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Running Time: 157 minutes
Starring: Liam Cunnigham, Brana Bajic, Roger Allam, Jesse Spencer and Neil Newborn
Written by: Greg Dinner, Dominic Minghella and Chris Harrald
Directed by: Charles Beeson
Retail Price: $19.98
Specs: 1.77:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (22 Scenes)
Released: June 28th, 2002
In an effort to cash in on the success of reality-tv programming such as "Survivor," Hallmark Entertainment has billed "Stranded" as "The Greatest Survivor Story of the Year." Well, that depends on the year, now doesn't it? For in "Stranded," the Napoleonic wars are a-raging, and parson Robinson, he of the Swiss persuasion, has refused to pledge alliegance to the King; his punishment: no less than nine years in the penal colonies of that land down under. Seeking permission from the King, his wife is granted, along with their children, the right to accompany her husband to what is certain doom. That doom comes in the shape of a terrifying storm at sea, which forces the convict ship's evacuation. It's every man (and woman) for themselves as the storm washes the ship aground upon the rocks of a tropical island. Here upon this uncharted isle, the Robinson family must make the best of what nature has to offer. If any of this bears a very familiar air, it's because "Stranded" is NOT what the package would have you believe. What the packaging fairly fails to point out, is that "Stranded" is a television film version of the classic novel, "The Swiss Family Robinson."
That particular novel has been virtually forgotten by today's audiences, and it is highly doubtful that ANYONE has actually managed to make it through Johann Wyss' very dry writing. But, viewers will be somewhat familiar with the tale told by the Walt Disney production company in the early 1960's, a film which even its own director (Ken Annakin) proudly states was more of a conjecture of what Wyss' novel contained, rather than the novel itself. Disney's film also was not the first filming of the tale of a shipwrecked Swiss family forced to use their survival skills on a remote island; there were at least two others, one of them a silent take on the novel. But those of us who grew up watching television in the 1960's know that "Swiss Family Robinson" was the launch point for the Irwin Allen-produced, sci-fi saga, "Lost in Space." (You, dear reader, already knew THAT, didn't you?)
It's safe to say, though even I never trudged through Wyss' novel, that "Stranded" is a fairly faithful adaptation; the solemnity is the giveaway. Director Charles Beeson never allows the beginning, with its vital character introduction, to move too quickly. Beeson allows his cast of unknowns to create characters through time, rather than broad stroking through minimal dialogue and, more imortantly, rather than telegraphing the characterizations with banalities. This also creates "Stranded's" dichotemy: we viewers WANT the action that the package delivers, but instead are given a character-based piece with little action, though in a beautiful, sumptuous, pastoral setting. To me this is like watching an entire season of "Survivor," and only getting to the remote locale on the sixth installment, but "Stranded" really doesn't waste time in getting the shipwrecked Robinsons onto their island; They have arrived and begun exploration within the first twenty minutes, following their storm at sea. Then later in the film, seven years transpire within the blink of an eye! Also bearing witness to its literary roots, "Stranded" makes the most of the religiousity of the material, Liam Cunnigham's papa, David Robinson is a Swiss pastor; the film dwells on the themes of a wholesome Christian family living a pious life under the most extreme circumstances. The film's finale, I hope taken from the novel, readily reinforces the idyllic New Switzerland utopian existence, but, on the other hand (not so hopefully), could be the lead in for yet another return to a certain blue lagoon.
There's nothing to complain about cinematically, though. Anamorphically encoded to its 1.77:1 television aspect ratio, "Stranded" comes in quite highly on the Visual Challenge. The production design deliberately begins with muted colors before reaching the verdant vistas of the island refuge. Scenes within the doomed ship are lit with a dim amber hue, yet little grain is present and the detail is quite good. Even on the island, the lushness of the island paradise is presented in all its verdant glory. Fleshtones are solid for this type of production, and even in "Stranded's" darkest scenes, detail manages to come through. "Stranded" is a very painterly picture; scenes are staged to make the most of the limited frame, though not earth-shattering in their beauty (a more visually oriented director such as Ridley Scott would have made every frame a mini-masterpiece) the picture quality is a bit above average for an international television production. The Thai location looks quite inviting in every shot.
The Aural Challenge follows with a two channel Dolby Surround track. Never intricate, and nearly always centered, this is one soundtrack that might have benefitted from a 5.1 mix. Stanislas Syrewicz' new-agey score envelops the rear channels, while dialogue takes its place front and center. Even with stormy scenes, there isn't much bass activity.
"Stranded" loses points in the Bonus Round Challenge without even a trailer - not even for any other Hallmark or Artisan features.
"Stranded," of course, comes from producer Robert Halmi, a man whose mission it must be to keep the art of the mini-series alive. Previously, Halmi has given us a mixed bag of "literary" adaptations (I rate his production of "Merlin" higher than his better-known "Gulliver's Travels"), while "Stranded" may be compelling viewing once, its ever-so-serious tone might keep me from returning to it. The Overall Challenge, however, does win points should anyone auditioning for CBS' next installment of "Survivor" want to use it as a survival guide. It's quite a lesson in resources as the Swiss family tames many mammals, finds ways of cooking truffles, turtles, bear and buffalo to perfection; not to mention the archietectonics of that tremendous treehouse.