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Mysterious Island (1961) – DVD Review

Mysterious Island DVD


Written by John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, and Crane Wilbur, based on the novel by Jules Verne
Directed by Cy Endfield
Starring Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, Herbert Lom


  • Featurette: “The Making of Mysterious Island
  • Featurette: “This Is Dynamation”
  • “The Harryhausen Chronicles” narrated by Leonard Nimoy
  • Photo Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer

Released by: Columbia TriStar.
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Don’t Bother.

[ad#longpost]Hoping to capitalize on the confusion of a massive storm, Union Army Capt. Cyrus Harding (Craig) and his fellow prisoners look to make an escape with a Confederate scout balloon. But flying a hot air balloon in one of the worst storms of the century is never a good idea. The rag-tag group find themselves on a small island in the Pacific with very limited supplies. Of course, the giant animals don’t help either. But then they find a pair of ladies, Lady Mary Fairchild (Greenwood) and her niece Elena (Beth Rogan). They further find a chest of supplies with the crest of the dangerous genius Captain Nemo (Lom). The man himself then shows up to tell the group that the volcano is about to blow and they need to work together if they are to escape the Mysterious Island.

In another entry in the “stranded on a tropical island” subgenre kicked off by Robinson Crusoe, this movie forgets the basic tenet that made this type of story work: you must care about the castaways. These non-characters evoke nothing but boredom from me. Even Captain Nemo was a mere shadow of what was portrayed in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The giant animals are a nice effect, but there’s far too little of that going on to compensate for the sluggish pace or lackluster acting. What a waste of giant crabs and bees.

How giant animals were able to attack the Civil War castaways is illustrated in a “behind the scenes” featurette. The man responsible for these effects, Ray Harryhausen, talks about how he combined miniatures, matte paintings, and live action to recreate a Confederate prison with a “balloon” in its courtyard. One of the monsters, a giant crab, was actually obtained from Harrods Department Store and used as a model. Harryhausen used miniatures and matte paintings to simulate underwater ruins, a cephalopod attack, and other such bits.

More about Harryhausen’s vision and career are given in The Harryhausen Chronicles. This documentary, narrated by Leonard Nimoy, follows the special effects wizard from his first exposure to King Kong to his first work in stop motion animation with short films on the tales of Mother Goose to then working on major motion pictures. He created indelible images for the screen: the flying saucers, sword wielding skeletons and rampaging monsters from the dawn of time. His techniques are still used today in movies like James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas. There is also a short commercial praising Harryhasuen’s techniques, called “This is Dynamation”. The disc contains as well the customary photo gallery and trailers. Most of these features can be seen on other Harryhausen movies on DVD, so I wouldn’t bother with Mysterious Island.

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