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Treasure Island in Outer Space

Italian/German/French tv mini-series (1987; original title L'isola del tesoro; vt Space Island). Bavaria Film, RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, TF1 Films Production. Directed by Antonio Margheriti. Written by Lucio De Caro and Renato Castellani. Cast includes Ernest Borgnine, Philippe Leroy, Klaus Löwitsch, Andy Luotto, Itaco Nardulli, Anthony Quinn and David Warbeck. Five or seven episodes (depending on country) totalling 350 minutes. Colour.

Margheriti had previously directed the sf films Space Men (1960); Battle of the Worlds (1961; original title Il Pianeta Degli Uomini Spenti); the Gamma Quadrilogy (1965-1967); Mr. Superinvisible (1970; original title L'inafferrabile invincibile Mr. Invisibile) and Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983; original title Il mondo di Yor), as well as many horror, fantasy, action and historical movies. One of the historicals was Treasure Island (1972), based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island (1883); in 1987 he returned to that book, reworking it as sf for this live-action Television series. It was subsequently edited down to 120 minutes and released as a film: though predating Disney's animated Treasure Planet (2002), it was not the first sf movie based on Stevenson's story, that honour having gone to the Bulgarian animation Treasure Planet (1982).

The plot broadly follows Stevenson's novel, but is set in the twenty-fourth century: sailing ships have become Spaceships, servants are Cyborgs and the treasure (see McGuffin) is hidden on another planet. Young Jimmy Hawkins (Nardulli) meets Billy Bones (Borgnine) near a rundown Sicilian spaceport; when Bones is subsequently killed, Jimmy discovers his treasure map. He takes it to the local doctor, Livesey (Warbeck), who reminisces about Flint's predations: "Just before the last great nuclear war the English President sent all the ex-crown jewels into space to one of their colonies ... Flint managed get hold of those too." His friend, the wealthy industrialist Squire Trelawney (Leroy), agrees to fund a trip to claim the treasure, using Captain Smollett's (Löwitsch) spaceship, the Hispaniola. The Squire hires Long John Silver (Quinn) to organize a crew; Silver befriends Jimmy, but leads a mutiny when the ship lands on the treasure planet – which includes a Dinosaur graveyard. Jimmy meets the marooned Ben Gunn (Luotto); Silver changes sides and eventually Silver, Jimmy, Gunn, Trelawney, Livesey and Smollett leave the planet, stranding the remaining pirates. During the journey home Silver says his goodbye to Jimmy and steals a shuttle.

There is some discussion of past events and science: Silver mentions the human race once had a life of ease, letting Robots do all the work, but grew jealous of them – adding the billions of robots were destroyed during a nuclear war. We learn that spaceships can only travel at one third the speed of light, so use Hyperspace Leaps to travel between the stars; Trelawney explains this to Jimmy by way of an analogy, with dots on each side of a piece of paper – rather than go the long way round, the Leap goes through the paper: "Yeah ... but how?" "How and why are problems of astrophysics, I've been explaining the idea, the concept ..."; Livesey intervenes "Are you satisfied with that explanation, Jimmy?" "No." Livesey adds that the Leap takes the spaceship into another Dimension for a fraction of a second; on return it is at or near their intended destination (see Imaginary Science).

Though overlong and slow moving, this is an often quite entertaining series that keeps to its science fiction remit; the budget was clearly respectable for a television series and it looks reasonably good for its time. Having the twenty-fourth-century spaceship crew all male and behaving as if they were stereotypical eighteenth-century sailors is jarring, but no more so than mid-twentieth-century sf works that did much the same (see Clichés) and lacked the excuse of being based on a pirate novel set in the eighteenth century. [SP]

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Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 01:33 am on 20 August 2022.
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