Fantasy Island was a TV series created in 1979 and ran until 1984, and it was a huge deal in America. I mean, the whole thing went on for about 150 episodes. Created by the late Gene Levitt, it starred the late but always great Ricardo Montalbán, quite possibly one of the greatest actors to ever live, as the mysterious Mr. Roarke who hosted an island which would allow his guests to live out their ultimate fantasies.
It ultimately was always kind of a ‘be careful what you wish for’ idea, however, as much as it has dated quite horribly in parts, in watching a few episodes in preparation for this film coming out, I actually found myself really enjoying it. There are some duds in the bunch but it’s ultimately pretty cool all things considered. The one thing it isn’t though is, well, a horror story. There were horror elements to it. Hell, one of the episodes I watched in prep involved a woman whose fantasy was to identify Jack the Ripper, something I can imagine a lot of people would travel to this actual island to achieve in real life. But it’s ultimately not exactly what I would call a horror anthology story. An anthology story, yes, but it’s not exactly a horror. So, when you hear that that’s pretty much what Blumhouse Pictures – the well-known horror producers – are putting their name in front of it whilst producing it, it was a very weird decision. I remember seeing the first trailer for this, thinking, ‘Wait, was Fantasy Island ever a horror series? I don’t recall anyone ever dying in the show, unless my mind’s playing tricks with me.’
Personally, I actually quite like the fact that it had the title Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island – for one thing, they were being open and honest in saying this was not a recreation of the TV show, this was their take on it. But ultimately, this also meant that they would have to take the blame if it went downhill. This film has the same writing and directing team behind the abysmal Blumhouse Truth or Dare film, something that should really not inspire confidence. So, how does Fantasy Island turn out now that it’s actually been unleashed upon us? I’d like to point out though that this film came out several weeks after in Europe compared to its American release, and if it does badly at the box office, that’s one of the big reasons why. The film itself also starts out as an anthology. You have the island once again run by Mr. Roarke, this time played by Michael Peña, and on his resort island, he is basically taking five contest winners and giving them their ultimate fantasies. You’ve got stepbrothers J.D. and Brax (played by Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang), who simply say they “want it all”; Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q) who wants to be done with her ultimate regret of saying no to a proposal which robbed her of a husband and child; Patrick Sullivan (Austin Stowell) who wants to finally be a soldier after not enlisting on his mother’s request for personal reasons; and Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale) who wants revenge on a high school bully who ruined her life named Sloane Maddison (Portia Doubleday). That is the bare minimum I’m going to give you of this film. Honestly, I would really like to do this as a spoiler review to really get into my thoughts on this film, but I will be fair on the people that actually want to see this.
But first, a slight tangent. There’s a film that came out in 2015, a film called Trumbo. It’s actually a really good watch if ever you get a chance to see it. It involves Bryan Cranston playing the famous screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a name you probably haven’t heard of but have probably seen his films. This is due to the fact that in the 1950s he was called to testify before the Supreme Court in the McCarthy trials due to his suspected links to Communist parties and Communist movements, and he ended up serving 11 months in prison for his views and was blacklisted from Hollywood afterwards. Now the film actually tells his true-life story very well, including after he got out of prison and was blacklisted. He still kept on writing, going along with many of his friends who were also blacklisted to King Brothers Productions, a really low budget studio where the writers could just knock out any old crap that they could sell and make a quick buck whilst occasionally, under the radar, getting a chance to produce their passion projects. This is something that Trumbo did under a pseudonym when he released The Brave One which won him his second Oscar. His first technicolor film was under the pseudonym he created releasing Roman Holiday.
So why have I gone onto a tangent about that film? Well, it’s because I’m pretty sure that Blumhouse is having the exact same policy as King Brothers Productions, given how weird the quality of the films that are coming out seem to be. Sure, we’re getting Oscar nominations like Get Out and Whiplash coming from that, but man, they have been producing some crap, and Fantasy Island feels like it was also the quiet buck that they were trying to pull out. I am not joking, Fantasy Island is CRAP, and it’s the moment when you go and see that you’re done with that film that you really realise you wasted so much of your time. It’s not even funny how awfully written this film is. If Blumhouse really wanted to do a horror anthology series, why didn’t they just reboot The Night Gallery? That’s a really underrated horror series which was fortunate enough to receive a Simpsons parody. If you ever get a chance, check out The Night Gallery; it’s created by Twilight Zone creator Rod Sterling and it’s actually really excellent. Or, hell, why didn’t they just reboot Tales from the Crypt? It’s about time someone did something with that property. Though, mind you, I’m pretty sure Tales from the Crypt is probably owned by Warner Bros given the DC acquisition.
