Boy's Own adventures even if adult eyes may think there could be a little more exploration of the attitudes of the time - two of the survivors are a Confederate soldier and a coloured ex-slave, yet there's never a cross word between them, or any tension.

Still, there's more exciting stuff to be getting on with, I suppose, such as the arrival of Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom) at an unexpected juncture. You may notice that Lom is the first actor I've named so far, and that's because he's the only one that really has a bit of fun with his role. The rest are either gruff leaders of bland romantic leads, but Lom brings an added bit of potentially untrustworthy spice to the film. The Nautilus is there, too, and it's a nice touch that most of the other characters have heard of him as some kind of legendary figure - it gives the film a broad, epic scope. Credit Enfield for not letting the film simply become a showcase for the impressive effects work.

Oh, and a bonus point if you hear *the* gunshot.

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originally posted: 06/18/11 02:34:16
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User Comments

10/19/15 Joe van Rensburg The film would have done better if the acting had not been so wooden. 3 stars
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  DVD: 30-Nov-2004



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