This has been quite a difficult piece to write today, for the simple reason that I can’t really make up my mind about this film. I don’t hate it, but I’m not sure how much I liked it.
Everything seems cooler in space.
Surely everyone knows this plot by now, but here it is anyway: Young Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finds a map to where the old pirate Captain Flint left all his treasure. He goes on a ship to find it, but most of the crew, led by the cook Long John Silver, mutiny and try to steal the treasure. Some fights happen, some pirates die, some are captured, Jim gets a share of the loot, goes back home and lives happily ever after.
There are a few slight differences to the original text however, chief among them being aliens. That’s right. With the exception of Jim and his mother, every character in this flick is some sort of odd-looking beastie. Some are merely anthropomorphised animals, while some are just all-out wacky. The captain of the Legacy – the ship commisioned by Jim’s mother’s friend Dr Doppler to make the voyage – has been changed to a female, probably just to dilute the sausage-fest that was the source book. She is an oddly-sexualised cat lady in fact, with the cut-glass accent of Emma Thompson. Cat lady as in Neytiri, not as in creepy lonely woman with too many pets. Dr Doppler, as played by Niles Crane himself, David Hyde Pierce, is a dog so of course these two end up together by the end. John Silver (he mustn’t be very long in this world *snigger*) is some kind of bear thing, I think. It’s hard to tell with the bionic arm and eye. The rest range from giant spider to thing that speaks in fart noises, and the look-out has about eight eyes that pop out on stalks. I suppose that comes in handy with his chosen profession. How much of a distraction you find all this probably depends on your age and familiarity with the novel. It wasn’t a huge deal for me, but I’ve only read the book once and that was not exactly recently.
The bit I had more trouble accepting was what the filmmakers call the Etherium. In this universe, atmospheres don’t just occur around planets, but they fill all the space between them too. This means that a traditional open-decked wooden galleon can sail from world to world with a few rockets strapped to its keel. It seems like something they thought up over a few beers at lunch one day as a way to shoehorn in their central conceit, and it just ruined my suspension of disbelief.
This film has a lot of shared DNA with the superior (but equally unsuccessful) Titan A.E. directed by Don Bluth, and written by nerd-legends Joss Whedon and Ben Edlund. If you have to pick one of these, I’d go with that one.
In the credits for this 2002 Disney release, a group of animators are listed under the heading “Journeymen”. That’s a good word to describe this film as a whole. It’s moderately exciting, and paints over Stevenson’s classic novel with an artfully tarnished coat of steampunk sci-fi, but it’s not really exceptional or memorable in any way. I finished watching it about three hours ago, and I’m already struggling to recall a single line of dialogue. Coming out the year before Disney’s other, bigger pirate adventure, this was clearly the screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio’s dry run for Will Turner and Cap’n Jack.