Treasure Island (1950) (Remastered)

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Released 16-Mar-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Family None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1950
Running Time 91:55
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Byron Haskin
Studio
Distributor
Disney
Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Bobby Driscoll
Robert Newton
Basil Sydney
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Clifton Parker


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish
Portuguese
Norwegian
Danish
Finnish
Swedish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Now this is something of a puzzling release. Not because Buena Vista Home Entertainment have re-released the DVD after taking over their own distribution, but rather because there is actually less on this remastered DVD than on the original release. Quite what the point of that is I don't really know. I would have thought that it would just have been cheaper to simply reissue the original release, rather than remastering the DVD with less stuff on it. For those unwilling to wait, this release losses two marginal value soundtracks and two marginal value subtitle options, but gains seven marginal value subtitle options.

    Frankly, given the standing of this film in the Walt Disney lexicon, it seems incredible that a remastering to include some extras about this important film was not the purpose of the exercise. Why so important you say? Well, if Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was the animated feature that started that entire genre, Treasure Island was the first Walt Disney live action film and was a significant change in direction for the company at that time. This was the film that proved that what Walt Disney did with family animated features he could do with live action features.

    Just as the success of the animated features was based upon the quality of the storytelling and the characters, so it was that the live action features had to be so based. Nothing beats a good story well told and brought to life by strong characters. So when searching for the perfect way with which to venture into live action films, there could be no better story than one of the true classics of literature and a story that has been a favourite of generations ever since it was first penned by Robert Louis Stevenson - Treasure Island. First published in 1883, it is still probably one of the best adventure stories ever written and, at least where parents still encourage their kids to read, is still one of the first stories that most children will read - and enjoy. I think I first read the book when I was seven years old and it is still sitting on my shelves, ready to be grabbed whenever the opportunity for reading arises. It is almost the definitive interpretation of the pirate tale that so inspired generations of kids at play. It has inspired not only many a kid to want to be a pirate, but also spawned many interpretations and reinterpretations in film and theatre.

    On the off chance that there might actually be people out that there are unfamiliar with this classic piece of literature, my pathetic summation of the plot of the book, and thus the film, is set out below. If you have never read the book, aside from the pity that I give you, I would also suggest that you correct the omission immediately.

    Set in the eighteenth century, the story starts at an isolated inn on the English coast called the Admiral Benbow, where young Jim Hawkins (Bobby Driscoll), the son of the innkeeper, is looking after things. A threatening looking figure going by the name of Black Dog (Francis De Wolff) graces the inn in search of an old sea dog, one William Bones (Finlay Currie). Jim feigns ignorance of the old pirate but Black Dog knows better, and sooner rather than later another character, Blind Pew (John Laurie), arrives to present Billy Bones with the dreaded black spot. Close to death, Bones makes a present to Jim of a map - a map of the island where notorious and nefarious pirate Captain Flint buried all the loot. That is of course what Black Dog and his mates, all former crew members of Captain Flint are after. They of course come avisiting but turn up nothing for their troubles since Jim has the map with him when he goes to seek the aid of the local doctor Doctor Livesey (Denis O'Dea) and local squire Squire Trelawney (Walter Fitzgerald). They return to find Billy Bones dead, the inn ransacked and Jim breaking the news about the map. Squire Trelawney is galvanised into action and sets off for Bristol to charter an ship and make ready to sail for the fortune buried on Flint's island. He has a slight problem keeping his mouth shut and so it comes as no surprise when the shady Long John Silver (Robert Newton) crosses his path and inveigles his way into the cook's job aboard the Squire's chartered vessel. Under the Squire's orders, he also rounds up a whole bunch of nefarious characters to fill out the Squire's crew - all cutthroats every last one of them. Captain Smollet (Basil Sydney) is none too pleased with the crew selection but has little option it seems but to accept what Long John Silver has assembled.

    The motley collection sets off to find Flint's island and the buried treasure, but naturally things don't go as planned. Young Jim Hawkins discovers the plans of Long John Silver and his band of cutthroats at sea and reports what he hears to the Captain and rest of the good guys. Forewarned is forearmed and so the good guys have some time to prepare for conflict with the cutthroats - which will of course come as soon as Flint's island is reached. Who will stand triumphant and claim Captain Flint's treasure?

    The adaptation of the classic story is fairly good, within the confines of a ninety minute film. The acting might just be a little over the top at times and the fight scenes rather obviously and not so convincingly choreographed (its not often you really notice the big gap between fist and face in fight scenes), but it is all done in good fun. Staggeringly for a Walt Disney film, there is some obvious violence here (we actually get to see flesh cut by the sword for instance), but all of this is consistent with the original story and we certainly do not get to see copious flowing blood. Whilst it is all done rather tastefully and by today's standards is rather quaintly done, unsurprisingly it did result in the film being re-edited in the USA in 1975 to remove enough of it to keep a G rating for the theatrical re-release, rather than a PG rating. The casting was well done, even if American accents dominate the Olde English rather than English accents. To be honest, it takes about ten seconds to forget about all that sort of stuff and just go along with what remains a very enjoyable film.

