The pleasures of watching Jules Verne venture down the lush Orinoco River for equal bits adventure, science and l’amour come across modestly in co-writer-director Alfredo J. Anzola’s “1888: The Extraordinary Voyage of the Santa Isabel.” Shot and staged in a manner best suited to television, pic reps a fine armchair saga that, with a few trims, is wonderfully suited for smart family vid viewing.
Inspired by the treks of Italian ethnographer Count Ermanno Stradelli (Ronnie Nordenflycht) and Verne’s 1898 novel, “The Mighty Orinoco,” script adopts Verne’s fanciful technique of mixing fact with fiction, science with human desire.
Informing his dull wife that “the only woman I am chasing is adventure” (which subtitles mistranslate as “happiness”), Verne (Marco Villarubia) sails to Amazonia with partner Stradelli, a hot-headed but dedicated scientist. Where Werner Herzog’s film odysseys in the same region profile madness, Anzola’s tale stresses two rational and fun-loving intellectuals.
Unexpected intruder Juan, fleeing bandits, joins the pair, but he turns out to be a she in disguise named Juana (Kristin Pardo), who foolishly wants to conceal her true identity from Stradelli. After a brief fling with Verne, Juana and the Italian count get past their differences as she seeks her long-lost father in the forest.
A bigger canvas would have clearly best served this tale, but pic’s small scale revives the tradition of Disney’s engaging adventure pics of yore, such as “Treasure Island.” Anzola’s acting trio easily mix and match, with Spanish dialogue shifting into Italian and back again without hesitation. Pic was Venezuela’s official Oscar submission, only to be disqualified when required paperwork wasn’t filed with the Acad.