Treasure Island (2012)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

Fans of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel of pirates, treasure, and swashbuckling adventure will  do well to avoid this latest revisionist retelling, where the memorable and delightful characters are defiled and polluted, and a contrived absurdity is tacked onto the end.

 

Out of the darkness one night comes a stranger bearing a trunk and a yearning for rum. He takes a room at a small seaside inn run by a widower (Shirley Henderson) and her son, Jim Hawkins (Toby Regbo). Before long, Jim is entranced by the shipman's tales of daring-do, while his mother wishes he would pay them what they're owed and move on. Even their friend Dr. Livesey (Daniel Mays) is intrigued by the thieving, card-playing scoundrel. When other bloodthirsty pirates come sniffing about to deliver a black spot and promises of brutal retaliation for betrayal, their guest dies of fright -- and Jim winds up with a treasure man.

 

Local landowner and nobleman Squire Trelawney (Rupert Penry-Jones) purchases a ship and hires a captain (Philip Glenister) in a quest to recover the treasure. Along the way, they fall afoul of the scheming Long John Silver (Eddie Izzard), who if he has his way, intends to make off with all the treasure and their lives to boot. On the island, trouble erupts... and they run into the crazy, cheese-craving Ben Gunn (Elijah Wood).

 

What can I say about this bastardized adaptation of Treasure Island? The original is a daring story of courageous and good men embarking on a search for stolen treasure. But you can't have all the good men be good and honorable in modern times, so instead you must turn Squire Trelawney into a cruel, barbaric, Bible-thumping scoundrel who cheats Jim and the doctor out of their fair share of the treasure, backhands and even threatens to kill the boy hero, and then in the end dies a horrible death due to his greed. You must also turn the delightful Dr. Livesey into a total coward who for no perceptible reason suddenly finds his courage. You must go on to make Long John Silver merely a product of his upbringing, with a slightly tragic back story and a wife he rescued from prostitution. And then, at the very end, in a grand gesture, you must chuck all the treasure overboard rather than keep it, because as everyone knows, money isn't important -- even if you're all impoverished, with no way of hiring anyone to help sail the ship home, and a mounting debt awaiting you in England.

 

In short, it's politically correct to the hilt -- and downright stupid to boot. There isn't even a real ending, since we aren't sure what will happen to Jim or his mother -- or Long John Silver's wife, for that matter. The attack it involves on Christianity is particularly noticeable -- one scene shows Squire Trelawney praying over his Bible, another shows him having a man mercilessly drowned to death. Long John calls him a "religious hypocrite," as if the pirate has higher standards than he does. It's a shame too, because it's obviously a big-budget production and it has a truly wonderful cast. It suffers from some bad acting from minor roles but everyone in major parts does a stellar job. The costuming is also wonderful, and it's very atmospheric, although the director seemed a little too obsessed with extreme close-ups, Dutch framing, and shaky cams for his own good.

 

For those who have never read the book, it will be entertaining -- but it is disheartening to think that for them, Squire Trelawney will always be a violent, unrepentant slime wad. You're much better off with some of the older adaptations who realize that it does a body good to read about truly righteous and honorable heroes.

   

  

Sexual Content:

References to prostitution.

  

Language:

One abuse of Jesus' name, various profanities.

  

Violence:

A man is run over by a carriage and killed; a man is dragged underneath a ship on a line to drown him as punishment for beating an officer over the head with a wooden peg; men are shot and/or killed (sometimes at close range); a man graphically drowns.

 

Other:

The only Bible-reading man on board ship is a thieving tyrant.


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