Review: Treasure Island – 1990 (starring Charlton Heston)

Rating: ★★★★½
It’s a shame this is so hard to find because it’s clearly the most accurate, and I believe the best, version of Treasure Island out there. The script is very loyal to the book and the actors do an incredible job. This holds particularly true for Christian Bale, who plays Jim Hawkins. As anyone who’s seen a movie where kids outwit adults knows, it’s a terribly awkward thing to portray with any amount of believability. But Christian pulls it off with great finesse – Watching him it’s easy to picture this boy growing up to be an admiral some day. Charlton Heston as Long John Silver, however, was somewhat disappointing. He just seemed wooden to me. But then again, I can’t really picture Heston ever being anything but.

Heston’s lackluster performance aside, it’s a fantastic movie, and definitely my favorite interpretation of a fantastic book.

11 thoughts on “Review: Treasure Island – 1990 (starring Charlton Heston)

  1. Lackluster? How about, right on the money, probably the best performance of Heston’s career, and the exactly right interpretation of the deadly, amoral, ruthless, but human character created by Stevenson…maybe too subtle for you, pirate boy, more jolly AARRR’s and shiver me timbers would be in order to penetrate your rum addled brain?

  2. While I agree with Mr. Conlin, I do deplore his insubordinate attitude. I saw this movie as a kid, and it was my first exposure to Heston. This was also the first version of Treasure Island I saw on TV, and it formed my opinion of what Captain Silver ought to be. Ruthless, cunning, and most important for any despot, immensely charismatic. Heston made Long John Silver larger than life, and was unafraid to show his nasty side. All of the other Silvers on the small and big screen have tried to make Silver kid-friendly, because they knew they did not have the chops to pull off Silver’s underlying charisma.

  3. Hah – expectin’ anything but insubordination around these parts is a fool’s hope, Geoff – although I do appreciate the sentiment.

    It’s been some years since I saw this version – and only the once at that. I’d be more than happy to revisit it and see if my opinions on Heston may have changed, but you can’t floggin’ find the thing anywhere. DVD release overdue, perhaps?

  4. DVD release is way overdue. I grew up with this movie, it’s my all time favorite. I’ve seen it so many times I can say the lines with it while I watch.
    Everything about the movie is great, including Heston’s role as Long John. He is exactly the way I picture Long John.
    (I also think Richard Harris (aka the original Dumbledore) could have maybe been a good Long John in his day, just watch him as Oliver Cromwell in “Cromwell” and imagine…but Heston will always be my favorite).

  5. Reply to Pat Conlin’s review, specifically to the remark that his Long John Silver was “probably the best performance of Heston’s career”: I finally understand the expression my fiancee Peggy likes to use, “damning with faint praise.” It may well be his best performance ever, but Heston’s Robocoplike presence on the screen knocks me right out of the shared fantasy and back into my suddenly-uncomfortable theater seat, trying to read my watch in the dark. The role he was born to play was stolen by de Niro as Frankenstein’s creation. And Geoff, are you really saying Charlton “Cold Dead Fingers” Heston is as charismatic as Wallace Beery? My floggin’ God! I have turned over rotting logs in the rain forest and found more charismatic critters than CH.

  6. Well, Heston’s performance may not be THE greatest thing in the best ever version of “Treasure Island,” but it’ll do, though he – and just about everyone else who’s ever played Silver – is about 15 years too old. As the author of “Flint and Silver” has said, think Heston in “El Cid” and you might get closer. Wallace Beery is unfortunately cancelled out by the sniveling Jackie Cooper, and Robert Newton, though in the worlds of Leonard Maltin “a succulent ham,” is delicious but still not the Silver of the book. Brian Blessed of “Return to Treasure Island” fame is closer yet – and why isn’t THAT out on DVD? I have such lovely memories of watching it years ago while living in Scotland.

    The problem is, if the perfect Silver is yet to be, the perfect “Treasure Island” has been made, and it’s this movie. The cast is sterling, top to bottom, from Christian Bale as Jim, who IS the right age and has the intelligence and character to pull off what he’s asked to do, to a scary and charismatic Israel Hands (“He were Flint’s gunner!”) to – my personal favorite – Clive Wood as Captain Smollett, who positively transforms the film and every line he speaks with his energy, intelligence and sheer conviction in the role. I could watch the fight for the stockade all day just for him. I just ordered up an old VHS to replace my made-from-television copy and was entranced anew at the colors, the atmosphere, the music, the direction and the lovely faithfulness to Stevenson’s vision.

  7. George Coghill must be joking, the Wallace Beery version is unwatchable. Heston is by far the most realistic Long John Silver, and I own all versions of this classic tale. Apart from Heston, the supporting cast is superb, Bale, Christopher Lee, Richard Johnson and Oliver Reed. The Disney version is ruined by Robert Newton’s cartoon-like interpretation of the sadistic Long John.

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