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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Mysterious Island (Encore Edition) (Blu-ray)
Mysterious Island (Encore Edition) (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // Unrated // December 14, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Twilighttimemovies]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted January 7, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Loosely based on Jules Verne's 1874 novel (which was itself a quasi-sequel to both 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and In Search of the Castaways, the first of which also featured Captain Nemo), Cy Endfield's Mysterious Island (1961) has been adapted several other times for film, TV, and other media. The source material is ripe with the possibility of imaginative visuals and...well, mystery, making this film a perfect showcase for the enjoyable creatures and effects from the mind of Ray Harryhausen. Featuring a terrific score by Bernard Hermann, solid performances, and memorable visuals, there's a lot to like here and it all ties together nicely during this short but sweet adventure.

We're dropped in the middle of a Confederate prison camp during the American Civil War in 1865, where Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) and three men are planning to escape in a nearby gas-powered balloon sitting outside. Their plan works and, with Confederate Sergeant Pencroft (Percy Herbert) reluctantly in tow, the Union prisoners escape into the stormy night. Eventually floating west, high above the clouds (but still very much at the wind's mercy), they eventually land on an uncharted volcanic island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Captain Harding naturally assumes command; Pencroft (again, reluctantly) falls in line, as do Union soldiers Herbert Brown (Michael Callan), Neb (Dan Jackson), and war correspondent Gideon Spillet (Gary Merrill). Each have their own duties, with the common goals of (a) staying alive and (b) planning a different escape, since the balloon's out of commission.

Survival would be hard enough without a giant crab, dino-sized bird, lurking cephalopod, and marauding pirates, but that pesky volcano starts acting up too. Even with the help of two shipwrecked English women (Joan Greenwood and Beth Rogan) and Captain Nemo himself (Herbert Lom), things heat up once the lava flows. Luckily, they've got a plan: resurrect a sunken ship with that trusty gas balloon and sail to freedom. Easy enough, right?

Even those new to Mysterious Island (or the work of Ray Harryhausen) should have no trouble jumping right in. There's very little fat here...just tons of adventure, amusing interplay among the diverse cast, and no shortage of impressive visuals. In fact, the closest thing to dead weight is a budding romance between young Herbert Brown and the fetching Elena Fairchild: it's natural that the settings and circumstances would yield romance, but their characters are two of the least developed. As a result, the whirlwind relationship feels more like a desperate stab at sex appeal than an earned, organic part of an otherwise tight story. But as a whole, Mysterious Island works as well as it does due to the triple threat of Harryhausen, composer Bernard Hermann, and director Cy Endfield, who are able to craft an enjoyable romp through uncharted territory that can make just about anyone feel like a kid at the movies.

Mysterious Island reappears on Blu-ray as an "Encore Edition" from Twilight Time, who released a a limited edition in 2011 that sold out quickly. Those who bought that original disc might be annoyed at the prospect of re-buying a film just three years later (especially since this one offers a modest A/V upgrade and several new extras), but it'll likely hold its value for those looking to unload their first pressing for extra pocket money. Either way, this is an extremely well-rounded disc that fans will enjoy owning and newcomers should consider while it's still in print.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Word has it that this clean and crisp 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer of Mysterious Island looks a little different than the previous Twilight Time Blu-ray (and slightly for the better)...but since I don't own that out-of-print disc, I can't say for sure. It is obvious, though, that this is a top-quality effort: image detail and film grain are consistently appealing, the colors are rendered nicely, no major damage is present, and black levels are quite good. The only glaring issues are likely unavoidable and usually due to the effects shots: matte lines are highly visible (and might even be mistaken for heavy edge enhancement at times), small color fluctuations pop up every now and then, and contrast levels don't always match up evenly. But taken for what it is, Mysterious Island looks fantastic on Blu-ray and was realistically never meant to be picked apart by videophiles with high-definition displays and the ability to freeze-frame.

DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are purely decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.

The audio's been given a little extra love as well: there are no less than five separate tracks on this Blu-ray, including a brand new DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mix that replicates the original two-channel experience. Still on board, of course, are the lossless mono and remixed 5.1 tracks from the early Twilight disc; both are excellent for completely different reasons, but it's hard not to get swept up in Bernard Hermann's original score during the more enveloping but tasteful 5.1 mix. An audio commentary is included too, as mentioned in the Bonus Features section. Either way, with this many options available it's almost impossible to give Mysterious Island anything less than a perfect score; after all, what more could you want here? Optional English subtitles have been included during the film as well.

Menus, Presentation, & Packaging

Not much to the menu: it's just a static interface that's basically identical to the original cover art with separate options for playback, chapter selection, audio/subtitle setup, and bonus features. This one-disc release is packaged in a clear keepcase and includes a recycled Booklet with specs, production notes, and an essay by Julie Kirgo.

Bonus Features

Twilight Time's original Blu-ray included the previously mentioned Isolated Score track, as well as an original Trailer and TV Spot for the film; those bonus features return here, along with several others for good measure.

First and foremost is a feature-length Audio Commentary with film historians Randall William Cook, C. Courtney Joiner, and Steven C. Smith, who contribute a solid track loaded with comments about director Cy Endfield's contributions, the detailed effects work from Harryhausen and his team, shooting locations, Bernard Hermann's original score, and much more. Also new here are two short featurettes (16 minutes total): "Ray Harryhausen on Mysterious Island" features the effects legend discussing the film (along with storyboards and vintage photos), and "Islands of Mystery" is a black-and-white promotional piece highlighting the production. Finally, we get a Re-Release Trailer, two TV Trailers, and two more TV Spots. Overall, it's a nice set of extras that will only frustrate those who have to buy it again.

Final Thoughts

Mysterious Island offers no shortage of escapism, enjoyable adventure, memorable locales, great music, and some of Ray Harryhausen's most creative and successful effects shots. What's more is that these elements blend together smoothly, and it's all sewn together by capable direction from Cy Endfield. The end result is highly entertaining and accessible, whether the spectacle of Harryhausen's work impressed you as a kid or you're just looking for a good jumping-on point. Twilight Time's "Encore Edition" finally makes Mysterious Island available again after their original Blu-ray sold out quickly; this updated package adds in several worthwhile bonus features and a bit of fine-tuning in the A/V department. For obvious reasons, pick this up while it's still available! Highly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
Highly Recommended
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