Although the networks’ appetite for “novels for television” has largely faded, Hallmark continues to adapt classics and throw money at the longform genre. So it provides no pleasure to dismiss this adaptation of Jules Verne’s sci-fi classic as loud and tedious, with wildly uneven (and occasionally flat-out awful) special effects and equally hit-miss performances. International audiences — a key component of this strategy — might be a tad more forgiving in their appraisal, but in almost any language the mystery is how such a clunky vessel strayed so far off course.
Verne’s 19th century novel was previously turned into an entertaining 1961 feature with state-of-the-art Ray Harryhausen effects. Latest of half a dozen film and TV versions stars Kyle MacLachlan and Patrick Stewart, the latter clad in a funky-looking turban as mad genius Captain Nemo.
Cyrus (MacLachlan), a Union officer in 1863, leads a small band in escaping from a Confederate Army prison camp via hot air balloon. After drifting for days, they arrive at an uncharted island filled with astonishing creatures, from a rat the size of a hippo to a particularly persistent scorpion larger than an SUV. (Beyond the “ick” factor, why the insects are bigger than the birds and rodents is anybody’s guess.)
The island is home to the eccentric Nemo, captain of the underwater Nautilus, who in his own cloistered world dreams of eliminating war by creating an apocalyptic weapon, using an element native to the island that accounts for the enormity of its fauna. When Cyrus rebuffs his offer to join the crusade, he and his party are booted back into harm’s way, where the threats include not just beast but man, in the form of treasure-hunting pirates led by fearless captain Bob Harvey (Vinnie Jones, chewing scenery with abandon).
Suffice it to say there will be lots of violence, most of it badly shot and cartoonish; a modicum of romance involving Cyrus and a comely widow (Gabrielle Anwar) whose husband was a Civil War casualty; and plenty of repulsive threats, including a comical disgorging of green spider guts.
Beyond the breathtaking Thailand locales — and the footnote that production wrapped shortly before last year’s devastating tsunami — director Russell Mulcahy brings scant sobriety to a production where pacing or tone prove as elusive as that damn treasure map. As for the cast, they’re simply undone by the CGI nightmares and stilted dialogue against which they must grapple — both of which are pretty monstrous.
Ultimately, the doomed island succumbs to a massive volcanic eruption as unconvincing as most of what preceded it, leading to more prolonged destruction. Of course, that comes near the finish of this marathon, and by then sleep or boredom will have likely overcome most who dared venture to “Island’s” rocky shores.