SyFy's reimagining of classic stories has been an interesting proposition. Usually they're known for their outlandish apocalyptic movies or how many wacky things they can combine a shark with ('Mega-Sharktalope'!). So, it's understandable that when you hear that SyFy is doing their version of something like 'Treasure Island', you cringe a little. I know I do, but after a few somewhat decent adaptions of classic tales I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their retelling of classic tales.
'Tin Man,' 'Alice,' and 'Neverland,' were all done with varying degrees of success, but none were atrociously bad as most of SyFy's original movies. Now SyFy has moved on to Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate epic 'Treasure Island.' With the other revisionist mini-series that SyFy has put together, they usually saw fit to add-to rather than retell the story. Here, the story is much more of a retelling. It doesn't add to the 'Treasure Island' mythos, much like 'Tin Man' or 'Alice' were stories that happened after the original classic. Here we get a much more straightforward adaption, although ardent fans of Stevenson's novel will notice a variety of changes in characters, motives, and subplots. Just know, that when you go into 'Treasure Island' as created by SyFy that you're getting their version of the tale that isn't exactly the tale that Stevenson laid out. If you want that story, then crack open the book.
The 'Treasure Island' mini-series is split into two parts and ends up clocking in at 183 minutes. Yes, it's long, and it seems long in certain stretches. The time it takes just to get on the ship seems far too long for instance. Still, there is enough here that it kept my interest.
The main draw of the film is Eddie Izzard's portrayal of Long John Silver. Head shaved and freshly tattooed, Izzard provides a fun, energetic performance that never seems lethargic (which it could've easily done, this is for the SyFy Channel after all).
The story begins like it should. Jim Hawkins (Toby Regbo) lives in a dilapidated inn with his mother (Shirley Henderson). It's a dilapidated place and the Hawkins family is standing on the brink of financial ruin. Then a strange pirate shows up with an even stranger chest. Billy Bones (David Harewood) is his name and he's ranting and raving about a man named Captain Flint (Donald Sutherland) who's coming to get him. He tells Jim to be wary of any seafaring men that come to the inn.
This is the longest and seemingly most pointless stretch of the movie. For far too long we watch as Bones drinks, and drinks, and drinks before anything actually interesting happens. It's a part of the story that could've easily been skipped over (like they do in Disney's 'Treasure Planet') and headed straight for the voyage.
Jim comes into possession of Flint's famous treasure map, but has no idea that so many people would kill to get their hands on it. Soon Jim and his friend Dr. Livesey (Daniel Mays) charter a boat and assemble a crew. A crew consisting of Long John Silver and his scurvy mates.
You pretty much know the story, and save for some changes to characters, SyFy's retelling moves well in line with the original. The fun of the mini-series is watching Izzard deliver a layered performance as the one-legged Silver. A man who cannot best his enemies physically, so he must do it mentally. A thinker surrounded by doltish pirates who only know how to grunt and swing swords. His performance is why 'Treasure Island' is worth watching. Well, that and Elijah Wood shows up as the long lost Ben Gunn, caked in war paint, armed with a spear, and speaking frantically about his fetish for cheese. How could you not want to watch?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The entire 183 minutes of 'Treasure Island' has been packed onto one 50GB Blu-ray Disc. It has been packaged in a flimsy eco-friendly Blu-ray keepcase and is a Region A release. The packaging also comes with a slipcover that features the same artwork as the case.
'Treasure Island' has been given a 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer that does extremely well with detail but reeks of having all sorts of post-production filters applied to it. It's not that the filters (either cyan or yellow) are a technical misstep, they just tend to get annoying after three hours.
Filmed digitally, 'Treasure Island' has a very digital look to it. Edges are crisp, detail is rich, but there really is no filmic quality to speak of. It looks digital in every sense, except it does feature some nice, inky blacks whereas many subpar digitally filmed movies feature extremely flat, bluish blacks.
Detail is very rich indeed. Faces show pores, dirt, grime, blood, cuts, and scrapes as clearly as possible. Woven pirate clothing has tangible textures. It's easy to see every feather on Silver's parrot's body and wings. Shadows are well delineated and never seem to crush much of the detail. Contrast is nicely handled even though many of the outdoor scenes are given the yellow look to make everything look just a bit hotter and a little more unforgiving.
Many of the photography choices (mainly choices that were likely applied in post-production) were annoying. They make countless use of yellow and cyan filters whenever they fill like it. In order to fill up the running time there are numerous fish-eye shots of the jungle, beach, and crashing waves. The cyan filters are used to make Jim's home look even more icy and cold than it already is, while the yellow filters are supposed to pump up contrast on the island to make it look even hotter than it is. Even though the constantly changing palette is annoying, it is the way the show is meant to look.
Packing all this footage onto one disc is bound to cause a few problems and that can be seen in the form of banding that is pretty blatant in skies and such. Darker backgrounds do feature some banding as well, and mid-range shots lack the amount of detail seen in the extreme close-ups.
The 'Treasure Island' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a loud, cannon-booming soundtrack that may not be the world's best, but definitely places you in the center of the action. LFE is continuously engaged during the firefights and cannon battles. The musical soundtrack also calls for a hefty amount of LFE.
Rear channels provide a wealth of enveloping sound whether it be screams of oncoming pirates with their blades drawn, chirping birds in the jungle, or Ben Gunn's ghostly echoing voice bouncing off island cliffs. Dialogue is always clear, even during Izzard's whispering of lines which he does a lot.
This is a fun audio mix that places you right in the action. I wasn't expecting much from it since these made-for-TV movies seem to, more often than not, disappoint. This one, however, did the pirate action justice and provided a well-rounded listening environment.
'Treasure Island' is a fun way to spend three hours, but I recommend splitting it up and watching the two parts at two separate times. Watching them together will no doubt lead to pirate fatigue. SyFy has done a decent job retelling a classic story, but be warned that it doesn't follow the novel perfectly. They've done a competent job on the video and audio too, so I think this one is worth a look if you're interested.