Stevenson in Space

Treasure Planet – I can’t say I’ve ever read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, so I couldn’t say exactly how much this film sticks to the source material. From the summary on Wikipedia, it looks like most of the characters from the novel have analogs in the movie, although there are some changes like Dr. Doppler being a combination of Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelawney. I find it interesting how it’s almost a combination of the previous two Disney animated feature, being an adventure story like Atlantis, but with aliens like Lilo and Stitch. There was quite a bit of Star Wars to it as well, particularly with the spaceport sequence and music that seemed reminiscent of John Williams’ famous score. The decision to retain much of the seafaring theme from the original story while setting the whole thing in outer space led to some weird technology, like spaceships that look and function like sailing ships. Yeah, I know solar sails are real, but I don’t think they work as they did in the movie. Everyone could breathe in space, and there were whales and barnacles living in the void. Well, I guess it wasn’t exactly a void, as the film described it as being filled with etherium. I can see why they didn’t want to have the characters wearing spacesuits the whole time (one of the directors was quoted as saying this “would take all the romance out of it”), but why not say the ship is surrounded by a force field or something? Also, there’s artificial gravity and highly advanced cyborg technology, but Jim still has to wash the dishes by hand. The odd mixture of the old-fashioned and the futuristic gave it kind of a steampunk feel, although not exactly. Some of the characters were really only there for cheap gags, and I’m not sure what they were thinking with the alien who communicated only with fart noises.

The bug alien was appropriately creepy, however, and I liked the rapid changes that Silver’s hands underwent.

Dr. Doppler, a dog-like alien, had a design that reminded me of Goofy.

I have to say the film went a bit overboard with the comic sidekicks, with both the cutesy shape-shifting Morph who took the place of Silver’s parrot and a malfunctioning robot voiced by Martin Short whom even the other characters found annoying.

This movie did not perform well at the box office, but I didn’t think it was bad so much as just not as developed or organized as it perhaps should have been. As far as the plot went, I felt it was kind of a cheat that only a tiny bit of the treasure was salvaged. The movie did look good, though, so that’s something. Sailing ships in space might not make a whole lot of sense, but they’re impressive to look at.

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4 Responses to Stevenson in Space

  1. ozaline says:

    I recently picked this up in as part of a Boxing Week sale. I do like the movie though I agree a lot of it is a mess but I like the look of the technology. In a way it reminds me of animes like Space Pirate Captain Harlock which try to bring 18th century Nautical aesthetics to the sea of space. To some extent I’m told even Star Trek’s penchant for exploding control panels reflected early modern naval combat.

    The Ether field theory of space though long debunked has enough of a literary tradition in space opera though Lensmen to anime like Gunbuster that I never question it being used to explain conventions in more offbeat soft-scifi.

    Anyway this is one that’s deffinitly got it’s flaws but I have a soft-spot for.

    • Nathan says:

      I remember reading something about how space battles in visual media almost inevitably reflect naval battles, and often neglect to incorporate the fact that spaceships can travel in three dimensions. As far as old-fashioned ships in space go, one of Robert Rankin’s books has a Victorian steamship that travels the solar system.


  3. Pingback: Sail! | Richard Piland

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