The first book I ever reviewed for my blog was Treasure Island. It was essentially the one to ‘christen’ everything that I’ve produced on here since then, and so I’ve kept a special connection with it. There have, of course, been many on-screen adaptations of the story over the years, but the latest one was shown on Sky 1 in the UK Sunday and Monday night in a two-part, four hour special (official website here). I’ve been really eager to see it, not just because I know the story but because Sky have been making such a big deal out of promoting it to us.
Even so, I could immediately see problems with it (surprising for me, isn’t it? Ha). There was the revealing of Long John Silver; as soon as the promotions let us see him on his crutches, I knew this bald guy with a tattoo down the side of his face (Eddie Izzard) was going to be the man. Was he at all what I pictured? Not in the slightest. I guess I model John Silver on the way he looked in the 1950's version – a shaggy beard and a hat. Aren’t all pirate captains supposed to have hats, or am I just thinking that because I’ve watched Jack Sparrow wield his attachment to his own a few too many times?
Then the promotions started getting less cryptic and began to show a bit more detail. They showed, who I assumed at the time, Billy Bones singing ‘Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum’ in a strange rhythm. I’m used to it being sung in a certain cheerful, fast paced sort of way, but this was more of a slow and haunting sound. Bit too eerie for my taste, that.
When the show eventually aired after about a couple of months of force-fed promotion, of course it was disappointing. Okay, so I know they have to tweak the book a little to make it work for the screen, but seriously, this? (SPOILER ALERT: You might want to skip this next bit if you haven’t read the book or seen the series!) First of all, there are what I think are the cardinal sins. Why make the squire evil and turn the doctor into some kind of coward? They took a massive liberty there. I can’t think of any adaptation that have given characters completely different personalities, can you? Then, the biggest and most idiotic change they made was making the ending totally different! Instead of the crew going back with a massive booty under their arms and leading rich lives on their arrival home, they decide to throw all the treasure overboard! Come on! After all that effort, all those fights and lives lost it was all for nothing? Everybody’s just decided to realise the true meaning of life? That’s a bit messed up, if you ask me. At least keep the same conclusion!
That said, there were some additions that I appreciated. I liked the subplot that revolved around Jim Hawkins’ mum and John Silver’s wife, and the flashbacks were good, too. I also appreciated the effort made to make the pirate’s characters more realistic than we’ve seen in some other films (though I do feel the ending undid a lot of this work).
So, I guess you could say that I have mixed feelings about what Sky have done with Treasure Island. The cast is interesting – Donald Sutherland as Captain Flint and even Elijah Wood as Ben Gunn (oh yeah, and Gunn is known as a ‘yankee’. Were there even ‘yankees’ in those days?!) Some story additions were refreshing; some changes were very much unwelcome. In the end, though, I don’t see why they felt they needed to make such radical changes to a story that would already work for the screen.
Have you seen the new Treasure Island? What did you think about it?