One of the perks of writing for Airlock Alpha is getting to be in on press conference calls with actors, creators and the powers that be of the cool stuff.
Having the screener of Syfy’s version of “Treasure Island,” which airs May 5 beginning at 7, was particularly fortuitous for me this past week as I was laid up and needed to stay off my feet. Anyone who’s had to rest for a long time knows how difficult that can be. It’s so freaking boring! Something entertaining to watch that is several hours long is a grand thing.
Somehow, I missed reading “Treasure Island,” so when I found out I was going to be participating in the conference call, I decided to remedy that. I opted for the “Text to Speech” feature of my Kindle which is kind of funny because you feel as though you are being read to by Stephen Hawking. It’s a bit odd at first, but once you get used to the lack of inflection, it’s pretty good.
Admittedly, once I found that I could watch a screener of the film, I abandoned the book. I did get far enough in it to know where there were changes, though, and I think the changes in the movie were the kind that make the story better for the screen and don’t take away from the spirit of it.
While a story about pirates with no science-fiction or fantasy elements (other than a few ghosts seen due to drink or stress) might seem out of place for Syfy, it isn’t really.
I asked Thomas Vitale, Syfy’s executive vice president of programming and original movies, why he chose this project for the channel. His reply gives you a little insight into the reasons for the philosophy behind the choices in original programming at Syfy.
“You know the character of John Silver is such a larger than life character,” Vitale told me. “He is a character that sparks the imagination and what Syfy is about. It’s about programming of the imagination. I mean, we are a channel that is … that airs science-fiction, fantasy, supernatural programming.
“We really are a broad-based entertainment channel and I just felt that this was such an imaginative piece, that the take on the story and the way it was done was so imaginative and so larger than life that it really fit our brand: kind of a broader definition of our brand, when you talk about the Syfy channel as a place that celebrates the imagination and celebrates larger-than-life heroes.
“And you know we have such a great relationship with the Halmis [the film was produced by Robert Halmi Sr.] that we know that they deliver quality. They deliver programming that the audience likes and watches. So, we were thrilled that we had an opportunity to get involved with this project. But it is a story that stirs the imagination. Now I read this when I was very young and it stirred my imagination then, and I hope that we can do the same for our viewers and young viewers today.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown as tired of sparkly pirates as I have of sparkly vampires. It’s time to see some down-and-dirty, meaner-than-a-snake, wilier-than-a-coyote pirates, and Syfy’s “Treasure Island” gives us just that kind of scurvy knaves. These guys are villainous, but you’ve gotta love Long John Silver as portrayed by Eddie Izzard.
In fact, one of the requirements Izzard had before signing on to the project was that the script be grittier than some of the versions which he says are just flotsam and jetsam. He got what he wanted and it made this version of the story feel fresh.
For history buffs, there are some treats to be had. The election of officers by pirate crews, work songs, the parlay, and pirates who are not all white guys like Errol Flynn (no offense to Flynn — I love his movies) but are many colors make this story seem true to life.
When I get the chance to speak with actors who appear in Syfy’s projects, I almost always ask if they are science-fiction fans themselves. When I speak to one who truly is one of us, it makes me happy. That may be silly but there you have it. I’m betting you understand.
So, as a little present for you, I’ll end with Mr. Izzard’s comments. Set your internal voice to “Eddie Izzard.”
“I am a big science-fiction fan,” he said. “I’m a big imagination fan, which actually ties in with Syfy, the place of the imagination. Everything from Harry Potter, particularly the end films.
“I haven’t actually read the books; I’m a dyslexic person so I sort of avoid books. I did read Isaac Asimov actually, a couple of his books before. But there are so many books out there which I haven’t read because I’m just such a slow reader.
“But I’m just at the moment I’m going through Netflix. ‘Star Trek: Next Generation,’ so I’m a fan of the future. I do have a big vision, as I said, I’m a transvestite, you just have to work out how you can get transgender admitted into society. So I do have vision.
“This thing that George Bush Sr. said, he had a problem with the vision thing. I don’t have a problem with the vision thing. I’ve had to have one because I’m trying to carve a place for myself in the future.
“And so I like fantasy stories, science-fiction stories, because within that, hopefully there is a truth. There is a certain future out there that could well knit up with – I mean ‘Game of Thrones’ is very interesting, I just started watching that. Because that’s like from before, but also in the past we do see our present and our future. Humans keep behaving the same.
“So there are lots of great — ‘Matrix,’ I was big fan of ‘Matrix,’ particularly the first one. The second two sort of, I got a bit lost in. But those stories that are gritty and now and edgy and have human sensibilities and you take it to some other place, I love living through those. And it gets you out of the … I think for a lot of people it gets them out of their normal lives which might be not that exciting and it’s a place of crazy fantasy, ‘What would you do now’?
“The bizarre thing with my life now, it has actually got to quite an interesting point where I am filming in Puerto Rico and Dublin doing pirate movies. So I think my life has almost become like a sci-fi film in a way. But one that I’m controlling, and it’s OK. So I’m very happy with where I am at the moment. But I do. I am a fan of sci-fi.”