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Mysterious Island [DVD] 
Notable neither for...
show more its director nor its stars, Mysterious Island has been given the widescreen DVD treatment rather because of its special-effects man, the legendary Ray Harryhausen. And though his input here is minimal compared with other movies, his stop-motion contributions add zest to a cracking good yarn. A gang of American Civil War soldiers hijack a hot-air balloon and escape from the frying-pan of a military prison to the fire of a deserted tropical island. When a couple of English girls are washed ashore and a legendary nautical figure resurfaces, the scene is set for a ripping survival adventure, taking in weighty theories of political democracy, equality and cowardice, and still managing to add a healthy dollop of stirring music, dodgy accents, old-fashioned sexism, pirates, giant bees, a giant crab and a fearsome, err, giant chicken. Harryhausen's eighth feature contains all the elements that make his movies great, and the pacey script, based on the Jules Verne novel, has you gripped from the off. One of his more modern-feeling early films, the colour film stock, the exotic settings and wider stable of stars (black and English actors feature alongside a pre-Clouseau Herbert Lom) move it forward an era from his dated black-and-white schlock-fests. Gripping, erudite and easily on a par with the more well-known Sinbad and Argonauts movies, this is one to be marooned with. On the DVD:Mysterious Island's colour picture is bright, clean and crisp in this anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, and the Dolby digital mono soundtrack is clear enough. The theatrical trailer will please the kitsch fans, as will the featurette "This Is Dynamation" produced at the same time as the first Sinbad movie. The real corker here though is the generously lengthy documentary "The Harryhausen Chronicles". Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, it features a stellar cast of devotees (George Lucas among them) waxing lyrical about the influence of Harryhausen's films, and allows the man himself to ramble fascinatingly over clips of his filmic canon. If you're a fan, it's Harryhausen heaven. --Paul Eisingershow less