Ray Harryhausen’s Mysterious Island (1961)

April 18, 2016 | By

If I had to choose three of the most thrilling fantasy films from my childhood that still hold their own decades after they were made (and a few decades since I was a kid), they would be (in no particular order) Mysterious Island (1961), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), and The Thief of Bagdad (1940).

ThiefBagdad1940CriterionI stress the word fantasy because these are tales of fantastical adventures of kids (Bagdad) and adults reduced to feeling as perplexed and fearful as kids (Mysterious and Journey), although they all have monstrous creatures, eeevil villains, and normal people encountering weird & wonderful phenomena in parts of the world kept off limits deliberately, or due to geological and / or oceanic barriers.JourneyToTheCentreEarth1959_BR2015

Whether it’s a cave of giant spiders, an ocean at the Earth’s core, or being blown onto a pirate island where Captain Nemo waits out his own doom, these are stories that transport the child in everyone to a world filled with colour and striking environments rendered in Dynamation, CinemaScope, and Technicolor, respectively.

The secret to each film’s endurance might reside in timing – catching the film around the age of 10 – or the fact each still stands as the most enjoyable version amid silent productions, serial adaptations, remakes, TV series, and genre hybrids.

In the Bagdad commentary, co-commentator Francis Ford Coppola starts to sing the pirate song composed by Miklos Rozsa; and in the newly recorded commentary for their 2015 reissue, Twilight Time’s trio of film historians recall their respective bonding moments with Harryhausen’s production of Island in cinemas.

Mysterious Island_BR2016It’s also testimony to Island’s own mystique that Twilight Time’s prior 2012 Blu-ray sold out rather briskly, thereby mandating a reissue, this time sporting a new HD transfer, and more extras that pretty much gather everything from prior DVD, Blu, and laserdisc editions.

You could successfully argue Sony was plain nuts in not releasing the film themselves, given they own the royal line of Harryhausen’s sci-fi and fantasy classics, but then Mysterious may not have received the royal treatment from Twilight Time in meeting the needs of Harryhausen, composer Bernard Herrmann, and fantasy film fans with what’s probably the definitive home video edition.

I mention Herrmann because he also happens to be the composer of the two Jules Verne adaptations, Journey and Island, and these scores rank among his best within the fantasy genre. Mysterious holds a special place because it’s so robustly packed with intrigue and delicately arranged passages of calm before a shock cue, and an incredible range of colour wrought from the orchestra. The island fanfare motif is a simple and addictive piece of music that should still make every 10 year old sit up, ready to be plunged into weird worlds of creatures and deadly encounters.

Naturally, as I finish editing this blog, I’m listening to the score, as assembled from the Could Nine CD, a bonus track from a related collection, and the isolated music & effects track pulled from the laserdisc. Those who know the music will understand the mania that drove me to stitch together the most complete version of the score. Coppola still sings the pirate song, and I’ll keep spinning this benchmark in Herrmann’s remarkable filmography.

Coming shortly: reviews of Adam Rifkin’s amazing documentary Giuseppe Makes a Movie (Cineliciouspics) and James Garner in Burt Kennedy’s classic western satire Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter (Twilight Time).




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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