- Vancouver, British Columbia - I can imagine that few of you reading this will have ever heard of this film, or if you happen to have stumbled upon it via Google, maybe you were searching it out specifically. In any event, if you're a faithful Sour Grapes Winery reader, Shipwrecked stands out as something of a special piece of memorabilia, as it was the first film that I ever saw in a theatre. My parents had managed to get free tickets to an advanced screening to the film and as I came from a large family, going to the cinema was not something that was regular, let alone possible, for my parents to afford. Later when the film came out on VHS, my parents purchased it and I re-watched the film countless times, memorizing every line of the dialogue. It occurred to me recently that it had been probably at least 14-15 years since I had seen the film, so I sought out a DVD copy on Amazon and managed to order it with the intention of reviewing it, which is where I find myself today.
Shipwrecked tells the story of Haakon Haakonsen (Stian Smestad), a young Norwegian boy, who finds himself in the position of needing to provide for his family after his sailor of a father is injured at sea and unable to pay their mortgage. If Haakon doesn't go to sea, then his family's farm will be foreclosed, so even though he is a young boy, he takes on the burden and agrees to go be the ship's boy on his father's old ship for a two-year engagement. While at sea, Haakon eventually enters into the camaraderie of the other sailors, becoming one of them. In London, however, the ship takes on a suspicious con purporting to be a British Royal Navy captain, Lt. John Merrick (Gabriel Byrne), and his crew of crusty sailors under the auspices of protecting the Norwegian ship from pirates during their sailings to Sydney, Australia and onto Calcutta, India. In Sydney, however, a female stowaway, Mary (Louisa Haigh), comes aboard and is befriended by Haakon, as she seeks to get to her Uncle in Calcutta. As the title of the film suggests, things are all made worse by an eventual shipwreck which separates everyone and leaves Haakon alone on an island, which he later discovers is full of pirate treasure.
The film was a Norwegian production that was filmed in two versions with the same actors, one mostly in Norwegian with some English-speaking characters, and also an international version entirely in English. Walt Disney Studios eventually picked up the film for international distribution, but made the decision to still re-dub the international version, seemingly to reduce the Norwegian accent in the English spoken. The dubbing was strong enough that I had never noticed it as a child, but watching it today, if I look for it, I can see some signs of the dubbing, but it is almost unnoticeable.
The story itself is a wonderful children's fantasy of life at sea, filled with treasures, pirates, love, betrayal, shipwrecks, and adventure, based principally off of Oluf Falck-Ytter's Haakon Haakonsen: En Norsk Robinson (1873). As a children's movie, it works for a variety of reasons. For one, it never panders to children. While the film is marketed to families and children, it isn't so asinine that adults won't find something to appreciate in the film. Secondly, the fantasy in the film isn't completely unrealistic, nor is it entirely predictable. Aspects of it perhaps are, but the film itself is an enjoyable adventure film. The last one that gave me such a pleasing adventure experience was probably 2003's The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Thirdly, the acting is decent. There were parts as a child that I recall my siblings and I making fun of, but in general, the performances are adequate. Stian Smestad carries the weight of the film reasonably well, occasionally overacting a few scenes, or perhaps it could be that the editing of the scenes was a little unfortunate, thus characterizing his screen presence in a bit of a off-kilter note.
Shipwrecked stands out from family movies today and I'm not entirely sure I know why; I simply know that it does. While the film is rated PG, it doesn't feel like a PG film. That's not to say that there is objectionable content in the film, but instead that there are conflicts and challenges in this film that are not usually seen in films that are directed toward our children today with maybe the exception of Pixar films. In Shipwrecked, we see a young boy who is saddled with the responsibility of providing for his family, which is something that few children today could even fathom, though I suspect many children in our financial era today worry about what happens if their parents lose their jobs and if they will go hungry. Also, Haakon's relationship with his parents and his family is very positive, even though he is burdened by the severity of his own family's situation. Haakon takes responsibility, when many would say that it is simply unfair to expect a child to do so. Some might simply dismiss this notion by saying that the story takes place in another time and thus it isn't that significant, but yours truly would simply reject this as being dismissive and thereby missing the point.
The types of messages that our children receive today in film are not entirely demanding of them, nor do they really address the worse fears of our children. We shelter our children from having to address those fears through stories and film, thus limiting their opportunities in fantasy through film to process about how they would deal with such problems. Shipwrecked does, however, which could be one of the ways that it differs from so many family films, and for this reason, I would argue that it possesses a great strength. On the other hand, do we see the frank reality on the screen in large part because Shipwrecked is not an American film, but a Norwegian one? There are times when I wonder if the American movie machine may one day alienate its audiences so much with garbage like 3D and over-used story/character clichés that they will begin to look to international cinema to provide them with some meaty films rather than the junk food that is much of American cinema.
Shipwrecked is a memorable film, not because of excellent production or acting, but because of the story and the sense of adventure that encompasses the whole film. It is the type of a story that I could imagine myself as a child creating in my mind and acting out with my brothers or my stuffed animals, whichever was more immediately available. It isn't a spotless film, nor masterful by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a good film that I hope will be remembered for some time.
Rating: 3.5/5 Sour Grapes