In February 2012, two films were released purporting to be adaptations of Jules Verne’s 1874 novel, The Mysterious Island. One was the major motion picture, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. It had little to do with the book other than to suggest an actual island inspired Verne’s story. On Saturday February 11, the SyFy Channel aired Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island which took another tact completely. However, what the two films share is a large dose of science fiction in their scripts, something that wasn’t in the original book.
Clearly influenced by Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson, Verne’s story opened with five Union soldiers escaping from a Confederate prison camp in Richmond. They stole a Rebel hot air balloon and floated for several days until they crashed on a deserted island in the South Pacific. Marooned, the castaways began building a settlement and battle both the elements and pirates. Along the way, someone or something was aiding them. This turned out to be a dying Captain Nemo, the protagonist in Verne’s earlier 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. After he tells the men his story, he is buried in his submarine, the Nautilus, and a passing ship rescues the soldiers.
Much of this plot is retained in Cameron Larson’s 2012 TV movie script. This time, the soldiers include Emmy Award-winner Pruitt Taylor Vince (The Walking Dead, JFK,Constantine) and Lochlyn Munro (Dead Man on Campus, White Chicks. However, the company doesn’t end up in the South Pacific. Instead, they travel in space and time to an island stuck inside the Bermuda Triangle. They learn this after meeting two women from the 21st Century, Abby and Jules Fogg, played by Susie Arbromeit (Battle: Los Angeles) and Gina Holden (Alien vs. Predator). (The names were clearly homage’s to both author Jules Verne and Phileas Fogg from the 1873 Verne travel adventure, Around the World in 80 Days). The soldiers learn the North won the Civil War, that the “flying locomotives” they see littered around the island are called airplanes, and that strange monsters torment them at night.
As with the book, Captain Nemo (W. Morgan Sheppard, Star Trek, Transformers, Gods and Generals) helps from afar until he finally reveals himself to the group. In this version, he recounts how he was the one who made the rip in space and time that even he can’t escape. A younger version of Nemo is played by Sheppard’s son, Mark Sheppard (Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural, Warehouse 13, Firefly) who also made his directorial debut for the 91 minute movie.
Now, Green Apple Entertainment is issuing a no-frills edition of the movie on DVD which attracted some two million viewers for its broadcast premiere. The producers knew they had a marketable product as plans for the DVD release were made before that airing. And why not? The film is simple, diverting family entertainment. Whatever happens around the castaways, all the characters are fairly low-key with no histrionic reactions nor flamboyant melodramatics. The Fogg sisters seem more impressed to discover Amelia Earhart’s lost plane than they are by the howls of the unseen creatures in the dark. There’s minimal discord among the castaways themselves as everyone rallies to the cause of surviving whatever the island throws at them.
In short, while the original book was most enjoyed by boys of all ages, the addition of the Fogg sisters makes this incarnation fun for boys and girls who like adventure stories that are fast-paced, politically correct, and totally implausible. This is pure escapism, with subtle organ swirls evoking movie serials of old like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. If Green Apple wants to really be kind to us, why not a DVD set of the late, great SyFy series, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne? It was the first digitally-produced TV series ever made, had all the ingredients of the Verne canon, and really, really deserves renewed appreciation. All these projects remind us that it’s a delight to know one of the fathers of Sci-Fi is still a source of inspiration and imagination for generations long after he laid his pen aside.