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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Surviving Gilligan's Island (2001)

"They understood Gomer Pyle and they understood The Beverly Hillbillies, but this concept escaped them?"
- Sherwood Schwartz

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: December 26, 2002

Stars: Dawn Wells, Russell Johnson, Bob Denver, Sherwood Schwartz
Other Stars: Kristen Dalton, Samantha Harris, Dwayne Hickman, Eric Allen Kramer, Aaron Lustig, E.J. Peaker, Steve Vinovich, John Wellner, Michael Wiseman
Director: Paul A. Kaufman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some mild mature humor)
Run Time: 01h:26m:25s
Release Date: September 24, 2002
UPC: 012236128199
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C+C+B- C

DVD Review

Gilligan's Island is one of the great TV mysteries. That a show with such a ridiculous concept and such formulaic scripts could survive and thrive in reruns for nearly forty years is almost as amazing as the fact that it was ever approved and put into production at all. Like all television cultural phenomena, the show has its legendary stories of backstage shenanigans and cast in-fighting, but what surprised me most about Surviving Gilligan's Island, a faux-documentary that examines the conception and production of and the reaction to the adventures of the Skipper and friends, was that the series aired for only three seasons. Like the original Star Trek, Gilligan's Island was cancelled before it had 100 episodes in the can—the number that, today, is regarded as the benchmark for successful syndication. Yet both these series have been playing somewhere in the world every day since they "went off the air," and the latter remains the most watched television show of all time.

Created in 1964 by writer Sherwood Schwartz, who went on to create another enduring sit-com with The Brady Bunch in the 1970s, Gilligan's Island told the story of the unfortunate castaways who thought they were leaving on but a three hour tour. The actors who signed on to the pilot weren't expecting much more out of the series—no one expected it to be picked up by a network at all, let alone that it would become a success. Surviving Gilligan's Island follows the series from its inception, as Schwartz pitches it to studio after studio, facing three rejections until, finally, it is picked up by CBS. Though Schwartz does appear briefly in interview footage at the beginning of the program, for the most part, he and all of the rest of the cast, have been replaced by actors who look at least somewhat like their classic counterparts.

This "inside footage" of the show's history—we see the various roles being cast and watch the actors interacting on-set—is intercut with hosted segments from the original Mary-Ann and Gilligan, Dawn Wells and Bob Denver (with the occasional appearance from the Professor, Russell Johnson). It's mostly Dawn's show; she provides segues for the material, stringing together the recreated production anecdotes and on-set legends with her memories of how things really were.

Any and all trivia about the series is fair game. Covered are favorite fan stories (as when Mr. Howell Jim Backus was hit on by an Italian prostitute, or when hundreds wrote the US Navy asking them to rescue the stranded), feuds between the actors (including the legendary rivalry between Ginger and Mary-Ann; the latter was even snipped out of magazine covers in favor of the "movie star"), and lots and lots of familiar jokes, such as the knee-slapper, "If the Professor could build anything out of coconuts, why couldn't he fix the hole in the boat?" Incidentally, the answer is, "Because if he did that, there'd be no show, idiot. Why don't the villains just kill James Bond?"

All of this material is fairly entertaining, though it will likely be pretty familiar to true fans of the show. Where Surviving Gilligan's Island falters is in the tone. It's suitably goofy in part, but some sections are laughably somber or unintentionally funny, such as the scene of all the actors in-costume "reacting" to the news of JFK's assassination, or Bob Denver's whiney laments about the show's cancellation ("They can't do this to us! WAAAAAH!"). The writers thumb their noses at critics outright, excusing the lazy scripts and formulaic comedy with statements like, "Everyone loved us but the critics," and it's clear we're supposed to view the show's early termination at the end of its third season as some sort of great tragedy (after all, the show was still winning its time slot). I think it is in these segments that a more traditional documentary would have worked; the restaged scenes are cheesy and disingenuous.

Still, fans of Gilligan's Island should find a lot to like here. I should also mention that whoever wrote this was not a fan of Tina Louise, the original Ginger. She's portrayed alternately as a slut, a tease, and an ungrateful shrew that despised her fans, and since the actress has tried to distance herself from her signature role over the years, she gets no chance to tell her side of the story. All of the actors' careers fizzled out after the show ended, so maybe Louise was right to fear typecasting. Though it endures in reruns, none of the actors were quite as successful in surviving this three-season tour.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Video quality is only fair, even considering the television roots. Colors look rather dull, and there's some visible breakup within the blues and reds. The picture looks fairly soft, and there's some video noise and grain throughout (though not enough to really distract). I noticed no edge enhancement, but there's quite a bit or artifacting and aliasing visible on complex patterns.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in a very basic DD 2.0 mix; it might as well be stereo, because I never once noticed enhancement from the surrounds. Otherwise, dialogue is clear and the front soundstage spreads out a tad with the score and limited sound effects, but it's a pretty unimpressive mix, with little in the way of directionality or panning effects.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Dawn Well's Home Movies
  2. Outtakes
  3. Behind the Scenes Comparison
  4. Casting Tapes
  5. Trivia Game, Episode Guide, Recipes, Fun Facts, Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Artisan has included only a few extras with this release, but they are creatively presented with nifty animated menus and an obvious sense of humor befitting the lightweight material. There's a nice mix of material from both the original series and the feature.

Skipper and Gilligan's Hut houses the first couple of bonus features. Wacky Outtakes is the worst six-minute excuse for an outtake reel I've ever seen; note that these aren't outtakes from the series, but from this movie special. The Castaway Trivia Game gives you a chance to help the S.S. Minnow home, but be prepared to know your truly trivial Gilligan's Island trivia (I wasn't). Casting Sessions features the audition tapes for the actors replacing the famous faces from the original series.

Speaking of the original series, The Professor's Workbench section includes an episode guide for each of the show's three seasons, as well as four brief behind-the-scenes clips of scenes being shot, compared in split-screen to the final filmed version. Ginger and Mary Ann's Hut, meanwhile, features 24 Island Recipes, a Photo Gallery, and about two minutes of Ginger's on-set Home Movies, which offer a candid peek at the filming of the original series.

Also scattered throughout the menus are some Island Fun Facts about both the movie and series. I stumbled across an easter egg or two as well. One can be found on the extras page by pressing up from Ginger and Mary Ann's Hut, the other is lurking on The Professor's Workbench. The former offers some weird outtakes of characters driving around the movie's set in a dune buggy; the latter, another minute of Ginger's home movies.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Surviving Gilligan's Island is a self-indulgent faux-documentary that makes Gilligan's Island out to be more than it actually was, but it will probably entertain series fans. I can't help but think that a traditional tell-all "True Hollywood Story" piece would have been more fun, but this works well enough for what it is, Little Buddy.


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