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Friday, 30 December 2016

Retro Review: Cutthroat Island (1995), Channel 4

Cutthroat Island
Cast: Geena Davis, Matthew Modine, Frank Langella
Genre: Action-Adventure
U.S Box Office Gross: over $10 million

Plot: Feisty Morgan Adams inherits her late buccaneer father's galleon and one-third of a map to buried treasure located on Cutthroat Island. The map had been tattooed on her father's scalp, and to find the treasure, she must locate and scalp his two brothers. But Morgan's swashbuckling uncle, Dawg Brown wants the treasure for himself and does battle with his headstrong niece & her unwilling accomplice, Latin-speaking William Shaw 

'Ordinary Pirate Flick With Not Much To Offer & No Match For Pirates of The Caribbean and Hook'

Cutthroat Island has had such a notorious film history, much more so than Steven Spielberg's Hook spanning the past 2 decades; with the latter being another swashbuckling Peter Pan based film, which was also critically savaged by critics in 1991. Both films weren't well received when they originally came out. Yet in Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island, unlike Hook, in watching this film for the first time in a long while, it appears that so much of the criticism and disdain levelled at this film was justified. It also bombed so badly it made less money in box office ticket receipts than in its actual budget of $70 million, though this in effect led to the demise of Carolco, who went bankrupt. As well as derailing the careers of Geena Davis and Matthew Modine, coupled with a troublesome pre-production and several big-name actors dropping out - most notably Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, Keanu Reeves -, the aftermath was so bad, almost poisonous it gave this film a negative reputation and one with utter disdain. 

That and it is the inferior film compared to Hook and later on, Jerry Bruckheimer's Pirates of The Caribbean, in almost every single aspect.

This high- sea adventure just didn't do or offer a lot of what was expected for the duration of 2 hours; that combined with the somewhat uninspired casting and direction of the film and the story and what we have here is a film, or be it a pirate film that under-delivers and promises very little in exchange of the $70 million it took to make it. Alas, this is a case where one is far from getting more bang for your buck.
Morgan Adams (Geena Davis) is a tough-as-nails pirate, who goes in search for the pieces of the map that will lead to the treasure on Cutthroat Island. The fourth piece lies in the hands of her evil uncle (Frank Langella). She recruits a thief, namely William Shaw to help translate what is written on the map and the pairing form a (un)likely partnership.

The main protagonist is female and whilst that is a great thing to see, despite Geena Davis's notable efforts, her character of Morgan is lacking in characterisation, as are all of the other characters. Not one single character from the film either stand out nor comes across as being interesting. The love interest is Shaw played by Matthew Modine, who came in as the last-ditch replacement for Michael Douglas, who chose to bow out, claiming filmmakers were trying to make Morgan more of a mainstay as a character, at the expense of Shaw under Michael Douglas. But alas, Morgan became the central figure. Matthew as Shaw didn't really light up the screen. He has no memorable lines to set him apart from the other characters and his character lacks personality. The love affair between Morgan and Shaw is so derivative and not very compelling, the chemistry between Modine and Davis as their characters just wasn't there and when one may look at it, both performers are not that well suited in their respective parts. The visuals, the special effects and set pieces alone are much more interesting to watch, rather than the actual film itself. 

The dialogue, the story and the acting, however, are what really lets this film down, as it comes across as too hammy to be taken seriously, even though a film like this shouldn't be taken seriously. Even though pirates are supposed to talk and sound the way they do. It's worse than in Pirates of the Caribbean and Hook. The plot made very little sense and the story just wasn't told very well.

The story should have also been a whole lot more exciting, and approached with more vigour and imagination, especially for a film of this type. Morgan scalping her father's head to get the map sounds far-fetched. When I think of those films I've mentioned Hook, Pirates of The Caribbean, they have elements, as well as ways to tell a story that comes across as appealing and catches one's attention. In the latter, it's the adventures of Jack Sparrow, Will and Elizabeth and in Hook, it's about an adult Peter Pan trying to rescue his children from his arch-nemesis, Captain Hook. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for Cutthroat Island, because it just doesn't have that extra something that is creative and bold and daring enough in the story to draw you in.

The film doesn't delve into the characters backstories and histories, nor their personalities, but rather throw in one set piece to another. 

It comes across as a paint-by-numbers job and really, there is nothing creatively ambitious that makes this film risky, daring, nor challenging to the core as it should've been. I guess I was overly praising Cutthroat Island quite a lot and that in rewatching it nowadays, the criticisms and arguments from other people towards it, like I said, still stack up.

Another deciding factor counting against Cutthroat Island is the casting: In Pirates, it has Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly, Hook
has Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts. & yes, people will keep banging on and on that Julia Roberts was one of the worst things about Hook, but I, for one, say otherwise. Cutthroat Island meanwhile has no real standout Hollywood heavyweight names to speak of. And thus, for a film with a premise as extravagant as this and the budget it has, one expects A-list star names to carry it, and this film just doesn't have that, at all. And I think that that can also attribute to its box office failure, as well as its failure to attract larger audiences. If one shells out over $70 million or whatever to make a movie, it, at least or most needs big-name actors and actresses to back it up and galvanise extra hype, interest & the momentum it so richly needs.

I do think that had this film been released today, instead of 1995, I still think it would have been slightly better received, even with the critical thrashing and especially as with the way the industry has been fading and going downhill with directors, producers, production companies focusing more so on the effects side of things and having huge explosions and whatnot, Cutthroat Island would not have generated as much derision back then in the mid-1990s.

Final Verdict:

Cutthroat Island's abject failure just goes to show it doesn't matter how much money you throw at a film: if the acting, casting choices, performances, characterisation and story don't come through on-screen and make the desired impact on the audience, one has a turkey on their hands. I really didn't want to buy into the criticism and problems that people had with it, but the thing is, they are there and a lot of it is valid.

At best it's average, yet at worst, evidently and without a shadow of a doubt, Cutthroat Island has in every single department, but for the effects & costumes, virtually nothing on the original Pirates of the Carribean and Hook as noteworthy and memorable pirate films of this type.

And, but for a few explosions, memorable, this film ain't.



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