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"Visit the lost Nordic island paradise known as Astragard, located in the midst of the icy, artic tundra...see Vikings as they existed a thousand years ago...but take care not to anger Godin or the old gods, or you may find yourself taking part in the lesser known tradition of being strapped to a wooden raft as it's lit afire, and set adrift to sea...
The Island at the Top of the World (1974), released by the good folks at Disney, encompasses many different elements. It's science fiction, drama, high adventure, fantasy, but most of all it's just plain fun. Directed by Robert Stevenson, who directed a slew of Disney films from the early 60's and into the 70's, most notably The Absent Minded Professor (1961), Mary Poppins (1964), The Love Bug (1968), and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), The Island at the Top of the World stars the toothsome David Hartman (Good Morning America), and Donald Sinden (The Day of the Jackal). Also appearing is a very youthful looking Mako (Conan the Barbarian), Jacques Marin (Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?), English television actor David Gwillim and the very Swedish Agneta Eckemyr (The Kentucky Fried Movie).
As the film, set in the early 20th century, begins, we learn of an expedition being planned by rich English businessman Sir Anthony Ross (Sinden), one with the intention of finding his son David (Gwillim), who's been lost for the past two years. Seems David had been in the artic searching for the mythical graveyard of whales, as there's gold in them thar whale bones (not actual gold, but the bones fetch a handsome price). Anyway, Ross enlists the aid of American archeologist Prof. John Ivarsson (Hartman), in a round about sort of way, and they proceed in a fantastic airship called the Hyperion, piloted by a froggy Frenchman named Captain Brieux (Jacques Marin). The journey is perilous, but they do manage to find David, with the help of an Eskimo named Oomiak (Mako) living amongst an isolated colony of Vikings on a lush island, located smack dab in the middle of the artic, its' existence due to volcanic hot springs. All seems well...that is until the Vikings, whose sagas foretell foretell their destruction at the hands of outsiders, turn on the group and decree they must be killed. With the help of a local girl David's sweet on named Freyja (Eckemyr), the outsiders manage to escape, but are now hunted by angry Norsemen, and their outlook seems grim. Will our plucky adventurers have traveled so far only to meet their end on the island at the top of the world? I'll never tell...well, unless the price is right...
The Island at the Top of the World is a wonderfully entertaining tale reminiscent of classic films based on Jules Verne novels (this film wasn't adapted from one of his works) like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mysterious Island, and Journey to the Center of the Earth (this last one is scheduled to be remade in 2005). I was puzzled about the casting of David Hartman in one of the lead roles (I guess Doug McClure was unavailable at the time, as this gig would have been right up his alley). Hartman does all right, but he just didn't project the presence I would have expected from the role, and so Donald Sinden, much stronger actor, basically takes over most of the scenes the two share. I thought it odd that Sinden's character came off as a jerk as much as he did, in the beginning at least, but then soon realized it served a purpose as the character seems to begin to learn humility as the story progresses. The other actors played their parts well, and seemed cast well. The direction by Stevenson is great, as he keeps things interesting and moving along at a fairly brisk pace. The special effects aren't the greatest, but given the enormity of their undertaking in the context of the film, and the degree of difficultly in bringing to life the elements necessary to create a world forgotten by time, I don't think many will find cause to hold these minor shortcomings against the production as a whole. The level of detail within the film, especially with regards to the Vikings, is exceptional, and really serves to place the viewer within the story. The plot is strong, with a few minor exceptions not really worth mentioning, and thoroughly interesting and enjoyable. It's not very complex, but given the intended audience were primarily children, it's understandable. The great thing is the film doesn't sink to a patronizing level so often seen in movies made for children, and displays a degree of intelligence, so not only children, but also adults can enjoy it.
The wide screen picture presented on this DVD looks really nice, and audio is clear and crisp. The picture does suffer some very minor wear due to age (white speckling), but it's barely perceptible. Given this is the 30th anniversary edition release, Disney provides some interesting extras in a behind the scenes featurette, special effects camera dailies, a 1968 pre-production trailer (if you haven't seen the film, do not watch this prior to watching the movie as it will give away too much), and original theatrical trailers and TV spots. There is previous edition DVD of this film available, one released by Anchor Bay Entertainment, and I have not seen that version or what special features it may have, so make sure you verify which version you want before purchase. I think Anchor Bay had a deal with Disney to originally release many of their older films on to DVD, but now, probably because the format is establish, Disney has since decided to release these films on their own, and reap the rewards. Pretty savvy business sense, I suppose, but often it creates havoc with customers as low production runs lead to out of print DVDs and cause price gouging up the wazoo...
