It’s safe to say I was and am a big Ray Harryhausen fan, and I saw this movie a few times during my childhood, which qualifies it as “memory movie” material. I just wish the only surviving memory I have wasn’t full of disappointment. Not for the movie itself, but for the person who walked into the room when I was watching it. My aunt had come up from D.C. for a visit one summer, like she tended to do every once in a while and I remember Mysterious Island had come on one night. I didn’t know it was on but bumped into it as I was flipping the channels, so I sat down to watch and it was on the scene where the Phorusrhacos (prehistoric version of an ostrich for those who’ve never seen this and need some kind of rudimentary visual) attacks and my Aunt laughed hysterically when she saw it and asked what kind of movie was I watching?
My Aunt was and still is a narcissistic fuckhole, (then again doesn’t fuckholery and narcissism typically go hand in hand?), but this was when my brother and me hadn’t seen her true colors yet. I remember how horrible I felt to see her laughing at something I loved so dearly, which was stop motion animation. Some people get that style of FX, others don’t. She clearly didn’t. She doesn’t “get” a lot of things actually.
The movie is loosely based on Jules Verne’s novel of the same name, and starts out during a stormy night in a civil war Confederate prison camp circa 1865 where they are adding a new prisoner to their roster, a reporter by the name of Gideon Spillet (Gary Merrill). Unbeknownst to the guards though their current prisoners are in the process of crafting an escape. Gideon ends up coming along. I would too. Union soldiers Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig), Herbert Brown (Michael Callan) and Neb (Dan Jackson) get the drop on the guards and proceed out to a gas balloon in the courtyard. They encounter a couple of guards, one of them, Pencroft (Percy Herbert), is in the balloon, they knock him into dreamland and take off. But when their original plan of throwing his unconscious body overboard gets all clouded with morality, they decide to add him to their escape.
A storm takes them across the ocean where they eventually crash and are swept onto this “mysterious island.” Later on their group gets bigger by two when a Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Elena (Beth Rogan) wash up on shore. That’s right, you always need some T&A if you’re marooned on a “mysterious island.” As they all try their best to add a little civilization to their shipwrecked lives, eventually finding a cave high up on this sheer cliff to call a temporary home, the best things about this movie, not counting the T&A, are the Harryhausen creatures that come out to play. I think the most memorable is the giant crab the men tangle with in the beginning, but I remember when the prehistoric Phorusrhacos showed up I suddenly took a keen interest in these ancient species. I was into many things when I was a kid, insects and spiders and also dinosaurs, but never prehistoric mammals. When that giant bird got the Harryhausen touch I started looking for books at the school library about them. I think I even had a small toy of one I didn’t know I had.
The giant bee put me over the moon too. I can’t remember if this was before I saw the giant hornet in Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger (1977), it may have been. And the movie is capped off with an encounter with a giant Nautilus squid, which I couldn’t take me eyes off of either. My brother and I watched this movie once and he loved the squid best. We were little kids then and didn’t know that species of squid was a nautilus so we referred to it for a long time as a “round shell leg squid.” I learned more about it, though, when he got obsessed with it at one point and tried to find anything and everything he could about them. Kind of what happened to me with the Phorusrhacos.
Speaking of Nautilus squids Verne’s Captain Nemo (played by Herbot Lom) figures into this story and until I heard the commentary never fully realized this is kind of a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954), well, it in Verne’s fictional universe, but even though you’ve got two different actors having played Nemo (James Mason played him in Disney’s ’54 movie), you can still look at the character in both movies as being linked. Mysterious Island is Nemo’s epilogue. This is where he was based and those giant animals are his doing. His solution to the food shortage in the world. Make things bigger! He was also monitoring the group, having killed the Phorusrhacos (listen closely in that scene you’ll hear a faint gunshot just as the bird topples over as Herbert is riding and stabbing it), and sent the chest of supplies that seemed to randomly wash up. He finally introduces himself after sinking a pirate ship that came along the men were in a “shoot out” with.
There’s a happy ending for the marooned but not for Nemo.
When DVD came on the scene and Sony finally debuted it on disc in 2002 I never ended up buying it, despite having bought all Harryhausen’s Mythology movies before then. I’m not sure why I neglected to add this to my collection until now. Back in 2011 Sony finally decided to give us this gem on blu through boutique distributor Twilight Time. It eventually sold out and now Twilight Time has decided to re-release it, which happened back on December 8th. As of this review it’s still in stock. Twilight Time limits all their releases to either 3,000 or 5,000 units, this re-issue got the 3,000 limit. So, if you want a copy either hit up Twilight Time’s website or Screen Archives Entertainment’s, the only two places that sell Twilight Time blu-rays.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.66:1 high definition widescreen—5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio, 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio, 1.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English SDH
I never bought the previous DVD so all my viewings of Mysterious Island in my adult years after DVD replaced VHS have been from the TCM channel; this blu-ray blows those right out of the water! Colors and detail absolutely pop! And from what I understand this re-release sports the exact same transfer as Twilight Time’s previous blu-ray.
Extras included . . .
- Audio Commentary with Randall William Cook, C. Courtney Joyner and Steven C. Smith (NEW)
- Islands of Mystery ( 5:31) (NEW)
- Ray Harryhausen On Mysterious Island (11:14) (NEW)
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Re-Release Trailer (NEW)
- 2 TV Trailers (1 NEW Trailer added)
- 3 TV Spots (2 NEW Spots added)
- Isolated Score Track
As you can see the main reason for getting this new version would be for the added features. ‘Ray Harryhausen On Mysterious Island’ is not a new extra as in it wasn’t made just for this release. It’s old and not anamorphic. It may be the port over feature ‘The Making Of Mysterious Island’ from the old DVD renamed, or just a cataloged Harryhausen interview pulled from the archives. At any rate it’s enjoyable to watch. But then again any interview with Harryhausen is a joy to watch.