From Green Apple Entertainment comes Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island. Directed by the fantastic Mark Sheppard (Warehouse 13, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly), this tale is adapted from the novel of the same name by the famous author. In it, Civil War soldiers end up on a chunk of land in the middle of the sea, threatened by deadly creatures they do not understand, running from pirates, and helped by an unseen friend.
Whenever one sees something horrible, it’s a difficult job to critique. This is the case with Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island. Spending any time at all reviewing opens one’s eyes to the dedication and commitment so many people pour into each and every project that is released. Just because a program is bad, doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of people who worked really hard on it. It’s not with any sense of meanness that I respond to this film. It’s not fun to tear someone down, and credit must be given to anyone who pours heart and soul into building a project such as this. But fair and honest review must be given.
Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island is not about characters; it is about story. Specifically, the story of some survivors trapped on an island, struggling to survive. Then they realize that the island will soon be destroyed, and they must get off. Which means it relies heavily on action, suspense, and special effects, which are not the strong suit of this film.
Some of the special effects are serviceable. Not big screen worthy, to be sure, but for television, the giant octopus and the lightning clouds are not bad. Other effects are pretty horrible, and having the villains run around in shaggy coats harkens back to the 1960s, when Star Trek couldn’t afford anything better. But with a limited budget, priorities must be in place. Regular SyFy viewers should be unphased, as it is on par with the made-for-TV movies the network produces. It’s just a shame, because a story like The Mysterious Island really needs more money to make it work correctly.
The writing falls flat. This is not the fault of the source material, which has a lot more characters, and twists, than this adaptation. But forced into the TV movie format and length, and playing by the general conventions of such films on SyFy, decisions have been made that do not benefit the production. The Civil War soldiers from the book remain, but without the journalist or the dog that accompanies them. Also, a couple of girls from 2012 are added, which provides a little bit of commentary on the improvement of race relations towards a Confederate soldier.
Too bad the other characters appear more evolved than befits a person of their time, and accept their new reality, and nice treatment of minorities, without question. That’s not to say anyone should be racist, but with such a great opportunity for meaty drama presented, to have it barely passed over is disappointing.
The one cool thing this movie does that the book does not is add a little to Nemo’s tragic back story, changing the circumstances surrounding his crew’s fate. I will not spoil the twist, but it’s a fitting one that deserves more explanation than appears on screen.
Some of the acting is decent, too. Press materials promote Emmy winner Pruitt Taylor Vince (The Walking Dead) as being in the cast, but sadly, his part is small and unimportant. However, Gina Holden (Harper’s Island, Flash Gordon) is good, and W. Morgan Sheppard (The Prestige) makes a great Nemo. Even better, Sheppard’s real life son, Mark, the director of the film, cameos as a young Nemo in flashback! Mark, a go-to guest star in many terrific series, is always wonderful.
Unfortunately, Gina is just the supportive female, and the Sheppards aren’t the leads, either. Carrying the film falls to Lochlyn Munro (Charmed, White Chicks), who plays Union Captain Cyrus Harding. It isn’t that Munro is bad, it’s just that he fails to fully connect this character with the audience. Harding mostly tries to control the situation, but doesn’t reveal much of himself. This leads to a protagonist who folks don’t care about, making it hard to get into the film.
There isn’t much to complain about in the rest of the cast. But the other characters are even flatter than Cyrus, playing on stereotypes and conventions, and not getting much development on a personal level.
Overall, Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island is not without some merit, but it doesn’t beg for repeat viewings, nor can I recommend it for purchase, especially when being sold, sans special features, at a price equivalent will fully loaded releases. It’s a diversion, and fans of cheesy science fiction might enjoy it. It is now available on DVD.