Bermuda Triangle (1996)
This TV movie is the missing link between Gilligan's Island and Lost. Indeed one of the many mysteries of Lost is that so few note how nearly it was done before - in the Rod Serling series The New People, or busted pilots like this and Danger Island. John (Sam Behrens) and Grace (Susanna Thompson), overworked New York doctors with an annoyingly significant surname (Everman), are on a Caribbean holiday in a small boat with grad student skipper Sam (Michael Reilly Burke) and their kids Sam (David Gallagher) and Annie (Lisa Jakub). Annie gets mysteriously sick and the boat hits an iceberg, then the whole crew wash ashore on a mysterious island. The stars aren't in any alignment visible from Earth, which doesn't freak them out enough and a later dialogue line jokingly suggests this is the '27th dimension' The newcomers are greeted by the Mayor (Jerry Hardin), a downed WWII fighter pilot, and a small community of other castaways who have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle, notably a documentary filmmaker turned vegetable farmer (Naomi Watts) and a pregnant black lady (Sandra Thigpen). There are ancient ruins, a mystic tribe, intelligent dolphins (Annie swims with them in some impressive aqua-stunting), a crocodile in a cave (disappointing as monsters go) and a reality-warp whereby trying to leave the island only gets you back to it.
The most tiresome character is blond, tousle-haired brat Sam, a diabetic who keeps losing his kit and sulkily running off into the jungle to play with his Mowgli-look pal (Michael Campillo), and is cured in the end by a tribal miracle that feels a lot like a plot device. Though John rages a bit about escaping, almost entirely because of his ailing son, everyone else is almost gushingly enthusiastic about their situation, which is more like the sanitized Gilligan's situation than the struggle for survival against the elements, privation and weird mystery found in Lost (or even Land of the Lost). Yes, there are magic dolphins, but so what?
As with most Bermuda Triangle projects (cf: The
Triangle), there's a sunny, blissed-out 1970s television feel,
evocative of those loser shows like The Fantastic Journey or
Otherworld that died on the vine before genre television became big
business. No threat is more than passing, and all character clashes
are solved in tiny scenes – as when Sam defuses Annie's crush
on him – which leave no ripples. Looking at Bermuda Triangle
makes you realise how much TV drama has changed since 1996,
though this has the feel of something that was struggling to stay above
water even then. Written by Stephen McPherson and Elizabeth Bradley,
who were responsible for the similarly-anodyne Cocoon: The Return,
and directed by Brit Ian Toynton, who has gone from UK TV (The
Chinese Detective, Widows) to US series stuff
(Profiler, 24, The O.C.).
Jakub, the beatnik girl from Matinee, gets the best
role (including being rescued by dolphins from a downed plane), while
star-of-the-future Watts (who was also in Matinee in
a film-within-a-film snippet), barely gets to make an impression –
she doesn't suppress her Australian accent (though the character is
supposed to be from Chicago) and is stuck with an unflattering hairstyle.
First published in this form here.
All text on this page © Kim Newman