July 11th, 2011: The Island at the Top of the World

Cast and Crew:  Robert Stevenson (Director); John Whedon (Screenplay), Ian Cameron (Novel), Maurice Jarre (Score)

What It’s About: The year is 1905 and Sir Anthony Ross (Donald Sinden), an English captain of industry, enlists Professor Ivarsson (David Hartman), an American archaeologist who specializes in working in the arctic and Captain Brieux (Jacques Marin), a French aviator who has just perfected a dirigible and an Inuit guide named Oomiak (Mako), to search for Ross’s son, Donald (David Gwillim).  Donald disappeared while searching for a fabled graveyard of the whales, said to be covered by a mountain of smoke and guarded by evil spirits.

Why Watch it Today?: Swedish explorer Salomon Andree left on an ill-fated balloon expedition to the Arctic today in 1897, even though he knew the balloon had a leak and was slowly losing gas.  The men were not heard from again until 33 years later, when some of their equipment and their bodies were found, along with a diary that showed that accumulating ice forced them down after only three days.  The expedition tried, and failed to make it back to land on foot; the diary’s last entry is October 12th, 1897.

The Island at the Top of the World is a much more cheerful story than that of Andree, a Disney live-action adventure film that takes a much different course than most “lost world” yarns.  Instead of giving us dinosaurs or other prehistoric or fictional beasts, we get a lost Viking colony that survived deep within the Arctic thanks to the heat from the nearby volcano and hot springs.  The film never gets more far out than this basic idea and is the rare adventure film where linguistic differences actually amount to something, which is refreshing given a story where a Frenchman, two Englishmen, an American academic, and an Inuit meet up with a lost Viking culture and all need to interact.  On the downside the effects are about what you’d expect from a minor, modestly budgeted Disney adventure film from the 1970s, but there is some spectacular nature footage and moments of adventure that make this worth a look for fans of “lost world” tales.

Where to Get ItSome Public libraries or Amazon

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