Monday, 28 January 2013

Treasure Island In Outer Space (1987)

"Treasure Island In Outer Space" (aka "Space Island", "Il pianeta del tesoro" and "Der schatz im all") was a five part 1987 mini series (later edited together to make a 120 minute TV movie) co produced by the Italian state TV company RAI and German TV company ProSieben.

The story basically takes the classic Robert Louis Stevenson book "Treasure Island" and transplants it into a futuristic sci-fi setting.

I first saw this series some time in the early 90's when it was cut down into 30 minute episodes (Each episode as standard is 90-100 minutes) and shown as part of ITV's summer holiday kids programs.
I do not know if this series has ever been repeated on British television (unlikely in this day and age due to the sometimes graphic violence presented on screen, after all, we are dealing with pirates here...YAAAAHAAARRRGH!), but since I saw it in my misspent youth I have never seen it anywhere since except online.  
Being more inclined towards science fiction than fantasy, I really enjoyed this series and really enjoyed watching it again when I found it on youtube, even if the series and its special effects now look extremely dated and a bit "bargain basement", although the miniatures work on the space ships is still somewhat impressive.  
Essentially, the story, like the book itself, is a coming of age type tale, and is narrated by an older Jim, telling most of the story in the first person as he makes discoveries about the people around him.

The story begins in the year 2300, Jim Hawkins Is a 12 year old boy who lives with his mother on a small island south of the great city and spaceport of Roma-napoli on the Italian coast, where his home doubles as a navigational beacon for incoming space craft and as a boarding house for weary travellers. Jim finds the atmosphere stifling and his only real diversion from his usual chores around the house is talking with their longest resident, space conductor (navigator) Billy Bones (Ernest Borgnine). Bones is and old man who seems to have entered retirement after a youth spent exploring space, who now spends most of his time reminiscing and drinking a soluble alcohol based liquid drug called "drukk".
One day, Bones is visited by an imposing black man named "Black dog", who appears to terrify Bones as soon as he lays eyes on him. As the two men have a private conversation (Bones sends Jim away, but he cant resist ear wigging at the window) It is revealed that Bones and Black dog used to be part of the infamous space pirate Captain Flints crew, and that Black dog has spent a lot of time and effort tracking Bones down in order to reclaim something which Black dog says belongs to all of the crew now that Flint is dead. Bones refuses to hand over "the map", and a fist fight breaks out between the two men, resulting in Bones recieving a serious knife wound to the stomach and Black dog fleeing into the night.
Jim tries to help Bones by offering to call the local surgeon, Dr. Livesey, to tend to his wound, but Bones refuses and asks Jim to get him a large glass of drukk.
After Bones has recovered somewhat, he sneaks out and buries something in a secluded area, unaware that Jim has followed him. When he begins to struggle due to his wound, Jim comes and helps him activate a radio beacon. Bones eventually explains that the radio beacon is actually a message intended alert his friend Arrow to come and see him. Later that night however, Black dog returns, accompanied by a blind man named Pew and a group of thugs. Bones barricades himself in his room as Pew and his gang search the house, with Pew making cryptic statements and threatening to kill everyone he comes across until Bones hands over the map. Jim manages to call for assistance using the beacons distress transmitter, which calls a customs service helicopter to them. The thugs attempt to flee in their own helicopter, and Pew is killed as he falls from the rope ladder as the helicopter flies away.
Bones is still in his room and is screaming in pain, so Jim ignores his protests that he doesn't need help and calls for Dr. Livesey. While they wait for him to come, Jim manages to get Bones (who is in a state of delirium) to explain what has happened.
Years ago, Bones served under Captain Flint. On one of their pirate raids, they captured and looted a massive cargo ship called  the "Bender", whose holds were full of precious metals and gems. With far too much loot to safely carry or fence all in one go, Flint ordered the crew to set course for an isolated planet.
When he got there, Flint and four other crew members took the treasure down to the surface, but after a week, only Flint returned. Flint had Bones draw up a map containing the coordinates of the planet and gave a series of cryptic clues as to where it could be found, and promised his crew that should he die before the stuff can be fenced, they would all receive a share of the treasure. Bones reveals that the object that he buried was in fact the map, and that the other men were all part of Flints old crew who were wanting to seize the treasure for themselves.
Dr. Livesey arrives and does what he can for Bones, but Bones ultimately dies, as Livesey observes that his insides were heavily damaged from a combination of being addicted to drukk and from exploring alien worlds without wearing a space suit or breathing mask (apparently a common complaint amongst space conductors).
Jim tells Livesey and his mother about what Bones told him before he died, and even recovers the map from its hiding place. Livesey suggests taking the map for Squire Trelawney, a local prominent citizen and owner of a company which builds robots and computers, to take a look at.
Trelawney is enthusuastic about finding the treasure, and proposes that they go into space to find it before the pirates get it, but, being as the map belongs to Jim, he says they wont do anything unless he agrees they can take it. Jim thinks long and hard about it, and decides they can take the map, but only on the condition that they let him come along on the journey, as he sees this as an opportunity to escape his boring life at home and explore space, reluctantly, Trelawney agrees and says Jim can come along and serve as their cabin boy.
Trelawney contacts a man named Captain Smolett and charters him to hire a ship and crew for their journey, as according to the cryptic clues on the map, the treasure can only be found on a certain day of the year, where "the hammer falls", so they need to leave as quickly as possible as their time is running out. Smolett charges "Long John" Silver (Anthony Quinn) , a tavern owner in Roma-napoli and former space explorer, to fill out the crew. Jim meets with Long John, who insists that he simply calls him "Silver". Jim is frightened when he thinks he has caught sight of Black dog in Silvers tavern, but Silver brushes it off and says he doesn't know who Black dog is and that they get all sorts in there. He is revealed to be lying when later he meets with Black dog in secret and tells him to keep out of the way until they board the ship.
Silver takes Jim into Roma-napoli to buy supplies, and then manages to lose him in the crowd of people in the market. Jim manages to find his way back to the space port and boards their ship, the Hispaniola, just before departure.
On board the ship, Jim runs across Black dog, who is serving on the crew, along with Silver and many others who were once members of Flints crew. He alerts Captain Smollet and Dr. Livesey to this fact but they tell him not to worry as many of the crew members have served on many ships at one time or another.
As they make the journey, Silver and the other crew members begin plotting to steal the treasure once they get to their destination, and swear an oath on the "Black mark". Silver has to reign in some of the more violent members of the crew who want to mutiny as soon as they get underway, and instead suggests that they instead wait for an opportunity to dispose of the captain, the squire and the doctor quietly.
Jim overhears this plotting but says nothing as he is threatened by Black dog and some of the other crew.
The opportunity to carry out their plan arises when after they have made the jump through hyper space to their destination solar system, they run across the damaged hulk of a spacecraft, which Captain Smolett insists that according to the laws of space travel, they are obliged to board and search for survivors, and then move the ship away from the shipping lanes so that it doesn't cause any accidents.
Smolett, Livesey and Trelawney, along with Trelawney's android manservant John, board the ship but find no survivors. Silver sets it up so that their tether line will detach and leave them with no way of returning to the Hispaniola before the hulk is blasted into a nearby star. Jim manages to sneak away and goes across to the hulk to warn them, thereby thwarting Silvers evil plan, but gets trapped in some pipes. Smolett sets the ships engines to fire in five minutes and the group makes their way back to the Hispaniola, unaware that Jim is aboard. Jim just manages to free himself and escape just before the hulks engines power on and take the ship away to its doom, and rejoins the Hispaniola.  
They arrive on the planet and land, but then the crew stages an open mutiny and lock the captain, the squire, the doctor and all crew still loyal to Captain Smollet in the brig, before, like a bunch of ravenous wolves, they leave the ship to go hunt for the treasure, without really knowing where it is.
Using a bit of ingenuity, the loyal crew manage to escape, but Jim is separated from the rest when he accidentally takes the wrong passage as they escape through the ships air vents.
The others simply think Jim has gone on ahead and leave the area, eventually finding an abandoned settlement that has power and running water, but no radio, which they barricade themselves inside.
Jim meanwhile manages to find his way up to the ships flight deck and inadvertently kills the man left behind to guard the ship, causing him to fall on the controls and set the ship on a short preprogramed course which takes it out over the sea and back again at regular intervals. Jim abandons ship and heads back to shore, where he eventually falls asleep.
Meanwhile, the pirates, led by Silver, try and fail several times to break into the compound where the Captain and others are hiding, but are kept at bay by Dr. Liveseys duelling pistols (a gift given to him earlier by Squire Trelawney, even though Smolett insisted that no weapons be brought aboard his ship), wielded by himself and Trelawney, resulting in the deaths of several of the pirates.
Silver offers a truce in exchange for some food and water, as they have discovered the Hispaniola has gone and there are no food or water sources in the swamps surrounding them, Smolett refuses and the pirates once again attempt to attacks, but are repulsed.

