When this movie disappointed at the box office, the sequel was cancelled. I just discovered this. Which means I just discovered that they’d cast Willem Dafoe as the villain, and I am incredibly disappointed by the whole thing. And maybe I’m part of the problem, since I didn’t see this movie in the theatre. On the other hand, we own it, so that’s one up over quite a lot of people. Though I’ll confess that I’m pleased to discover our copy was not packed up and in storage, as so many of our movies are, since I’d promised a friend I was going to do this movie this week, and I didn’t want to pay for it on Amazon.
Young Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is wild and restless. He’s clearly an extremely smart boy, but he’s on probation already at the age of, I don’t know, like sixteen or something? Anyway, Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan) stumbles into the inn, hands Jim a mysterious sphere, tells him to beware the cyborg, and dies. Pirates attack and burn the inn, and Jim flees with family friend Doctor Doppler (David Hyde Pierce). They discover that it’s a treasure map, and Doppler hires a ship and crew to go off on an adventure. And the crew is untrustworthy, and the ship’s cook, Long John Silver (Brian Murray), is a cyborg.
Yes, all right, this is the second adaptation of this story that we’ve done, and the fact that this one features aliens and spaceships and a robot and a female captain (Emma Thompson as Captain Amelia) is a mere detail. Except for the part where what we’re really doing is not so much telling a story as absorbing a world. This is a barely altered story from the one which opened the column, because the whole point was that they weren’t altering the story. They were just setting it somewhere else.
And, really, the reason to watch the movie is the setting, so far as I’m concerned. Yes, all right, you have to accept going in the lunacy that for example everyone hangs about in space and breathes just dandy. The space-surfing is a bit silly and I don’t deny that. I am still captivated by the film’s aesthetic even when it’s silly. It is quite simply a beautiful film. It makes me wish I’d seen it on the big screen simply to have been able to marvel at the visuals.
I’ll also admit to being a big fan of Captain Amelia, one of the many brusque commanding British women that Emma Thompson has played. She reminds me, honestly, of some of the characters who populate Terry Pratchett’s Discworld—his take on the Valkyries, for example, and of course Lady Sybil. She’s no-nonsense and matter-of-fact. The fact that she’s a giant anthropomorphized cat is almost irrelevant. In a minute, she’s going to be telling you to keep a stiff upper lip and put your back into it and other British aphorisms, all while looking completely dashing and leaping about the rigging like Errol Flynn, who wasn’t even British.
There is no love interest for Jim not because he’s too young—here, Jim is the same age as the Disney princesses, that vague late teen appearance—but because this is a different kind of story. Amelia and Doppler are easy to ship, but the driving story is not Jim as a romantic figure but Jim as a child in need of a mentor. He would have done well to latch onto Captain Amelia, but his rebellious streak means that he attaches to Silver even though he instinctively and immediately distrusts the man. Of course, that may well have saved various characters’ lives, since he learned about the pirates’ plans enough in advance to be prepared at least a little.
The curious thing is that Silver is, yes, a man. Captain Amelia is a cat alien and Doctor Doppler is a dog alien and Mr. Arrow (Roscoe Lee Browne) is a kind of rock monster, but Silver and the Hawkins family are humans. I suspect that’s to give Jim more of a connection to Silver, but it strikes me that it’s easy to miss that he’s human, since he’s got a cybernetic arm and leg and eye. Besides, the robot policemen at the beginning seem ready to believe that Doppler is Jim’s father!
When I think of this movie, I don’t think of Martin Short as B.E.N., the film’s take on Ben Gunn. I don’t think of Captain Amelia or the insectoid pirates or any of the other characters. I think of the spaceships with their solar sails. The great curve of the spaceport, a glittering moon in the Montressor sky. (And of course that’s a reference to “The Cask of Amontillado,” not that Edgar Allan Poe has anything to do with Treasure Island.) The mechanical planet overgrown with moss and plants. It’s a beautiful movie, beautiful enough to watch even if you don’t get into it for any other reason.