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SyFy's 'Treasure Island' a Treasure, Indeed
May 3, 2012  | By Mike Donovan  | 5 comments

I’ve always thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island as a kid’s book. I had some kind of Golden Book version as a boy, and always picture Long John Silver as Robert Newton (below, right) in the 1950 Disney film. Not any more.

Syfy’s new four-hour version, premiering Saturday, May 5 at 7 p.m. ET is no longer a boy’s adventure story. Starring Eddie Izzard, Donald Sutherland and Elijah Wood, this version is an adult swashbuckler about treasure and treachery and a band of pirates who look and sound like I bet pirates looked and sounded in the 1800s.

The story still centers on young Jack Hawkins (Toby Regbo), who discovers a treasure map that belonged to the notorious Captain Flint (Sutherland). He shares the map with Dr. Livesey (Daniel Mays) and Squire Trelawney (Rupert Penry-Jones) and together they plan an expedition to the island. Trelawney, however, mistakenly hires some of Flint’s former crewmembers — including Long John Silver (Izzard) who, as pirates are wont to do, plan to mutiny and steal the treasure. It all comes to a head on the island with a bit of dueling, shooting and killing. In the meantime, a long-abandoned member of Flint’s crew, Ben Gunn (Wood), who has been living alone on the island and has gone a bit nuts, befriends Jack and helps him navigate the island.

There have been dozens of film and TV versions of Treasure Island — including the 1996 musical film, Muppet Treasure Island with Tim Curry as Long John — but I’ve never seen one quite this big and beautiful. From the shots in Ireland, which doubled as the town of Bristol on the coast of England, to the shots of and on the island, the pictures are beautiful. And the ocean voyage shots are so good that they could, under the right conditions, induce seasickness.

Although Donald Sutherland (right) really only appears briefly, he is a wonderfully evil Captain Flint, especially when he decides to murder or abandon his entire crew and keep all the treasure for himself. Toby Regbo does a great job of showing Jack Hawkins’ evolution from a naive boy into a young man capable of violence yet without losing his humanity. And the barely recognizable Elijah Wood (below, left) is a bizarre Ben Gunn with the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.

But Eddie Izzard (top, center), whom I’ve seen wearing everything from women’s clothing to military uniforms, creates a novel take on everyone’s image of Long John. With his shaved head and head tattoos, he looks more like a character from Moby-Dick. But for a guy I think of as perhaps the funniest and most intelligent stand-up comedian I’ve ever seen (see his Emmy-winning HBO special Dress To Kill), Izzard does an amazing job playing a complex Long John who is cutthroat and cunning, yet not as savage and bloodthirsty as the rest of his crew. (He even shows a soft spot for young Hawkins.)

I’ve always been a fan of the novel and the Disney movie, but this outstanding production will be the one by which all others are judged.

Already a huge success in the U.K,. where it was shown over two nights, I’ll be interested to if an American audience will be able to sit still for a single four-hour event.

And, as an American audience member, this brings me to my one criticism — and it’s a big one: the heavy British accents. My review copy had no closed captioning and I could barely understand a word of dialog. I hope you’ll watch it and, if you do, leave the closed captioning off and let me know if it was just me and my old ears. Arrrrrgh.


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And unlike other repair shops, we don’t rely on dispatch to bring us the parts we need.
Feb 20, 2023   |  Reply
When will this be on again?? I missed the second part?
Sep 9, 2012   |  Reply
Eric Gould
Ruth - 'Treasure Island' just re-ran on Syfy this past weekend. We'll keep you posted if we know of another airing upcoming. –EG
Sep 10, 2012
So glad I checked your blog last night! I wouldn't have known about this show without it. Really enjoyed the first half, still need to watch the second half. But not tonight, as I will be too busy watching Sherlock!
May 6, 2012   |  Reply
I missed it; danmit!!!!! My DVR did not cooperate and didn't record the first part. Any chance that it will be repeated? I know that it was billed as a "one night only" but difficult for me to believe that SyFy would have spent the $ for it to air it only once.
May 6, 2012   |  Reply
David Bianculli
You'll have to be a little patient. Syfy is indeed repeating it, but not until June 1 at noon ET. Hope that helps, though.
May 6, 2012
I am so excited about seeing this show. I heard Eddie Izzard talking about it (on Craig Ferguson? or Graham Norton? don't remember for sure), and it sounds fantastic. I believe he said that it's the real deal--no CGI; they actually were those places and on boats, etc. So glad it's finally playing, but how much will be cut out for commercials?
May 3, 2012   |  Reply
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