In 10 Words or Less
A somewhat formulaic anthology with utterly unique leads
Loves: Tattoo, Mr. Roarke, Ricardo Montalban
Likes: Herve Villechaize, TV anthologies
Dislikes: C-level stars
Perhaps it's because our stars are paid too much today, but we don't get nearly as much "guest star" fun as they did in the '70s, when you could find stars moonlighting all over the dial, in shows like "Match Game," "Battle of the Network Stars," "The Love Boat" and "Circus of the Stars." One of the most natural examples of this genre was "Fantasy Island." Built around a foreign island where people's dreams come true, the show was something of throw-back to the old "Playhouse 90" anthology shows, with two separate stories of wish fulfillment told in an hour. The stories are intertwined, but not connected.
The only thing connecting each story and each episode, besides the Island, are the Island's hosts, the mysterious Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban) and his assistant, the diminutive Tattoo (Herve Villechaize). Roarke's guests pay $50,000 to live out their fantasies on his Island, which he goes to great lengths to put together. Roarke is an interesting fellow, in that he doesn't give his guests only the good parts of their fantasies, but the negatives as well. Bemused by their reactions, he can be caring or cold, but always intrigued by people.
Tattoo, on the other hand, only cares about people if they are of the female persuasion. If they are not, he only cares about the money they bring into the Island. The differences in philosophy, with Roarke being a suave sophisticate and Tattoo a horny little devil, make their exchanges rather humorous. Their short scenes are often the best part of the show, as they tell small pieces of the overall story of the Island, giving clues to the viewer of a mystery that likely will go unsolved.
The show opens the same way each time, as Roarke and Tattoo greet the new guests to the Island, giving some of the exposition as they step out of the seaplane. Once on land, their fantasies can begin. The fantasies are very varied, but often the main idea is dissatisfaction with their lot in life or the love in their life. Roarke may give them what they want more than anything else, but it often has a consequence that wasn't considered, one that helps them appreciate their regular life more.
In addition to the 14 episodes, the set includes the two 90-minute TV movies that predate the series, "Fantasy Island" and "Return to Fantasy Island." In these films, Roarke is a much darker character, who seems to enjoy making his guests suffer, throwing out ominous lines like "Welcome to Fantasy Island...indeed." His malevolent personality gave the show an edge that was entertaining, and made the plots a bit deeper.
While the movies featured well-known actors like Adrienne Barbeau, Bill Bixby, Peter Lawford and Victoria Principal, the series fell back on a cast of guest stars that were a bit past their prime, but popular nonetheless. Throw a rock and you'll hit a syndication superstar, be it Maureen McCormick ("The Brady Bunch"), Gary Burghoff ("M.A.S.H.") or Richard Dawson ("Family Feud"). They may have given the show a bit of shine during it's day, but now, it's pure retro-cheese, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, as Mr. Roarke says again and again, "This is Fantasy Island."
If I have anything to complain about, it's the lack of focus on Roarke and Tattoo. I would say that if this was a modern series the elements of good and evil and Roarke's motivations would be explored, but the remake just trashed the concept, instead of embracing it. There are small mentions or gestures throughout the season that the Island isn't what it seems, and that perhaps otherworldly powers are behind the fantasies, but they are just mentioned in passing and never brought to the spotlight. There's a pretty cool backstory here, just waiting to be told in this tropical Twilight Zone.
The two films and 14 episodes that make up the first season of "Fantasy Island" are spread over four single-sided DVDs. The discs come in a pair of two-disc ThinPaks, which are held in a cardboard slipcase. The cases have synopses for each two-part episode on the back, and a nice photo spread of the island on the inside.
The discs have static full-frame menus that offer a play-all choice, episode selections, language options and special features. The episode selection menus have still previews and titles for each choice, while language options include Spanish and Portuguese subtitles and English, Portuguese and Spanish audio tracks. The first film has only English and Spanish tracks, while the second film only has an English track.
The first film is stunning in its quality, with a gorgeously re-mastered full-frame transfer. The color is bright and bold, without bleeding or blurring, while the level of detail is much higher than one might expect. Some dirt is evident here and there, more so during stock footage, but overall, it's a beautiful, crisp image. Unfortunately, the second film is in much worse shape, suffering from washed-out color and a softness that's very distracting. Thankfully, this is as bad as the set gets. The regular episodes, though not as sharp as the first film, look decent, with some noticeable video noise and softness, as well as some dirt and hair and edge enhancement. Dark scenes don't fare as well as lighter ones, thanks to additional noise, but it's nowhere as bad as the second film.
The audio is presented as a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that captures the sound of the show well. The mix isn't exactly adventurous, but it is very clear, maintaining a proper separation between the frequent music and sound effects and the dialogue.
Surprisingly, Sony has provided a few extras for this series, starting with a pair of featurettes on the fourth disc. "Creating the Fantasy" spends almost 15 minutes looking at the series' creation and the first season episodes, and is made up of interviews with some of the crew. Original concepts that were discarded are discussed, along with plenty of behind-the-scenes information.
The nine-minute "Spending a Day at Fantasy Island" looks at the cast involved in creating "Fantasy Island," through interviews with the crew from the first featurette and some of the actors, including Ken Berry, Mary Ann Mobley, Adrienne Barbeau, and Joe Campanella. The familiar nature of the cast was a big part of the show's appeal, and this featurette gives some context to the guest stars' appearances.
Spread over the final three discs are 11 "teasers" that ran on TV to promote upcoming episodes of the series. These previews were just footage from the show, edited together to show the storylines, but it's interesting to see how low-tech TV promos were in 1977. It's not likely you'll watch these more than once though. Disc One also has a handful of previews for Sony products.
The Bottom Line
Despite the very formulaic feel of the series' bookends, the presence of Montalban and Villechaize energize a series that unfortunately pulled its punches following two dark and more interesting films. There's actually nothing that ties together one episode to another, other than Mr. Roarke and Tattoo, which makes the series easy to shuffle through and watch leisurely for its diverse set of tales. Younger viewers, though, might have a hard time getting much out of one of the series' key selling points, the guest stars, who are almost entirely obscure and/or forgotten.
The DVDs present the episodes in a very welcome condition, especially the first film. That they're offered with a modicum of special features just further helps make this a set worth checking out. It may be one of the best Netflix-compatible sets available, as you can watch any episode on any disc at any time. It's a great piece of nostalgic TV, and a fun time, especially when the show's stars are on-screen.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.