Jim wakes up in a bed on board what appears to be a crashed luxury space liner, and is greeted by the sight of a dishevelled looking man who introduces himself as Benjamin Gunn. Ben Gunn was one of the men who originally served with Flint, and who returned to the planet after they left in search of the treasure, but was marooned there by his business partners when they failed to find it. In the years he has spent along he has quietly gone somewhat mad, but made a decent enough life for himself there, spending every day searching for the treasure, as the space liner has ample supplies of food and drink available in its store rooms. He offers Jim some champagne (as that is all he has available to drink) and some caviar (which is all he has available to eat), but Jim gets drunk and passes out, when he wakes up, Gunn has put him back where he found him in the swamps.
Jim manages to find his way to the encampment, but finds the pirates seemingly burying bodies. Silver finds him and understands that Jim is upset about his friends being killed but he insists that there was nothing they could do to avoid it. In truth, Smolett and the others managed to get away with some help from Gunn, although John the android was killed in the process, the graves Jim sees are in fact the bodies of the pirates that Trelawney and Livesey killed during the attacks on them.
Jim heads back to Gunns place and finds his friends waiting for him, they then leave and manage to find the Hispaniola and reclaim it for themselves, and with some help from Gunn, they manage to figure out where the treasure is hidden. 
The pirates meanwhile have been piecing together some of the clues and have set off themselves to try and find it first, however as they travel, it becomes obvious to Silver that the others have no intention of sharing any of the treasure with him, as he begins to lag behind due to problems with his prosthetic leg, so he quietly slips away and makes out to find Smolett and Jim.
Smolett and co manage to find the treasure, which is buried in a shallow lake at the exact point where a hammer shaped rock casts its shadow at dusk on a certain day, Silver finds them and begs forgiveness, and after helping them fight off a final pirate attack, they let him leave the planet with them, stranding the remaining pirates behind.

As the series is no longer available to buy on DVD, you can watch it HERE 
(Note:- some portions of the individual episodes are in German, but these are only the recaps, everything else is in English)

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