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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

JULES VERNE'S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND -- movie review by porfle

Never having read the original novel (I have to save some of the classics to help occupy my golden years) I can't point out all the ways in which JULES VERNE'S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (2010) differs from its source material.  For Verne's sake, though, I'll assume that most of the dumber stuff is new.

This SyFy Original Movie starts off during the last days of the Civil War, with a group of Union soldiers escaping their rebel captors in a hot-air balloon which then gets sucked into a time vortex within the Bermuda Triangle and deposited on the titular island.  I sense one or two deviations from Verne already.

We can tell which ones are the Confederate soldiers because they all have googly-eyed hick expressions, holler "Woooo!" and "Yee-haa!", and are either bad guys like Pencroft (J.D. Evermore) or deserters like Tom Ayrton (Lawrence Turner), both of whom also end up on the balloon.  Lochlyn Munro's Captain Cyrus Harding of Boston, on the other hand, is Mr. Wonderful. 

Cyrus' men are the semi-wonderful Neb (Edrick Browne), a black soldier who trades racial sneer-downs with Pencroft, and comical derp Private Herbert (Caleb Michaelson).  Pruitt Taylor Vince appears briefly as roguish journalist Gideon Spilett, but his character manages to fall out of the balloon right after takeoff. 

This being SyFy, I was expecting a menagerie of giant bad-CGI creatures to be roaming the island and was disappointed to find our heroes menaced only by a bunch of guys in hairy monster suits.  There is an oversized octopus who attacks anyone trying to leave by boat, but we see only its undulating tentacles (which seem to be a SyFy specialty). 

Things get relatively interesting when a small airplane flies out of the time vortex and crashes, the only survivors being Julia "Jules" Fogg (Gina Holden) and her incredibly annoying kid sister Abby (Susie Abromeit), whom I desperately wanted to see get eaten by, well, anything. 

They're from the year 2012 so they update the olden-times guys on things such as who won the "Civil War", who our current President is (Neb gets to say "neener-neener" to Pencroft over this one), and how being a rock star has nothing to do with actual rocks.  Jules is clearly intended for our man Cyrus romance-wise, while Abby seems to prefer Neb at first and then switches to Herbert since they have more in common, like stupidity.

Eventually they all stumble onto a mansion which turns out to belong to none other than Captain Nemo of the super-submarine Nautilus (William Morgan Sheppard), who has lived there since he created the time vortex and got sucked into it himself along with his now-dead crew.  Sheppard, recently seen as the stuffy Vulcan Science Academy dude in STAR TREK, is a distinguished actor with an impressive history, but here he just seems tired and not very excited by the whole thing.

About halfway through the movie, Jules finally notices the enormous active volcano right outside their doorstep, which is currently threatening to erupt and kill them all.  This adds an element of urgency to the meandering story (at around 91 minutes, this movie has a lot of time to kill) and gives the characters something to do as they endeavor to rebuild their balloon and power it with Nemo's electrical engine. 

With not a whole lot going on during much of its running time, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND could have benefited from some of those hokey CGI monsters SyFy churns out like sausage.  At the very least, they might've evoked pleasant memories of the Ray Harryhausen version with its awesome stop-motion creations.   

Production values are meager while technically the film is barely a cut above Timothy Hinds' infamous H.G. WELLS' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.  Mark Sheppard (who in flashback plays the younger Nemo to his father's elder one) directs as though he's doing a longer segment of "Battlestar Galactica", and the same style that works for a television episode just doesn't carry over well to a feature film.  The doggedly generic musical score doesn't help. 

The DVD from Green Apple Entertainment is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  I watched a screener so I can't comment on extras if any.

Bland and at times inept, JULES VERNE'S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND still manages to be mildly entertaining if you happen to be in a particularly undemanding mood.  But the unresolved ending, which leaves things open for either a sequel or yet another "lost in time" TV series, may have you wanting to eject the DVD and Frisbee it into the nearest waste vortex.   

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Rex Doctor said...

Good, helpful review, thxs!

Porfle Popnecker said...

Thanks, glad you liked it!