It’s worse than Mutiny, Squire. It’s murder. And if they’re successful you won’t see anything at all because you will be quite dead!
I think it’s safe to say that this is a relatively well known film compared to most that I usually review, and also one of the oldest. Infact, I think that other than those that I reviewed for last year’s “Halloween Countdown” special, this is the second oldest film that I’ve reviewed for this site.
I first saw this movie when I was around eight of nine years old and I’ve seen several attempts at telling the same story since, and none have come close to the excellence of this adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel.
With my motivation to watch and review films being relatively low at the moment, I thought to myself that it is worth reviewing a film that I had already seen, and going back to my parent’s house for my mum’s birthday and seeing this on the cupboard inspired me to the point where I thought “why not?”
One day Jim (Bale) and his mother (Isla Blair) are visited at their inn by the scruffy and heavily drunk Billy Bones (Reed). He pays them at first, but he stays long after his money runs out and the family are too scared to kick him out, especially as he seems to be fearing something that is coming for him, making him even more volatile. One day that thing arrives in the form of a blind man named Pew (Lee). He hands Billy the black spot, a death sentence. Billy eventually dies from his alcoholism, with Jim and his mother looting his belongings for what he owes them. Amongst his possessions is a map.
Barely escaping Pew, Jim eventually confides in Squire Trelawney (Johnson), and he agrees to fund an expedition to find the treasure indicated on the map. Once the ship sets sail, Jim befriends the peg-legged cook, a man by the name of John Silver (Heston), otherwise known as “Long John”. Although all seems fine at first, it turns out that the treasure map belonged to Silver’s former captain, and he plans on stealing the treasure for himself. Little does he realise that the conversation with his former crew-mates is within earshot of Jim.
Jim reveals all to the officers of the ship, and once the ship makes shore, it becomes a fight for survival, both against each other and in Silver’s case, against his supposed allies.
Why get excited about a story that everyone knows?
Yes, this is one of those stories that you would do very well to find someone that doesn’t know it. The story, and the characters, are classics in fiction and arguably the greatest piece of literature about pirates ever written. It would be easy to write this off as one of the typical books-to-film adaptations and leave it at that, but it you do that then you are missing out on an excellent adventure.
Let’s start right off and say that this feels very different to every other pirate film that I have seen. A lot of films about pirates feel clean, and somewhat polished, but there is nothing like that about “Treasure Island”, it is remarkably brutal, violent and grimy, it still amazes me to this day that it only has a PG rating because you see a lot of the aforementioned types of films that are nowhere near as brutal and get higher ratings. I suspect that if “Treasure Island” was released at the cinema today then it would have a 15 rating, at minimum.
Nothing is held back, there’s bloody fights, clips of people being shot, characters stabbing each other with swords. It’s gloriously grim and violent, and it works so well because it’s not doing it just for the sake of those things, it’s doing it to add to an already excellently told version of the story.
The characters are all portrayed superbly by their respective actors, but Charlton Heston comfortably stands out in a commanding presence on screen. I will make a bold statement here and say that no matter how many portrayals there will ever be of the character in the future (and there is at least one more Treasure Island film currently in production), no-one will come close to re-creating Heston’s performance. He absolutely nails it. Whilst the rest of the cast is excellent, Heston steals the show.
What I especially love about “Treasure Island” is that there are a lot of minor characters that actually get a decent amount of screen time, such as Israel Hands (who can’t seem to make up his mind about whether he is supposed to be on the ship or the island), Hunter and arguably my favourite minor character, George Merry, who is played delightfully by the ever reliable Pete Postlethwaite.
For those that don’t know the story that well, George Merry is a very ambitious character and has his sights on the leadership of the pirates, even towards the end comically convincing one of the others to cut out a section of the Bible as a make-shift black spot. Realistically the character doesn’t stand a chance in hell of overthrowing Silver, and even if he did, he’s not strong enough to lead them, which makes the situation even more intriguing.
The film pays attention to the minor details that a lot of other pirate films ignore, for example, in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” quadrilogy, how often does a character fall ill? I will admit to not having watched any of them for a while, but I’m pretty certain that they’re always feeling pretty fine, whereas that wouldn’t be realistic in an environment where people aren’t eating well or taking care of themselves. “Treasure Island” addresses that and makes an interesting dynamic with a temporary truce between the two camps in order for the doctor to treat the pirates that have fallen ill.
If you somehow don’t know the story then I can’t recommend this highly enough, and I’m not just talking about the film, but the story in general.
One of the most realistic pirate films ever, “Treasure Island” may be a story in which you know everything that happens going into it, but I would still implore you to watch this version as it is one of the best book-to-film adaptations in the history of film.
With an excellent cast, essentially a guide of the best that Britain had to offer twenty-six years ago, “Treasure Island” deserves to be better known, or at least watched. It was genuinely surprised that the film had as few votes on IMDB as it did (just over 3,000 at the time of writing).
I almost don’t want to post the trailer because it is one of the worst trailers for a great film that I have ever seen and doesn’t do it justice.