How we see a movie matters. This is a concept being lost in the digital age, when movies are being viewed on tablets and phones and in 10 minute increments while doing three other things. I say this not because you kids are on my lawn and I would like you to please move -- I'm guilty of seeing movies the same way -- but because little attention is paid to presentation anymore. The ever-growing amount of available content and the ease of access have led us all to place quantity over quality: we want to watch as much as possible in whatever way we can instead of worrying about how we see it.
But presentation does matter, and it's not just about watching something digitally versus seeing it theatrically. Sometimes we're forced to do the best with what we've got and it's still not enough. Had I seen Disney's live-action adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island on a VHS tape back in 1993, I'm not sure I would have had the same reaction I had viewing it for the first time on Blu-ray (available only as an exclusive through the Disney Movie Club, of which, having fulfilled my obligation, I am no longer a member). While my enjoyment of the film had a lot to do with the classic story, the sweep of the production and the performance of Robert Newton, it was also due in large part to just how gorgeous it looks in HD. I'm a sucker for that old-school Technicolor look, and the colors on the Blu-ray of Treasure Island are so great to look at that I fell in love with the film. I'm glad I saw it when I did and in the way I saw it.
Treasure Island is more fun than I could have imagined -- and old-school grand adventure with oversized performances, real location shooting, real ships and everything. While action photography has come a long way since 1950, director Byron Haskin (who would go on to make the great War of the Worlds and the less-great-but-still-good Robinson Crusoe on Mars) infuses the movie with tons of energy and vitality. The swashbuckling never quite reaches the heights of Michael Curtiz' The Adventures of Robin Hood, but that's a high bar to set as far as classic adventure films are concerned. It's only too bad that the movie was shot in the then-standard 1.33:1 Academy aspect ratio; it would have benefitted from opening up on the sides to showcase the vastness of the ocean and the ships against the horizon. Even still, Haskin has directed a movie that captures a lot of that feel without ever really being able to show it.
I'd love to say that Robert Newton is the whole show when it comes to Treasure Island, because he is a ton of fun to watch as he limps and squints and "arrrghs" and double-crosses his way through the story, at one point making me laugh out loud as he curses his lack of 10 toes during a chase. There's a reason he would continue to play Long John Silver once more on film and again for television (as well as a stint playing Blackbeard in 1952's Blackbeard the Pirate). You don't get typecast as a pirate without being great at it.
Over the last 100 years, more than 50 adaptations have been made of Treasure Island for both film and TV. Disney's 1950 version wasn't the first -- there were at least two made during the silent era (era) and two made in the '30s (including one in Russian). It wasn't the last, either, as it has been adapted into animated movies and Muppet movies and a 1990 version that I haven't seen but of which our own Heath Holland is a big fan. Having only sat through a few of them, I can't say how Disney's stacks up against the others. What I can say is that this is an especially well made movie in the classical tradition -- a good story, well told. When Disney is work at peak form, that's what they do best.
So what have learned? Well, A) I'm glad that Disney made the leap to live action; 2) I liked this version of Treasure Island but might not seek out all of the other 49 and D) I'm glad I accidentally waited until the Blu-ray to see it because the excellence of the transfer made a big difference. The experience has inspired me to track down more of Disney's classic live action films in the hopes that they include lots of death and murder. Surely The Parent Trap is referring to some Jigsaw shit, right?