Treasure Island

In many ways, writer, director, and cinematographer Scott King's Treasure Island is an accomplished debut, a truly audacious American independent with the courage to follow its doggedly idiosyncratic convictions. Made without so much as a nod to commercial considerations, it stood out among the dramatic-competition entries at Sundance in 1999, when it won a Special Jury Prize alongside such Indiewood fare as Happy, Texas and Guinevere. But, tempting as it is to praise Treasure Island simply for being different, King's experimental pastiche of '40s technique and late-'90s transgression never quite comes together, falling victim to its own willful obscurity. Loaded with jarring scenes and suggestive fantasy sequences, the film aims to challenge and confound, but beyond its disconcerting style lies a point no less obvious than the one in Pleasantville: that the aw-shucks nostalgia for the period promoted by TV and films ignores the undercurrent of repressed sexuality and social unrest. Opening with a witty and meticulously rendered recreation of '40s propaganda serials and newsreel footage, Treasure Island takes place just after the Germans have surrendered in WWII. The title refers to a San Francisco compound where the nation's mail is inspected each day for possible code words and intelligence information. Among its employees are two cryptographers (Lance Baker and Nick Offerman) assigned to compose phony letters to mislead the Japanese before the atomic bombs are dropped. The letters are to be placed on a fresh corpse—which, for the convenience of the characters' psychosexual fantasies, is actually wheeled into the office—and thrown back into the ocean for the enemy to discover. From this intriguing premise, Treasure Island launches into a series of surreal and mainly incoherent episodes that deal with issues ranging from xenophobia to false histories to sexual deviance. Scott does a wonderful job mimicking the black-and-white monochrome of old spy films, but his peculiar and irritatingly mannered approach to the material does no service to his ambitions. Though challenging and provocative at times, Treasure Island is also baffling and exasperating. Those who do like it, however, should find a lot to enjoy on this new DVD version, which comes equipped with a pair of in-depth audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and assorted other features. (www.alldayentertainment.com)

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