FANTASY ISLAND (1977)
Article 2506 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-13-2008
Posting Date: 6-22-2008
Directed by Richard Lang
Featuring Ricardo Montalban, Bill Bixby, Sandra Dee
Three visitors pay $50,000 apiece to have their individual fantasies played out on a resort called Fantasy Island. A former World War II reporter wishes to relive a romance he had during the war, a big game hunter wants to be the hunted, and a female executive wants to know who she can trust among her family and associates and wishes to fake her own funeral.
I avoided the TV show (for which this was the pilot) like the plague when it was popular during the late seventies and early eighties; there was something about the concept that struck me as silly. Now, having watched the original TV-Movie on which it was based, I can at least understand the appeal. The show actually does a fairly decent job of playing on and confounding expectations; for example, the story which initially seems the most insipid (the old love affair) turns out to be the darkest of the bunch. It is also, sadly, the least convincing; I can’t for the life of me figure out why Bill Bixby’s character would pay this much money to relive this part of his life. The story about the woman attending her own funeral is marred by a scenery-chewing performance by Carol Lynley, and you’ll probably be able to spot the twist a mile away as the story winds down. I like the story of the big game hunter the best, and this story, similar in some ways to THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, does add a little bit of horror to the proceedings. The show’s strength is simple; Ricardo Montalban is excellent as Mr. Roarke. He adds just the right touches to his line deliveries to make the events seem compelling and even a little profound. He also embodies the fantastic content of the movie; we never learn precisely what he is, but one of his opening lines in which he talks about his guests being “mortal” should give you a clue, as well as explaining how one character does not die. Still, I suspect that the real appeal of the show to TV viewers was the constant parade of familiar guest stars on the show, which I also suspect was the same appeal of “The Love Boat”, another show I avoided like the plague.