Review: Treasure Island (2012)

(Note: this capsule review is part of my farewell to the Netflix DVD service. #GetThroughMyQueue)

This is a mini-series version, so at 3 hours, divided into two parts, it gives the story time to breathe… and I really like that approach for this story. One of my favorite versions of Treasure Island is a two-plus-hour audio version by the Mind’s Eye.

At the same time they make the fatal flaw so many of these adaptations seem to make: failing to stick with the story that makes it the iconic story that it is.

Case in point: Squire Trelawney. He’s something of a buffoon in the book and in most adaptations. I mean, he desperately needs to carry a copy of the poster “Loose lips sink ships” with him at all times, though he won’t realize that implies “don’t hire pirates to crew your ship bound for buried treasure.” Here, he starts as an arrogant dandy, which is fine, but then he continues being quite greedy and mean-spirited and essentially a minor villain in the whole piece. And he’s wonderfully played by Rupert Penry-Jones in this role. I’m just left wondering, “Why? Why make him a bad guy at all?” We have a whole shipload of pirates and a classic villain in Long John Silver. This is a distraction.

I really wanted to like this one. The production values are great. So many of the performances are great, and there’s a good energy throughout. Eddie Izzard is both charismatic and deadly as Silver. Donald Sutherland is great as an aged, but dangerous pirate king Flint. Elijah Wood is properly demented (and cheese-obsessed) as Ben Gunn. But the divergence from the source material, while it gives the actors more to play with, hollows out the adventure – never more so when they decide to puritanically dump the treasure into the sea at the end of it all. Do you want to get Captain Flint the parrot to swear? Because this is what causes the bird to @#$%ing swear. A bunch of damn lubbers, the lot of ye!

I’m going to have to give it two and a half stars. If they had not made Trelawney an unnecessary villain, wasted the Mrs. Hawkins/Mrs. Silver subplot, and not have the adventurers chuck the treasure, I’d say it’d be four if not four and half stars.

Just do an old story with modern panache: that’s all I ask. 

(Note: I happened to catch all of Black Sails after watching this and, yes, yes, that’s what I’m talking about. A version of Treasure Island need not be one one-hundredth as TV-MA as Black Sails, mind you, but that’s the pirate stuff to shiver me timbers).

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