What a surprise...I still like it
Darren Harrison | Washington D.C. | 12/27/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There has been a number of movies that, after loving them as a young kid in Scotland, I have picked up years later only to be disappointed (I am thinking 'Warlords of Atlantis' and 'People that time forgot'). I was wary about picking up 'The Island at the Top of the World' because I had fond memories of seeing it one Christmas years ago on British television.
Imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch this Walt Disney movie again last night when it actually surpassed my fond memories of the movie.
The story follows the adventure of an eccentric Englishman, an American professor and a zany French aviator as they search for the Englishmans son who went missing in the arctic circle years earlier.
What they discover is an ancient Viking culture on a volcanic island which legends holds is "Where whales go to die.". The green fields and tranquil landscape is a striking contrast to the bleak vistas of the ice fields surrounding it, and the xenophobic Vikings are understandably wary of these strangers. This long lost Viking colony apprently never ventured from their island believing the rest of the world to be covered by inhospitable ice shelves.
The movie, which was nominated for an Oscar in the production design dept. really is a fun ride with the same flavor of a number of the fantasy adventures that were released by Mickey Mouse's company in the early 1970s.
This DVD is a bare bones release but for the cheap price it is easy to recommend it for pick up."
ONE OF DISNEYs LAST GREAT ADVENTURES
gobirds2 | New England | 10/01/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sir Anthony Ross (Donald Sinden) goes on a quest for his missing son (David Gwillim) that leads him to the ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD via airship with the aid of Professor Ivarsson (David Hartman), Captain Brieux (Jacques Marin) and Oomiak (Mako). Director Robert Stevenson directed this film based on a novel by Ian Cameron, which treads on Jules Verne territory. Director Stevenson here makes one last attempt at the grandeur of the genre emulating earlier Disney productions such as 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954) and IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1962). Thanks to this DVD on Anchor Bay Entertainment this film looks even better than it did in the theatre and on earlier VHS editions. The esoteric and enigmatic images are sharp, crisp, and richly colorful and lushly textured giving this film a new dimension. Maurice Jarre composed an adventurous and melodic score giving this underrated film the prestige it deserved. I really enjoy this film and have watched it many times over."
Mark McKinney | Maryland | 01/30/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"In 1954 Disney made 20,000 leagues under the sea and the films popularity created a classis sci-fi phase that led to many different companies trying to adapt Jules Verne and H.G. Wells' books to film over the next seven or eight years. This film came out years after that phas was over, but it is easily as good as many of those films. The plot concerns a rich man who hires a French captain and his zeppelin and an American explorer to help him find his missing son. They set off for an uncharted area way out in the North Atlantic and find a tribe of Vikings who have established their own colony. This is a kid's film, fairly fast moving, but very little violence. The cast is overall good except for David Hartman who always seemed like Fred Gwynn, only without any personality. Director Robert Stevenson was a veteren by this time, having done such Disney greats as Old Yeller and Mary Poppins and his skills shine through in this film. This film is sharp and the visuals are very good for the time, although I admit I tend to really like films with airships. My only regret is that I did not see this one as a child because I really would have loved it then."
Fun for Young Kids (and Uncynical Parents)
Stephen Kaczmarek | Columbus, Ohio United States | 12/16/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"With people obsessing about Viet Nam and Watergate in 1974, it's a wonder a movie as optimistic as The Island at the Top of the World was even produced. Leave it to Disney. Stubbornly old-fashioned--and therefore family friendly--it follows a group of adventurers who stumble upon a lost Viking society in Antarctica. The mostly European cast--save for a flat but still likeable David Hartman and woefully underused character actor Mako--gives it a jauntily Victorian feel that seems almost innocent today (though grad students will zero in on the post-colonial subtext). While older kids are probably too cynical to enjoy the movie (Gasp! It has a happy ending and positive message), younger kids will probably like the art direction and special effects, crude by today's standards but quite possibly the inspiration for such films as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Even hard-hearted Gen-Xers might get a little nostalgic over this one."