Treasure Island

on January 24, 1999 by Ray Greene
   Weird isn't the word for "Treasure Island," a willfully cryptic exercise in backward-looking post-war revisionism, done imaginatively and on a shoestring budget by writer/director/cinematographer Scott King. Set in 1945 on the famous Northern California naval intelligence station of the same name, "Treasure Island" concerns two government spies (Lance Baker and Nick Offerman) assigned to fabricate misleading intelligence documents which are to be planted on a dead American soldier's body to confuse the Japanese. As the men work on bogus letters from home for the corpse, their own lives and fantasies are used as story material, gradually blurring the lines between reality and the fictions they're creating. When the body (Jonah Blechman) resurrects and begins confronting his "creators" with truths about themselves, a bizarre and dreamlike variation on the Frankenstein legend comes to life.
   King's cerebral and uncompromising experimental narrative alienated many audience members at Sundance by refusing to capitulate to the standard narrative conventions even supposedly sophisticated festival attendees now demand of the movies they watch. The outright hostility "Treasure Island" encountered took its toll on King, who seemed genuinely stunned when he won the director's trophy at the festival's final awards ceremony.
   An evocative, ambitious exploration of America on the precise and terrifying cusp of becoming a global superpower, "Treasure Island" is a film that wants the audience to work for a payoff, where cryptography itself is the ruling metaphor, and viewers are free to draw or manufacture their own conclusions. Though far from the most popular title on display at Sundance in 1999, "Treasure Island" was undoubtedly among the festival's most significant and promising directorial debuts. Starring Lance Baker, Nick Offerman and Jonah Bleckman. Written and directed by Scott King. Produced by Adrienne Gruben. Drama. No distributor set. Not yet rated. Running time: 86 min
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