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Recently in the States, the SciFi channel (errr, SyFy…I hate that spelling) aired the British production of Treasure Island. I DVR’d it and promptly forgot about it. Womp.

Today I finally gave it a watch, and I was struck by a few things.
1 – How much I adore Eddie Izzard in pretty much anything.
2 – The odd editing.

Treasure Island uses editing and camera techniques usually reserved for action films or wacky television shows like Green Wing. Fast-forwarded sequences with accompanying whooshy sound effects, handheld shaky cam, POV angles. There has been a bit of a move recently to incorporate these more modern methods into period pieces, but I think the viewer is still subconsciously programmed to expect a certain look when watching films set in “the olden days”. I’m no film historian, so I can’t even begin to claim to know where it started, but I first noticed it with A Knight’s Tale. There’s one big difference between the two films though – how well the techniques worked.

In A Knight’s Tale, there was a nod to the oddness of the film from within the script itself. The sense of humour and camp matched up with the odd costuming, the use of modern music, etc. With Treasure Island, however, it seems incongruous with the otherwise period-appropriate costuming, nondescript music, and Mr. Izzard’s decidedly un-campy and subtle portrayal of Long John Silver. Plus, the use of the fast-forwarding was done with seemingly no reasoning behind it – it wasn’t used to show the Pirate Silver’s keen awareness of everyone’s machinations or to make the audience feel like they were on a giant swaying ship in the ocean. It was just there…for funsies? To occasionally make it look like a Guy Ritchie film?

I think had Treasure Island gone whole hog and embraced a modern-action-filmy approach to the lighting and art direction, plus used the editing effects more consistently, it would have worked. You can keep period-appropriate costumes and sets while making a conscious decision to update the feel of the film as long as it seems uniform within the story’s world.

Audiences have been programmed to expect certain things for certain types of films. If you want to break out of that mold, great! But do it all the way, or else it just seems weird and slapdash. (‘Slapdash’ is a word I learned from an Izzard routine, so I felt it was appropriate.)

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It would appear SyFy was only showing Treasure Island once, but I’m sure it will eventually come out on region 1 DVD. For now, you can get it on region 2. If you ignore the awkward technical aspects of the film, it is a very enjoyable flick to watch on a hot summer’s afternoon. My favourite part was the sea shanty.

(Bee tee dubs, if you want to see all Pulling Focus posts, get yo click on.)