Top positive review
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A great film? No. Great fun? Yes!
on 15 July 2006
There are some films you love but you can't really justify. Still, I'll give it a try with The Island at the Top of the World. I can understand why a younger generation probably have a hard time taking an adventure movie with action icons Donald Sinden, David Hartman and Jacques Marin seriously. And yes, the once state of the art special effects do look quaint these days, not least Donald Sinden running furiously on the spot to outrun backprojected lava in a shot that elicited roars of laughter from audiences at the time. Maybe it's because it's one of those films I grew up with. In the pre-Star Wars seventies there weren't that many kid-friendly adventure movies, what with nihilism, Vietnam and post-Watergate cynicism setting the screen agenda, so a film that offered airships, volcanoes, killer whales, Eskimos (as we still ignorantly called them in those days), the North Pole and a lost colony of Vikings (in what looks so suspiciously like the Shangri-La of the previous year's Lost Horizon remake that you keep on expecting them to start singing The World is a Circle) was like Christmas come early.
Disney's turn-of-the-(20th)-century adventure sees millionaire businessman Sinden, in one of those naturalistic performances we know and love him for, taking Marin's airship in search of his son, who disappeared searching for a legendary island in the Arctic where the whales go to die. Naturally, he brings Hartman's archaeologist who specialises in Norse history with him, as you would on an expedition to the Arctic, kidnapping Mako's Japanese Eskimo en route. Crashlanding in the icy mountains, instead of Shangri-La and its peace-loving monks they find Astragard and its bloodthirsty Vikings. Once there, they find that junior has had enough of adventure and wants to go into business with his father. The local high priest (adequately described by Sinden as a "bloodthirsty bounder") isn't too wild about this idea and thinks they should execute them instead, setting in motion a series of saturday morning matinee cliffhangers despite the fact that most of the Vikings seem more likely to be interested in Ikea shelf-units and open topped sandwiches than rape and pillage...
The plot may be the standard three-act lost world model - spend a third of the movie getting there, a third finding out what it's like and the last third running for their lives as they attempt to escape - but Disney's now forgotten A-list director Robert Stevenson keeps it moving swiftly along, Peter Ellenshaw's Oscar-nominated production design and Alan Maley's matte paintings give it a storybook quality and it also has a beautiful Maurice Jarre score which has sadly never been released as an album. Dammit, I still enjoy it!
Sadly the Region 2 PAL DVD is completely extras-free, making Disney's 30th anniversary Region 1 NTSC special edition the one to get. The extras aren't as lavish as the Vault Disney series, but they're better than the previous Anchor Bay Region 1 version - a 1968 presentation reel for the film, a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette, 4 TV spots, 2 trailers, camera dailies and a surprisingly good stills gallery. It's just a shame they didn't carry over the isolated score from the laserdisc issue.