Treasure Island (2000)

      Do not be mislead by the title; this is not another adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson
classic. This
TREASURE ISLAND is set on a naval base just off San Francisco that was a center
for American code breakers during WWII. Writer-director Scott King was inspired by the true story
of a counterespionage ploy wherein British intelligence agents planted false information on a dead
body that was discovered by the Nazis. (The plot served as the basis for the 1956 motion picture
THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS.) Using that idea as a jumping off point, King has crafted a
hallucinatory, surreal film that has much to admire but ultimately falls short of its lofty goals.

      With a bit of tongue-in-cheek, King has fashioned a throwback to the movie going experience
of the 1940s.
TREASURE ISLAND, beautifully shot in black and white with a period 175 pound
Mitchell BNCR camera, begins with an episode of a movie serial about an American spy in
Nazi Germany and segues into a newsreel about the real naval base. The main feature then begins
and introduces the audience to its two main characters Frank (Lance Baker) and Samuel (Nick
Offerman), who are as complex as an encoded message. The meticulously groomed Frank is a
bigamist (one wife is half-Japanese and in hiding, the other suffers from a skin disease) and he
ardently pursues a working girl whom he hopes to make number three. Samuel, a beefy man's man,
harbors an equally fascinating "secret". He can only make love to his wife if another man is involved.
(The wife, it should be noted, is a willing party to this.) The catalyst for these and other revelations is
The Body (Jonathan Blechman), an unidentified dead man for whom Frank and Samuel must create
a fake life. Each takes turns writing letters that will create a history for the deceased as well as
encrypting false information that would mislead the Japanese military. In these correspondences,
the code breakers reveal more about themselves than they do about the fictional identity. As they do,
TREASURE ISLAND spins into surrealism (both Frank and Samuel begin to have hallucinations
involving the dead man) which undermines the slight story.

      This movie was clearly an ambitious undertaking for King, who it should be noted is a
proponent of identifying the collaborative nature of filmmaking.
TREASURE ISLAND is visually
impressive (with nods to everything from 1920s German Expressionism to 40s
film noir) but in
opting to center the story on two somewhat unlikable characters, King has sabotaged himself. With
no one for whom the audience can root, the film takes on more of an air of an intriguing stunt than
an engrossing story. The actors do what they can but are hamstrung by the conceit of the film,
which unfortunately puts a premium on style over substance.


                                                      Rating:                C -
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.