A somewhat formulaic anthology with utterly unique leads
Loves: Tattoo, Mr. Roarke, Ricardo Montalban
Likes: Herve Villechaize, TV anthologies
Dislikes: C-level stars
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 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 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.
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
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.