    Certainly this remains one of the best adaptations of the classic story and is a film that can be returned to often. It is therefore a great pity that Buena Vista Home Entertainment did not take the opportunity to completely restore the film and produce a new DVD that befitted the stature of the film.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    In just about every way, the transfer demonstrates why it so urgently needs a full restoration. Okay, it is by no means unwatchable but the plethora of film damage to be seen does get at the very least quite tiring. It seems rather unusual that, given the miracles Disney is performing with its animated features, the opportunity has not been taken to perform similar miracles on the live action films.

    The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format that accords with the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1. It is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is generally quite good but does show up its age all the same. Sharpness is a little variable but certainly tends towards the average side of the equation. Detail is reasonably good all things considered, but there are obvious drop offs in the darker scenes. Unfortunately that means in any scene supposedly shot at night. The result is at times some rather shockingly poor shadow detail, which does diminish the overall impressions of the transfer quite significantly. Contrast too is rather variable with some of the daylight scenes being a little over bright and unnatural looking, to compound the night times scenes which tend towards way too much darkness. Low level noise does not appear to be an issue in the transfer, but light grain does occasionally crop up - most notably during some of the processed shots.

    The colours are somewhat over the place. At one point during the review session I made mention of the rich, deep toned colours that went perhaps just a little too far in the deep tones (although not approaching over saturation). Not ten minutes later I had cause to note that the scene (at the fort if I recall) was a little underdone colour-wise, lacking saturation and being too overbright. That sort of gives you the idea of the range to be found here, although it is fair to say that the deep, rich tones are more prevalent. The transfer is generally quite vibrant, although again there are places (such as in the scenes approaching Bristol) where the image goes a little flat. It all adds to a colour image that is not exactly superb.

    There were no readily apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There was also very little in the way of film-to-video artefacts either, with just some minor aliasing here and there - nothing really eye-drawing though. Unfortunately those good aspects are well and truly hammered by the bad - namely the film artefacts. The transfer is riddled with them, covering the spectrum of black dots and scratches through to little white speckles, some obvious emulsion damage, even blue and orange blobs from time to time. Add into the equation some partially obvious green reel change markings to the right of the image and this is certainly not a pretty sight.

    This disc is a single sided, single layered disc, so there is no layer change to worry about.

    There are eight subtitle options on the DVD. You can have fun learning Olde English with the two English efforts which are pretty good and don't drop too much in the way of the dialogue.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD now, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 effort. Presumably this is the same effort that appeared on the original DVD release.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is generally easy to understand - although since it is done in Olde English style, you need to keep up with things. There did not appear to be any audio sync issues in the transfer.

    The original score comes from Clifton Parker, and in keeping with many a live action Disney film since is a little trite in its approach and hardly the most distinctive effort committed to tape.

    The age of the film is well demonstrated by the amount of obvious and slightly annoying hiss to be heard, especially during the opening part of the film. Thereafter the hiss seems to improve but at various times throughout the film certainly rears its ugly head again. Other than that, there is nothing obviously wrong with the soundtrack, but equally there is not a fat lot memorable about it either. Lacking any sort of dynamic range, some of the effects work just exudes anaemia. Still, we really cannot expect much more from an unrestored soundtrack of this age.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Most of the remasters from Buena Vista Home Entertainment have featured something in the way of extras. This is one of those does not, which really is quite surprising. Given the sort of stuff that has been dragged out of the vaults for many of the films of Walt Disney, I find it unusual that there is nothing for the first live action feature film he made.

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Censorship

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R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Treasure Island was finally released in Region 1 not so long ago, and the "good" news is that it is as sparse in the extras department as the Region 4 release. Indeed, the only real difference between the two is that the Region 1 release features a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. From what I can discover, the six channel soundtrack is rather similar to those that have graced some of the Region 4 releases - namely, six channel in name only with little obvious activity in the rear channels and not much more in the fronts. Still, if you simply have to have six channel sound, then your only option is Region 1, and it will also gain you some sneak peeks at a few other Disney films. Personally there is nothing either way but certainly I favour the Region 4 as at least we get the original soundtrack. As far as I can tell, the Region 2 release is the same as the Region 4.

Summary

    Treasure Island might well have been the first live action film from Walt Disney, but it sure has aged well at least as a film. It still is an entertaining way of spending a lazy Sunday afternoon. This remaster however has to be considered a disappointment as we see no extras added to the original release and the film has still to receive a restoration that it both deserves and needs. Notwithstanding these points, at the price point it is still well worthy of consideration for adding to your collection.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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