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Mysterious Island (1961) - Blu-ray Review

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Mysterious Island (1961) - Blu-ray Review

5 beersRay Harryhausen’s stop-motion work in Mysterious Island is the stuff of legend AND nightmares.  Featuring memorable attacks from a gigantic crab, an oversized bee, a large prehistoric bird, and an angry snail, the fantasy kept many a young person up at night.  It also proved itself to be a worthy successor to the Disneyfication of Jules Verne and was able to successfully piggyback on both the financial highs of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Swiss Family Robinson, eventually earning its own stripes. It didn’t hurt matters to have composer Bernard Herrmann helming an impressively bombastic score or to have director Cy Endfield (Zulu) in the director’s chair.  All things considered, Mysterious Island is ripe for rediscovery.

It just so happens that the film – originally released in 1961 – is celebrating a new life on blu-ray thanks to the efforts of Colombia Pictures and Twilight Time.  Unfortunately, the 1080p transfer can be somewhat of a chore to track down as it is only available overseas in a region-free release and might cost you an extra dime or two as it was originally released in 2011.  But it’s worth it.  Completely.  Endfield is no fool behind the camera.  The high-flying adventure about five men who flee captivity and find themselves on an undiscovered island experiment of sorts only pauses in its action for a few minutes or two; long enough to catch its breath before hurling our heroes into another dimension of plus-sized attacks. 

While it opens during the Civil War, the film operates best as a non-stop thrill ride through an island paradise gone wrong.  It seems Captain Nemo (a very dapper and distinguished Herbert Lom) is back aboard the Nautilus and engaged in some more risky experiments.  When Union soldiers Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig), Herbert Brown (Michael Callan) and Neb (Dan Jackson) find themselves aboard a large gas balloon with Union war correspondent Gideon Spillet (Gary Merrill) and a Confederate guard named Pencroft (Percy Herbert), they quickly realize the importance of a safe landing. 

Unfortunately, there will be none of that for quite some time.  The group of men are quickly swept off course thanks to a massive storm causing all sorts of destruction below.  For days and days, they float along the jet stream and, with no land in sight, can only assume that all the blue below them means they are way above the Pacific Ocean.  They are and, when all hope is lost, finally see a strip of land.  Too bad they couldn’t get a better look at the island’s inhabitants before they land their balloon.  Starving, the men quickly go in search of edible items and are eventually joined by survivors Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and Elena Fairchild (Beth Rogan).

Everyone, with a strong collaborative effort, figure out how to survive this dangerous place.  The creatures are large and terrifying and, with invisible (but very, very helpful) hands guiding their survival, they can’t shake the feeling that they are being watched.  That’s when Nemo decides to reveal himself and the island’s purpose in man’s survival as a species.  Harryhausen’s designs – including the mattes and model work to make the locations breathe – are as key to the overall success of the movie as the sharp direction from Endfield, who uses swift edits to spike our adrenaline.  The scenes are masterfully composed and range from terror (the crab on the beach as it scoops up Neb) to comical (the big chicken threatening to squash the ladies).  Picking up on the many moods of Harryhausen is the fantastic score from Herrmann, who never lets up on the brass and guides viewers though the science and the fiction with delight.    

Cleverly written and satisfying to the final beat of its well-performed monstrous medley, Mysterious Island is a trip to the edge of the fantastic that – 55 years later – is just as inspiring as it was on the day of its release.

Mysterious Island (1961) - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: Not rated.
Runtime:
101 mins
Director
: Cy Endfield
Writer:
John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman
Cast:
Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan
Genre
: Adventure | Sci-fi
Tagline:
descending into adventure beyond imagination ...a world beyond belief!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Well, my war will set men free."
Distributor:
Columbia Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
August, 1961
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
December 8, 2015
Synopsis: During the Civil War a group of Union soldiers and two Confederates escape the stockade using a hot air balloon and end up on a strange Pacific island.

Mysterious Island (1961) - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - December 8, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit); English: DTS-HD; Master Audio Mono (48kHz, 24-bit); Music: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD-50)
Region Encoding: Region-free playback

The new 1080p transfer that Twilight Time offers fans is a treasure.  Colors are well-saturated and expressive at almost every turn.  Black levels are strong.  There is minimal wear-and-tear to the print used and, as the release is limited to 3000 copies, the release is a hard one to put down.  There is some dirt and some of the optical effects lose their luster in the edges but, for fans of the movie, owning this one is a no-brainer.  The original mono track is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio and an immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also offered.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Film Historians Randall William Cook, C. Courtney Joyner, and Steven C. Smith weigh in on the film’s successes and popularity in a strong commentary that many will appreciate.

Special Features:

Fans of Herrmann will love the fact that, among all the other supplemental items, there is an isolated score track that shows off the engaging beauty of his work on the film.  The interview with Harryhausen about the film is another nugget of goodness to chew on.  An archival reel about other mysterious islands is also included. 

  • Ray Harryhausen on Mysterious Island (15 min)
  • Islands of Mystery (5 min)
  • Isolated Score Track
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots

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