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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of movie titles that immediately throw you into the action of classic favorites, you might think of something like Star Wars.  Originally to be titled The Star Wars, before the movie actually hit theaters this seemed like a pretty blah name.  Wars.  In the stars.  Got it.  But the movie surpassed its very simple title.  What did the reading public first think back in 1881 about a new serialized tale called Treasure Island?  Treasure.  On an island.  Got it.

Turns out, the original title for Treasure Island honed in on the key character of the story, the pirate Long John Silver, with the title The Sea-Cook.  Probably not as catchy then or now, but certainly a great idea for a character by one of the best adventure writers of all time, which has been used as a key element in modern adventures, from Steven Segal’s hero in Under Siege to the spy in Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October.

Wood and Izzard

In contention for the best Treasure Island adaptation in more than a century of adaptations is the 2012 British production starring Eddie Izzard as the famous pirate.  It’s saying a lot, considering competition like the 1934 Lionel Barrymore/Jackie Cooper black and white classic and the surprisingly good 1996 film Muppet Treasure Island (which Philip Glenister notes as inspiration for his performance in the DVD/Blu-ray special features) starring the always superb Tim Curry.  It’s not a stretch to see the cutting edge Izzard taking on the same roles Curry would be cast in.  Izzard has been featured in a groundbreaking catalog of productions, serving as the star of the TV series The Riches and now appearing in Hannibal, and on the big screen in Mystery Men, Shadow of the Vampire, Ocean’s Twelve/Ocean’s Thirteen, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Igor, and Valkyrie.

Izzard as Long John Silver

Why is the 2012 version of Treasure Island, available on DVD with a trove of special features, a standout adaptation?

Two elements make or break a Treasure Island production.  Silver provides the adventure and intrigue and we follow the young Jim Hawkins in his coming-of-age story.  Casting these two is paramount.  Izzard’s both laid back and seething Silver is a performance you’ll want to watch over and over.  Fortunately the young Toby Regbo–now starring in the CW series Reign and the actor who played young Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series–plays Hawkins exactly as it should be done.  His Hawkins makes you feel stuck, trapped amongst the worst band of murderers possible.  And when he is betrayed, his hopelessness is palpable.

Treasure Island

Add to this Donald Sutherland as Captain Flint–a character appearing only in backstory in the novel–and Elijah Wood as Ben Gunn, inspired by the same sources as Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and you have a film that should have been marketed better to U.S. audiences on the silver screen instead of merely showing up on cable television and DVD/Blu-ray.  Wood’s performance in Treasure Island may be his best, also saying a lot for an actor who prides himself on the broad variety of roles he chooses.

Glenister as Smollett

The direction by Steve Barron of a creative yet loyal Stewart Harcourt script is spot-on.  And loyalty and disloyalty is what Treasure Island is all about.  Other standout performances include the brilliant Philip Glenister (Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes) as Captain Smollett, Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5, Whitechapel) as Squire Trelawney, Daniel Mays (Doctor Who, Ashes to Ashes) as Dr. Livesey, Shirley Henderson (Harry Potter series, Bridget Jones series, Doctor Who) as Meg Hawkins, David Harewood (Doctor Who, Homeland, Robin Hood) as Billy Bones, Sean Gilder (Horatio Hornblower, Doctor Who, Life on Mars, State of Play) as Black Dog.

Sutherland in Treasure Island

The other stars of the movie are the sets, the sea, the old buildings, the island, the treasure map, the special effect of Silver’s missing leg, Silver’s parrot, and filming the ship The Hispaniola aboard a classic seaworthy vessel that traveled across the Atlantic for this production.  Fans of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and the A&E Horatio Hornblower series will want to add this to their list.

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The DVD and Blu-ray include interviews with the main cast,  making of and behind the scenes features, full commentary with the director and Izzard, and film trailer.

Treasure Island is available now at Amazon.com on Blu-ray and DVD at a steep discount off the retail price.

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