As I stated in past reviews, no matter which Ray Harryhausen movie I am watching at a given moment, that film instantly becomes my favorite. Such is the case with that Harryhausen classic MYSTERIOUS ISLAND ($25). Actually, if I hadn't seen one of Harryhausen's movies in a long while and someone were to ask me which of his movies were my favorites, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND would always rank at the very top of the list. This may have something to do with my childhood memories of the MYSTERIOUS ISLAND- after all, what kid wouldn't love a movie that featured a giant crab, giant chicken, giant bees and giant squid?
Based on the novel by Jules Verne, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND tells the story of Union soldiers that escape from a confederate prison via an observation balloon. However, because the soldiers make their escape during the most violent storm on record, the balloon is blown westward for days, before developing a hole and descending onto an uncharted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. As coincidence would have it, two shipwrecked women wash up on the shore of the island shortly after the soldiers' arrival. While trying to construct a boat to make an escape from the island, our band of castaways must deal with all of the giant creatures that I mentioned above, as well as a band of bloodthirsty pirates, erupting volcanoes the infamous Captain Nemo. The cast of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND features Herbert Lom, Joan Greenwood, Gary Merrill, Michael Craig, Michael Callan, Beth Rogan, Percy Herbert and Dan Jackson.
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made MYSTERIOUS ISLAND available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. While the transfer itself is quite good, much of the film's postproduction work appears weak rendering image quality on the DVD rather variable. Anything shot on a soundstage under controlled conditions looks very good. Outdoor cinematography also looks good, but not phenomenal. However, any shot that contains optical processing or effects work looks somewhat degraded, as well as a bit soft and grainy. Despite the limitations in the source material, this DVD release of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is the best the film has looked in any home presentation.
Much of the movie looks fairly sharp and nicely defined, which makes for a highly watchable presentation. Color reproduction also suffers in the sequences with optical effects. Under controlled lighting colors appear quite vibrant, while outdoor cinematography has slightly more subdued hues. By comparison, sequences employing optical effects range from chromatically subdued to downright faded. Blacks appear accurate and whites look clean. Contrast is a bit variable for the reasons I mentioned above. Dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts in check.
MYSTERIOUS ISLAND comes with a Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack that sounds pretty good. The limited fidelity of the forty-plus year old soundtrack renders Bernard Herrmann's musical score thinly, making the music sound somewhat tinny and anemic. Sound effects can be a little unconvincing, but they really aren't too bad. Dialogue is cleanly rendered and always remains completely understandable. No other language tracks are provided on the DVD. Subtitles are encoded onto the DVD in English, French and Spanish.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few supplements. Starting things off is a featurette on the making of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. Actually, the nine-minute program offers Ray Harryhausen talking about the production and how some of his special effects work was achieved. Making yet another appearance are the This Is Dynamation featurette and the Ray Harryhausen Chronicles. This Is Dynamation runs about three and a half minutes and explains the special photographic process Harryhausen used to create his stop motion special effects. The Harryhausen Chronicles is an hour-long program hosted by Leonard Nimoy, which details Ray Harryhausen’ s life and career in cinema. A still gallery and theatrical trailers for MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER close out the supplements.
As I stated above, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is one of my favorite Ray Harryhausen movies. While the DVD presentation isn't particularly impressive, due to the limitations in the postproduction work of the source material, it is certainly far better looking than the average TV broadcast. Harryhausen fans will certainly want to pick up a copy; others may wish to sample the disc first.
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