Genre: Fantasy | Adventure
Air Date/Time: February 11, 9/8c
Writer: Cameron Larson
Director: Mark Sheppard
Cast: Gina Holden, Lochlyn Munro, J.D. Evermore, Caleb Michaelson, Edrick Browne, W. Morgan Sheppard, Susie Abromeit, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mark Sheppard
Filmed on location in Louisiana, K2 Pictures and Leverage Entertainment present a cinematic adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1874 novel “The Mysterious Island”. The story begins during the American Civil War, as famine and death ravage the city of Richmond, Virginia. Five northern POWs make the decision to escape the war by hijacking a hot air balloon! Drifting through the night, they wake to find themselves marooned on a desert island, but they aren’t alone… Faced with defending themselves against vicious pirates, terrifying creatures, and an active volcano that’s ready to blow, they must find a way to survive and escape the island. Hope only comes when they encounter the island’s oldest resident, Captain Nemo himself (W. Morgan Sheppard). With his help, they set to work crafting an escape… but will they make it in time before the island claims them forever?
Before even seeing the movie, it has three strengths: the cast, the location, and the name. Let’s start with the cast. Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island sports an absolutely terrific group headed up by Lochlyn Munro and Gina Holden. If you watch much series TV you will have seen Lochlyn Munro; on Charmed he played Prue’s nemesis partner at the auction house, and has had guest appearances in countless other shows, including The Dead Zone, Dead Like Me, and more recently Smallville, Castle, and The Mentalist. You’ll know him when you see him. Gina Holden was in Harper’s Island, as well as Flash Gordon the TV series, Smallville, and Saw 3D.
The inimitable W. Morgan Sheppard may have actually been in more sci-fi shows than his son, JVMI director Mark Sheppard, though that’s a formidable task, as Mark has been in seemingly every sci-fi show since the 90s, but is most well-known amongst Our Crowd as Badger on Firefly, attorney Romo Lampkin on Battlestar Galactica, Crowley on Supernatural, and Valda on Warehouse 13, as well as Canton Delaware on the most recent season of Doctor Who. He also makes a brief appearance in this movie, in my favorite part.
Round these off with an all-too-quick appearance by the great Pruitt Taylor Vince, the late Otis from season 2 of The Walking Dead, and you can see what a nice lot of talent there is to be had for this movie. In actual execution, the leads, Lochlyn Munro, Gina Holden and W. Morgan Sheppard, steal the show. They truly engage the cameras, and consequently the viewers.
It was shot on location in Louisiana, which does a nice job of making the island look tropical but not an aqua blue paradise. Instead, it’s more swampy, which lends itself to being more creepy, a bonus for this shoot.
Then the name: Jules Verne! Mysterious Island! Come on, what a great combination! Only… this movie bears little resemblance to the book, and has much more in common with Hollywood treatments of the story. While a more faithful rendition of the Verne classic would have been great, Mark Sheppard pointed out in a recent interview that Mysterious Island is probably the most difficult Verne book to translate to the screen. Besides, screen adaptations of Verne’s works have been great in their own way, over the years, so there is still a lot of potential there.
Given the really talented and seasoned cast and the great location, along with the great potential story, I was really looking forward to this movie. So what is it that makes portions of it so very uncomfortable to watch?
The story… is okay. Major elements have been added in that are new even to all of the screen adaptations. The lines are… hmm, also okay. In fact, as an aside, this cast handles the necessarily somewhat stilted language of the 1800s a LOT better than many cast members (and script writers) of another show that features similar, fairy tale land language. But in this movie sometimes the lines are too stilted, or in the case of Jules’s sister, too teenager-ish. There are some ridiculously hokey lines, but ah well, it’s a Saturday movie. I’ve seen, and enjoyed, worse.
Admittedly, the expectation that a Jules Verne production is going to be steampunky and fabulous did make the actuality of a “lower-budget” production a disappointment. The effects? Hokey in the extreme, but there aren’t that many. The camera angles and shots are in fact really well done; the actors shine in the close-ups. There are some work-around shots to avoid expensive effects, but that’s okay. Unfortunately the picture quality on my screener was horrible, but I’m hoping it’s a third generation copy. If not, don’t bother watching this on HD; my Blu-ray player certainly did it no favors. Again, that wasn’t really the problem.
So we head into the less obvious areas. The lighting? Too harsh, with far too much backlighting, which seems minor but it really cheapens the look of the production. I don’t know if more subtle lighting is more expensive or if there is some other reason, but it could help. The sound? Fine, except the music is straight out of a bad copy of a bad 70s made-for-tv movie or drama, and it’s relentless. There are very few moments without some sort of meandering soundtrack going on in the background. It seems like a small, silly thing, but it wears on me. When it’s warranted, especially during action scenes, it’s fine, but we don’t need music under the dialogue. Stop it. Seriously.
But I think I finally figured out the main problem, and it’s really obscure: it’s the editing. And I’m not talking about whether the scenes makes sense the way they’re cut together. It’s that almost every dialogue exchange has at least one extra beat, before the shot switches to the other person speaking. Stay with me on this. Imagine the Darth Vader/Obi Wan showdown in A New Hope. The camera is on Darth Vader. “When I left you I was only a learner. Now I am the master.” Now wait – before the camera switches to Obi Wan, stay on Vader for an extra beat. NOW go to Obi Wan, “Only a master of evil, Darth.” Doesn’t it drive you a little crazy? Doesn’t it feel like an amateur production? This happens over and over again in this movie, and it kills the momentum Every. Single. Time. Honestly, it drove me freaking crazy. And before you think I AM crazy, watch for yourself and see. Edit off that extra beat and this puppy would really move, and be much more exciting.
Did the editor bring down the whole production single-handedly? No. As I said, the lighting, music, and script were lacking as well, and Jules Verne on a budget is a bit disappointing. But on the up side, we still have the honestly excellent performances of the actors, particularly the leads. We have the great location. And we have something else: a very special segment featuring Mark Sheppard that has only narration, no dialogue (so none of that editing issue), and it is GREAT. It should be the basis for a campaign to get Syfy to support a Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea miniseries starring Mark Sheppard. He’s willing, and I’m totally serious.