Now, with Fantasy Island, the actual anthology works out pretty well so far; it’s rather similar. The guests are rather disbelieving but Roarke is ultimately able to pull it off. But then the film goes into a weird territory. It acts like it’s very simplistic but it’s actually really complicated. This is a film that’s been done by writers who love plot twists, but they don’t understand how to structure them into their scripts. As a result, the plot twists can often end up creating plot holes. I’m not joking, this film has been written appallingly – characters’ motivations can often change from scene to scene and, because all the anthology stories are running concurrently, it feels like a mismatch of films that have been stuck together whilst you got drunk at night flicking through Netflix. Some of the scenes from the different storylines are shot almost entirely differently. The soldier plotline is, for example, shot to look like a Vietnam movie, almost similar to Apocalypse Now, although the cinematographer clearly didn’t understand what made the shots in Apocalypse Now work so well. But then you’ve got Brax and J.D.’s storyline which looks like it’s from The Hangover movies, not to mention that the Melanie storyline looks like it’s out of the Saw franchise.
Not to mention that the performances in this film are also all over the place. The only actor who seems to put their all into it is Maggie Q who I’m definitely discovering is an actress who has tons of potential – I’m really enjoying her run as Wonder Woman in the Young Justice TV series – but in terms of films, she really needs to fire her agent because they clearly do not have her best interests at heart if they’re booking her in films like this, the Divergent series and Balls of Fury. Oh, and she was in that King of Fighters film that no one saw. Now, I went into the film thinking there’s going to be no way Michael Peña will outdo Ricardo Montalbán’s amazing performance in the TV series, and man, Peña feels horribly miscast. I like Michael Peña and I’m glad he’s getting opportunities like this; this casting was definitely necessary for a high-profile Hispanic actor, and Peña’s definitely got name-value since appearing in the Antman films. But man, I felt sorry for him. He’s trying his best but he can’t quite do it, and it’s in large part down to the fact that the writing team lets him down appallingly.
In the original film, Roarke was an absolute mystery; rather like the island, you knew nothing about him. He towed the line between good and evil and you had no idea what his intentions were, so while he didn’t mind putting guests through situations to teach them a lesson, he seemed to have their safety at the forefront of his head and no one really died. You never knew what exactly his motivations were. This film does away with all of that; he doesn’t seem to mind if people die and his motivations are spelled out in the forefront, taking away any mystery the character might have had. What’s more, they even explain how the island does what it does, introducing an explicit supernatural element which was previously implied. Now, again, this is trying to be its own thing so I wouldn’t mind so much, except there’s one problem – the point is introduced, and it actually contradicts things that have been established in the movie. Not to mention, there’s a final plot twist towards the end of the movie that actually invalidates almost everything that happened beforehand. As a result, it makes NO GODDAMN SENSE!
This film left me feeling bored, I was so incredibly bored watching this. I was begging for it to come to a screeching end. And at one point, it feels like it’s coming to an end only to start right back up all over again, further emphasizing the script troubles I suspect this film had during development. This film’s actually been made on a very low budget, something I’m noticing more and more from Blumhouse Productions, and it shows since the effects are really not that great all things considered. And also, the only other big-name actor in this is Michael Rooker who has a very thankless extended cameo, and when we find out who his character is, it only adds even more plot holes into the mix. Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island is a joke of a movie: the script is horrendous, the plot twists actually contradict things we saw previously, and the performances are all over the place. I have no idea whose idea it was to make Fantasy Island like this, but it doesn’t work as an adaptation of a TV series and it really doesn’t work as its own thing. That’s actually kind of impressive in how off-the-mark a film it’s turned out. The characters are laughable in how much I didn’t care, and I have no idea what the direction in this film was throughout the runtime. This film runs at nearly two hours and it has no right to do so – it sucks. If it is not in my 10 Worst Films of the Year list, 2020 will have been a terrible year for cinema.
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