Almost a non-Disney sequel to Disney's hit 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is a film whose parts are better than its whole. You've got great stop motion work from Ray Harryhausen, who created and animated all the oversized animals found on the titular island, such as the crab, the weird prehistoric bird and, my favorite, the colony of giant bees. You've got Herbert Lom doing his best to play a little older version of James Mason's Captain Nemo, who shows up near the end to reveal that he is the master of this particular domain. (I'm not really spoiling anything, since Lom is prominently listed in the film's credits as Captain Nemo). You've got Beth Rogan playing a typical young girl of the Civil War era, who, like all typical young girls of the Civil War era, immediately fashions herself a beyond-sexy leather miniskirt when she's trapped on a deserted island with five war-weary men. You've got pirates, you've got giant cephalopods, you've got the lost city of Atlantis, you've got exploding volcanoes.
What you don't have is a strong story or any sense of real danger. I don't like to spoil things but every time a character gets into a real jam - say, caught in the claws of a giant crab - five minutes later he is fine. So after the first couple of times, you start to realize nobody is going to get hurt on this mysterious island, so the only fun comes from the effects themselves. The story is lacking - a bunch of people wind up on a strange island, they spend some time making themselves comfortable, they fight giant creatures, they have defeated creatures for dinner... and then the cycle repeats. Luckily, the individual setpieces are fun enough to hold the movie together, but it is telling that although I had seen this film at least five times as a kid, the only thing I remembered about it was the fights with the gigantic animals. That is the stuff that fuels the imaginations of little boys (well, that and the leather miniskirt) and Ray Harryhausen remains a god to many film fans my age for filling our childhoods with the kinds of bizarre, scary things we could only dream of.
If you are a Jules Verne fan, you should be aware that this film takes major liberties with the books' original plot. There are no giant animals in the book, and certainly no typical young girl of the Civil War era running around in a beyond-sexy leather miniskirt. - JB