Younger audiences may not know the name Ray Harryhausen but for those who grew up in the 50s and 60s and to be honest the 70s and 80s will probably recognize it. Why? Well he was the man who created some of the most memorable visual effects in cinema's history with his skill in manipulating miniatures and models to create exciting stop motion action between actors and giant creatures. And it is Harryhausen's modelling skills which are huge part of why "Mysterious Island" despite being over 50 years old is still a fantastic movie. The other is that it is based on a Jules Verne novel about a group of people stranded on an island battling to survive giant creatures.
Now to be honest I have never liked the way "Mysterious Island" starts which takes us back to the American civil war and 3 soldiers, a rebel and a writer escaping in a hot air balloon. It never really fuelled my imagination and found it all too unbelievable which is kind of ironic seeing what happens next. It also looked quite tacky and I am sure at one point as they lift off in this hot air balloon under fire I could see a TV aerial on top of a house.
But trust me if like me you find this opening uninteresting it does get a whole lot better when this group of people end up on a mysterious island in the middle of the sea and soon encounter a giant crab. Now of course the stop motion work will look dated to new audiences but it is still exciting watching these men battle this giant crustacean and amusing as well when it falls into a geyser and they get to have a meal of cooked crab afterwards. Soon after this we also have the arrival of two women who end up washed ashore and of course provides a little romance as we have a young soldier and a beautiful young woman falling in love.
But in truth what makes "Mysterious Island" entertaining is that it is a creative survival movie and so we have the fun of watching this small group of building create a small civilization such as tables and chairs to a lift to get them to the cave which they make home. It is pure entertainment especially when one of the women starts fashioning clothes out of goat skins which gives us one of the skimpiest outfits you will ever see. We also get more of Harryhausen's work as we have the intentionally amusing scene where they get attacked by a giant chicken and then end up feasting on the giant beast when they kill it.
That is not all there is to "Mysterious Island" because technically it is a sequel to "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and all I will say is that it could have been called "Finding Nemo". It means we get more adventure, more special effects and wonderful settings and more importantly more stop motion work by Harryhausen. We also get Herbert Lom as Nemo and unfortunately whilst he tries his best he is know James Mason who was terrific in the 1954 version of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea".
In fact whilst the acting is generally entertaining with Michael Callan and Beth Rogan looking good as the young couple none of it is that memorable. So okay it is hard not to remember Joan Greenwood whose distinctive voice once heard is never forgotten and Percy Herbert's attempt at deep south coming across as if Gabby Hayes had tried to sound like a cockney. But beyond that the characters are ordinary and that is what is lacking from "Mysterious Island", great characters who you remember.
What this all boils down to is that "Mysterious Island" is still a lot of fun and whilst new audiences may find the stop motion work dated the adventure storyline coupled with Harryhausen's skills means it is still worth watching.