Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Treasure Island (1950)

If you don't know the story of Treasure Island - of Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver, The Hispaniola, mutiny and treachery and more - then you have missed out on some classic adventure goodness. The original story was written many years ago by Robert Louis Stevenson but I assure you that it holds up as a cracking yarn to this day, mainly because it throws in every pirate-related detail you have ever heard of and doesn't once apologise for it (of course, the cliches may not have seemed quite so cliched when the story was first published, considering how it pretty much created most of the established pirate traits).

This live action Disney take on the material isn't bad but the material deserves much better. It's such a great tale that I'd feel fairly assured in suggesting that it's almost impossible to make a mess of (though I'm sure that many have tried). The House Of Mouse have actually made a number of trips to this well with Muppet Treasure Island, Pirates Of The Caribbean (the ride and, of course, the popular movies deriving from the essence of Treasure Island) and Treasure Planet, to name but a few. This first attempt is probably the weakest of the ones I have seen but it still makes for passable entertainment.

Bobby Driscoll (known to Disney fans for his appearance in Song Of The South and his voicing of one Peter Pan) plays young Jim Hawkins, the lad who ends up with a pirate treasure map. He's also, along with everyone else in the tale, oblivious to the fact that Long John Silver (Robert Newton) is a scheming pirate. Which allows Long John Silver to help gather the crew that the few non-pirates need to acquire for their treasure hunt. Nobody seems suspicious despite the fact that Long John Silver has a parrot (one named after a pirate and that likes to squawk "pieces of eight", no less). Nobody seems to wonder just why Long John Silver says "aarrrrrr" so much. Surely these things are clues. Oh, and the fact that his name is Long John bloody Silver should have tipped people off.

Joking aside, the film suffers most from the same major problem that the source material had. Everything seems just a bit too over the top and obvious to take anyone by surprise. Those swarthy, coarse men are pirates?? They're all greedy enough to want the treasure for themselves?? Long John Silver has a cunning plan despite the fact that from the very beginning he looked like someone with a cunning plan?? Because the book left more to your imagination this wasn't really such a big problem. If things seemed too over the top and obvious then you could convince yourself that your imagination was at fault. The movie leaves you with no such excuse.

Byron Haskin directs competently enough and the script by Lawrence Edward Watkin translates the story quite faithfully. As the movie shared the big flaw of the book, so it shares the big plus point - the shifting moral compass of Long John Silver and the relationship that develops between him and Jim Hawkins. Everyone, and everything, is present and correct, from Billy Bones to Blind Pugh to the "black spot" to whatever else you can recall from the source material. Sadly, nothing really special is added to it all.


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