I’ve never read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I don’t know how that happened! I did have a copy of Kidnapped, which I had read when I was young, but not Treasure Island. I also have never seen any of the cinematic versions. Until this past week.
My first experience with Treasure Island is the 1990 version, starring Charlton Heston, Julian Glover, Christian Bale, Oliver Reed, Christopher Lee, directed by Fraser Clarke Heston. I loved it! But it was not at all what I was expecting. I appear to have developed some severe misconceptions over the years about the characters and plot based on photos from the 1950 Disney version that I used to study when I was a kid. I appear to have made up my own plot.
A few spoilers follow!
Biggest shock: for some reason, I had always thought Long John Silver was the good guy in Treasure Island. I knew he was a pirate, but I assumed he was on the side of right. Don’t ask me why. And boy, that couldn’t be farther from the truth! Silver’s a cold-hearted, ruthless, murdering villain! Knock me over with a parrot feather! I think I was further shocked because I'm used to Charlton Heston playing good guys, which added to my misconception going into this film. And he absolutely nails the role too. He is a perfect pirate, and a great villain, from the accent to the stained teeth. I love the moments in this movie when his smiling charming façade fades to dangerous, and his eyes get cold and calculating. I’m sometimes surprised he didn’t play more bad guys, he does it so well.
So, yeah. Long John Silver. Bad guy.
Second biggest shock: how much I loved the good guys. I again, mistakenly, assumed that there wouldn’t be many good characters beyond our young protagonist, Jim Hawkins (portrayed marvelously by a young Christian Bale). And again, I couldn’t have been farther off the mark.
Even as the movie gets going, and we meet Squire Trelawney (Richard Johnson) and Dr. Livesey, who fund and start the expedition to the island, I just thought they’d fade away, or get killed because I assumed this was a movie about a kid. My brain… it certainly can make a mess of stories when left to its own devices for many years! I loved both characters, particularly the wily doctor, played by the ever wonderful Julian Glover. Loved watching him sword fight! For a doctor, he's quite adept with that sword!
But beyond them, there’s a whole bunch of brave and honest Loyals, all standing against the pirates. I could not believe how much I fell in love with the captain (played by Clive Wood). I cannot even begin to enumerate the ways in which I love this character. Very cool-headed, intelligent, strong, brave, the definition of integrity and loyalty, and a good fighter and captain to boot. Very admirable character, and he’s now one of my all-time favorite characters. He really gets to shine when they make their stand in the stockade on the island. I must have watched that scene five times, and not just for him, but for all the good guys. I’m not used to having so many upstanding characters in one place! There was also Hunter, loyal seaman (played by Michael Thoma), who I love just about as much as the captain.
There's nary a dull moment in this film, but also plenty of room for the characters to grow, and I loved the sound, language, and style of the dialogue. Just puts you right back into that time period. My favorite speech was the captain telling Long John Silver after a parley just what he thought of Silver and the pirates, and what he, the Captain, stood for. Go Captain Smollett!
The film has commentary by Fraser Clarke Heston, which, once he got past the beginning where he seemed to be reading what he wanted to say, became quite interesting. Treasure Island was his favorite book growing up, and his father used to read it to him (how awesome would that be?), so of course, he jumped at the chance to make the film, and with his father no less. There’s some really nice stories in the commentary, and some nice insight into the choices he made when directing, the location shooting, real props, etc. He also wrote the script, and much of the dialogue is lifted straight from the novel. Dig that. No wonder I loved it. He also framed shots of the film to match the illustrations that were done in the book. Love that too.
And I particularly loved that the ship standing in for the Hispaniola is a replica of the HMS Bounty! Woo! There’s a lot of love and care put into this movie, with a very fine and expert cast, and I think it all shows.
The reviews I’ve read on IMDb and elsewhere are all extremely positive, most stating that this is the best and most accurate adaption of the novel. I can’t respond to that yet, but I plan on reading the novel at the earliest opportunity. I certainly did love the movie, enough that I may pick this up on DVD when I get a chance.