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Film / Mysterious Island

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During the American Civil War, a group of Union soldiers find themselves imprisoned in a Confederate prison camp. They stage a daring escape and steal an enemy observation balloon, but they end up being blown out to sea, where they wind up stranded on a seemingly deserted island. The gang includes Captain Cyrus Harding, his men Herbert Brown and Neb Nugent, war correspondent Gideon Spilett, and a Confederate soldier named Pencroft who cooperates with the Yankees mostly out of mutual benefaction. They're soon joined by two survivors from a sunken ship, Lady Mary Fairchild and her niece Elena Fairchild (who quickly begins making goo-goo eyes at the virile young Herbert).

Very quickly, the castaways discover that the island isn't so uninhabited after all! Giant versions of ordinary animals live there, and naturally prey on the new arrivals. In addition, the place turns out to be a hangout for a pirate crew, as well as (unbeknownst to the pirates, of course) the secret base of the infamous Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom). Oh, and the island's central volcano is due to erupt, meaning their stay will have to be drastically shortened unless they wanna get barbecued.

Featuring special effects by Ray Harryhausen, Mysterious Island was based on the book The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne (no word on why they dropped the "The" from the title). In addition to Harryhausen's wonderful stop-motion animal used for the creatures of the island, the film also boasts a typically bombastic score by Bernard Herrmann, who'd worked with Harryhausen previously on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.


This film contains examples of:

  • Action Prologue: The escape from the Confederate prison camp.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Pencroft. Sort of. At least at first. In the novel, he's a Northern sailor. Here, he's a Confederate soldier and the heroes' enemy at the beginning.
  • The American Civil War: Plays a large role in the beginning, but is more or less forgotten about after they arrive at the island.
  • And Your Reward Is Edible: The castaways' reward for slaying the giant crab by knocking it into a gigantic hot spring? The thing boils to death and they have crab meat for weeks! This also proves to be the case with the giant chicken although they didn't kill it, Nemo did.
    • Also the case for at least some of the real crabs that provided the close-ups of the giant crab's mandibles. As Harryhausen put it, "We had a delightful lunch when they had served their purpose."
  • The Atoner: Nemo. He's left behind his violent ways and decided to try and solve the problem of war through feeding the starving nations of the world.
  • Canon Foreigner: Lady Mary and Elena.
  • Captivity Harmonica: While in the prison camp, Herbert plays a harmonica.
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  • Cat Scare: Done with an iguana.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The sunken pirate ship. With the Nautilus out of action, it becomes the castaways' only means of escape. They're able to devise a means of floating it to the surface so they can escape aboard it.
  • Chekhov's Volcano: Early on, the castaways climb the mountain and discover it's actually an active volcano. Guess what chooses to blow its top at the climax?
  • Combat Tentacles: Deployed by the giant ammonite when it attacks the divers.
  • Cool Boat: The Nautilus.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Pencroft and Spilett.
  • Death by Adaptation / Posthumous Character: Ayrton.
  • Dem Bones: Poor Ayrton is found as nothing but a skeleton dangling from the cave ceiling.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: To get out of the prison camp, Harding and the gang jump some Confederate Mooks and steal their uniforms.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ayrton. His journal reveals that after being abandoned on the island by the pirates, he Went Mad From The Isolation and decided to kill himself. Considering how his skeleton is found, one assumes he hanged himself.
  • Drunken Song: Pencroft's tipsy rendition of "Yo-Yo-Ho and a Bottle a' Rum."
  • Feminine Women Can Cook / Stay in the Kitchen: Lady Mary and Elena end up falling into this particular role after joining the group. Despite Mary's insistence that she knows how to use a rifle, the menfolk still handle most of the "dirty work" while she and Elena perform more "womanly" tasks like sewing new clothes.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: One of these attacks the castaways, but ends up being boiled in a hot spring and eaten.
  • Giant Food: Behold! The world's largest drumstick and crab legs!
  • Gone Horribly Right: Nemo's experiments to create larger animals to increase the world's food stock have done precisely that - but now the embiggened creatures roam the island freely and cause havoc.
  • The Good Captain: Harding definitely fits this trope. He's A Father to His Men and an Officer and a Gentleman throughout the film.
  • Intoxication Ensues: Played for Laughs when Pencroft samples Ayrton's (apparently very strong) bottle of booze they find inside the cave.
  • Isle of Giant Horrors: The film is about a group of castaways who find an island populated by giant animals like crabs, chickens and bees. They were all the work of Captain Nemo as a solution to world hunger. The island is full of Nemo's experiments in gigantism.
  • Meaningful Name: Gideon Spilett is a reporter. He also later serves as the cook, where his name takes on a more humorous meaning (i.e. "spill it").
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The ammonite. Almost all of the giant creatures are explained as being the results of Captain Nemo's experiments to solve world hunger by making giant versions of ordinary animals, except for the ammonite. It appears to be a prehistoric survival instead of one of Nemo's experiments gone wrong.
    • Similarly, the giant bird, although identified as one of Nemo's experiments, is clearly modeled on the extinct terror bird Phorusrhacos (though its coloration does make it look like a giant chicken).
  • Mook–Face Turn: Pencroft does a relatively quick one. Initially, it's purely self-serving (as he doesn't want his captors to throw him out of the balloon). Over time, however, it becomes a genuine one as he learns to cooperate with the group.
  • Noble Confederate Soldier: Pencroft, after the aforementioned Mook–Face Turn. Despite the occasional snark, he gets along relatively well with his Union comrades, even saving the life of Neb, despite the fact he's black (and in fact, Neb's race never comes up at all where Pencroft is concerned).
  • Obsessed with Food: No matter what new development occurs, if it involves something edible, Neb will usually be sure to point it out to his comrades. "Look, Captain! Food!"
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Both Mary and Elena.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Ayrton's skeleton in the cave.
  • Perma-Stubble: Justified in that the men are stranded on an island without shaving utensils. Oddly, this really only seems to apply to Harding, Spilett and Pencroft; Herbert and Neb remain mostly cleanshaven (especially dreamboat Herbert).
  • Pirate: The pirates featured in the film are definitely Type 1 examples. In addition to sinking the ship Lady Mary and Elena were on, they also cut out Ayrton's tongue and stranded him on the island For the Evulz. They're not missed when Captain Nemo sinks their ship.
  • Plummet Perspective: Used in the balloon scenes, particularly when Harding and co. are considering throwing the unconscious Pencroft out. The sight of how high up they are makes them change their minds and keep him aboard. Also used in the scene of them crossing a log bridge and when Spilett is examining the volcanic crater.
  • Shout-Out: The log bridge the castaways cross in one scene is a deliberate nod to the one in King Kong.
  • Spiritual Successor: In no small part due to the appearance of the Nautilus, this film is sometimes considered to be an unofficial sequel to Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
  • Staircase Tumble: How the captured Yanks get the drop on the Confederates. They tamper with one of the steps leading down into the dungeon, and when the enemy soldiers are bringing Spilett in, the sabotaged step gives way under the men's weight, and down they go.
  • Tongue Trauma: The pirates cut out Ayrton's tongue.
  • Whole Plot Reference: Pretty much the entire subplot involving Captain Nemo's experiments to solve world hunger, and the giant animals that result, is lifted straight out of The Food Of The Gods.

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