Stars – Gary Merrill, Joan Greenwood, Herbert Lom, Beth Rogan, Percy Herbert, Michael Craig, Michael Callan
Director – Cy Endfield
Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Ray Harryhausen’s films are an absolute delight. This one does not center around a title monster or a quest by Jason or Sinbad. Mysterious Islansd is a marvelous adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel about civil war era prison escapees whose balloon gets carried away to a fantastic island. While Ray is known for creating an array of articulated creatures and giants his work with that initial balloon sequence is remarkable. We see a balloon in a Union prison camp. I can’t remember any reason why it’s there but it looks so neat tied to the ground. A group of Confederates and one Union man hijack it to make an heroic escape. They soar into the skies where we get to spend a while with them as they try to cope with the winds and establish their own navigation. It makes for a thrilling start. After loosing control of the balloon the group is deposited into the ocean and swept up onto the beach of an island. Harryhausen fans will spot that the beach in this film is the same one used for parts of Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. You’ll recognize the place where Sinbad’s crew stopped to fill up their canteens.
In short order they fashion a Swiss Family Robinson style series of huts. The interaction between the men who have to work together is handled nicely. Each gets their own distinct character. Most amusing is Gary Merrill who plays Gideon a journalist who covers the war. He gets drafted into being the cook for the crew. The attack on the beach by a giant crab is a set piece for the film. The large crustacean looks perfect right down to every detail. We learn in the accompanying documentary that Harryhausen had a real crab hollowed out and fitted with armatures that he could manipulate with his stop motion photography process. His technique makes the crab move realistically and he incorporates an animated man held by one of its claws. The next scene features Gideon serving a crab meat delicacy to everyone. Director Cy Enfield (Zulu) keeps a light adventure tone to everything. Two women, one young and one older join the proceedings. While leaving the island is a priority there is plenty of action.
Harryhausen’s sequences are woven into the film well by Enfield. The youngest of the crew, Elena played by model Beth Rogan and Herbert wander off together. We can all spot the budding romance between the young soldier and the fetching Elena. Michael Callen who is Herbert would soon have terrific role in Cat Ballou (1965). They climb up a trail following honey only to find themselves sealed into a chamber in the honey comb by a huge bee. Another stand out bit features something like a giant bird without flying wings. As the guys fight it off and try to take it down we are treated to a very nice interplay between Bernard’s Herrmann’s playful score and the comical action.
The performances of the cast push things along while always retaining that Classic Illustrated style of adventure. Things may get tense and challenging but no one is being eaten by any of these beasts. The third portion of the film involves Nemo. Herbert Lom (Phantom of the Opera) playz him more seriously. He’s a brilliant scientist who has developed these super sized plants to help feed the world. Like other characters of Jules Verne he detests war and is dedicated to vanquishing the activity on a world level. The underwater scenes with the men walking on the ocean floor with sea shell-like aqualungs are gorgeous to look at. This is a first class adventure fantasy. Ray Harryhuasen’s style is good fit with Jules Verne; just as good as he would match up with H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon (1964) a few years later.
Twilight Time is calling this an Encore Edition for those who missed the initial release. I was absolutely satisfied with the transfer. Though I have not seen the previous edition there were several sequences that sported excellent color that stood out as eye candy. Bernard Herrman’s score also sounds full and robust in the 5.1 DTS mix. Ray Harryhuasen in Blu-ray that looks this good is a treat. It transcends any nostalgia by leaps and bounds as these films still retain large amounts of magic. The trade off is that in return for that luscious color, sharp detail and exuberant soundtrack you may occasionally see a slight tipping of Ray Harryhausen’s hand here and there. But there is nothing to see. It really is magic.
Video – 1.66:1
Very nice detail. Strong robust colors. The transfer looks like an adventure of this kind should. No complaints at all. Again I can not compare it to the previous Twilight Time release but there were several sections that definitely stood out in every area.
Audio – 5.1 DTS-HD MA, 2.0 DTS-HD MA, 1.0 DTS-HD MA with subtitles offered in English SDH
If you like Bernard Herrman’s work the sound track is a joy. The way he combines different instruments and brings things to a crescendo is just a delight. The bit with the giant bird is another one of his fun pieces. Though he is know for so much and mostly identified with Hitchcock his style was a perfect match for Harryhausen. That they worked together four times is a tribute to the producers who made that happen.
Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score and effects track, Commentary with film historians Randall William Cook, C. Courtney Joyner and Steven Smith, Ray Harryhausen on Mysterious Island, Islands of Mystery, TV Spots, Theatrical Trailers
The making of documentary is fascinating. It appears to be the same one that was on the old Sony DVD. The commentary is new to this edition.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent