Director – Mark Sheppard, Screenplay – Cameron Larson, Based on the Novel by Jules Verne, Producers – Matt Keith, George M. Kostuch & Cameron Larson, Photography – Dave McFarland, Music – Kenneth Hampton, Howard ‘Xflye’ Metoyer & Clifton V. Powell, Visual Effects – Rogue State (Supervisor – Scott D. Wheeler), Special Effects – Nola Effects (Supervisor – Guy Clayton, Jr.), Makeup Effects Supervisor – Mark Lowry, Production Design – Dallas Montgomery & Robert W. Savina. Production Company – K-2 Pictures/Leverage Entertainment/Inner Media Capital/Huze Media Group.
Lochlyn Munro (Captain Cyrus Harding), Gina Holden (Jules Fogg), W. Morgan Sheppard (Captain Nemo), Edrick Browne (Ned Nugent), Susie Abromeit (Abby Fogg), Caleb Michaelson (Private Herbert Brown), J.D. Evermore (Sergeant Pencroft), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Gideon Spilett), Mark Sheppard (Young Nemo), Lawrence Turner (Tom Ayrton)
Richmond, Virginia, 1865 during the midst of the American Civil War. Nearby cannon fire allows a group of Union prisoners to make an escape. Led by Captain Cyrus Harding, they steal a Confederate hot-air balloon, although the pursuing Confederate sergeant Pencroft manages to climb aboard. They are then caught up in a storm and sucked up into a fissure that appears in the sky. They come around to find themselves on an island. Joining in a tenuous truce with Pencroft, they try to survive, beset by creatures that lurk in the woods, pirates and a giant octopus in the lagoon. A small plane comes through the fissure and crashes on the island and they find it contains two women, sisters Jules and Abby Fogg, who come from the year 2012. It is realised that the island is the eye of a timewarp that sucks in things from different periods. Taking refuge in the colonial house built on the island, they encounter Captain Nemo who reveals he was the one who built the time machine that created the vortex. As the island’s volcano is in imminent danger of exploding and the creatures surround the house, they try to get the time machine working again so as to make an escape.
This was around the ninth of so-far ten film adaptations of Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (1874). Other versions include the silent Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1916) where both 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mysterious Island were condensed into one story; the silent The Mysterious Island (1929); an obscure Russian-made adaptation Mysterious Island (1941); the serial Mysterious Island (1951); Ray Harryhausen’s Mysterious Island (1961) with Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo and featuring stop-motion animated giant animals; the Spanish/French/Italian The Mysterious Island of Captain Nemo (1972) with Omar Shariff as Nemo; Juan Piquer Simon’s terrible Monster Island/Mystery of Monster Island (1981); the 22 episode tv series Mysterious Island (1995) with John Bach as Nemo; the Hallmark tv mini-series Mysterious Island (2005) with Patrick Stewart as Captain Nemo; and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012) with more giant fauna but no Captain Nemo. This version was filmed in 2010 but sat on the shelf until the theatrical release of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island two years later, whereupon it was cannily released to capitalise on the other film’s publicity.
The Jules Verne novel, which he wrote as a sequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), is a fairly straightforward story at least in comparison to the various film versions. During the American Civil War, a group of Union prisoners manage to escape Confederate custody by balloon only to be caught in a storm and washed up on a desert island. The story charts their day-to-day survival and the often ingenious methods by which they improvise many facets of civilisation. During their stay, they find themselves aided by a mysterious benefactor who in the concluding chapters is revealed to be Captain Nemo. It is important to note that the only science-fictional elements in the story is the brief visit to Nemo’s submarine at the end. Almost all of the film adaptations keep the prisoners escaped by balloon, Nemo and the desert island survival story but throw into the mix all manner of science-fiction elements, including the likes of merpeople, alien invaders, lost cities of Atlantis and, most commonly, giant insects and animals.
By contrast to most of the other film versions, this is a relatively more straightforward adaptation. It throws out the giant insects and animals with the exception of a giant octopus lurking in the island’s lagoon. The storm has been replaced by a time warp (something that cutely explains the continuity gaps in years between Twenty Thousand Leagues and Mysterious Island that several nitpickers have picked up on) and ties it into The Bermuda Triangle. As with most of the adaptations, the film also sees fit to add two girls to the mix – in this case, two sisters who have flown through the time warp from the present in a small plane. The sisters are also given the surname of Fogg, which leaves one with the suggestion that the film is referencing the hero of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) who was named Phileas Fogg. This version also throws in pirates (an aspect that was in the book but is excised by most film versions), as well as strange troglodyte creatures lurking in the woods where it almost feels as though the film has borrowed the Morlocks from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895). Surprisingly, the film displays almost no interest in the desert island survival aspect – apart from a single scene with the men trying to light a fire – and we get the impression that almost all of the action takes place in a couple of days as opposed to months in the book.
Everything that one has seen written about this version of The Mysterious Island has been dismissive of it as cheap. One feels that that is not entirely being fair to it. Even if it never amounts to anything more than a B movie, it does an okay job with some of the sections of the Verne novel. In particular, director Mark Sheppard and the actors create a believable cross-section of figures that feel authentic to the period setting in the way they talk and act.
The main problem with the film is that, having thrown out all the giant insects and alien invaders, it never finds anything terribly interesting to do once on the mysterious island – there are the occasional menaces afforded by the giant octopus, the shadowy little-seen creatures and the even less seen pirates but these seem bitsy dramatically. The film does eventually bring things to a head, far too late in the game, with a siege around the house and an exploding volcano climax amid the attempts to get Nemo’s time machine working again. The visual effects are under par, although at least the giant octopus (which is never seen as anything more than a tentacle) looks reasonable.
The Mysterious Island is directed by Mark Sheppard. Sheppard has been working as an actor since the 1990s, mostly in television where he has played regular guest roles in a number of fan favourite tv shows such as 24 (2001-10), Firefly (2002), Battlestar Galactia (2003-9), Doctor Who (2005– ) and Supernatural (2005-20). Mark is the son of the well-known actor W. Morgan Sheppard. Mark casts his father as Captain Nemo here and in a cute touch plays the younger Nemo himself during the flashback scenes.