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Mulcahy revels in the fantasy of 'Mysterious Island'

Russell Mulcahy was only a boy, not yet 10, when he was introduced to what would become his life's passion.

Mulcahy, a native of Melbourne, Australia, watched as film magician Ray Harryhausen brought fantastic images to life in movies such as "Jason and the Argonauts," "Mysterious Island" and "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad." It was an eye-opener for the youth as he marveled at seeing the unimaginable imagined and brought to life.

"They all involved fantastic tales with great imagination. I saw that film could create unimaginable worlds and horrors and I thought, "You know what, I want to be able to do that,' " Mulcahy says on the phone.

Jettison to today as Mulcahy, now a well-respected filmmaker, brings his vision to the new "Jules Verne's Mysterious Island," premiering at 8 p.m. Saturday on Hallmark Channel.

Based on Verne's book, "Mysterious Island" is a Civil War-era tale of people thrown together on a deserted island full of strange creatures and odd happenings. The story includes the return of the iconic Captain Nemo and his Nautilus underwater ship, which first appeared in Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

The brilliant but misguided Nemo is played here by Patrick Stewart, who portrayed another captain, Jean-Luc Picard, in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The cast also includes Kyle MacLachlan as Union officer Captain Cyrus Smith; Omar Gooding as Neb; Jason Durr as Pencross; Gabrielle Anwar as nurse Jane Spillet; and Danielle Calvert as her daughter, Helen.

"There I was a 9-year-old boy watching movies and here I am now and I have the Nautilus in a lake in a cave in Thailand and Captain Nemo is standing there. It's a big dream come true for me," Mulcahy laughs.

Much has happened to Mulcahy since his introduction to movies. Like it or not, he is the visionary credited with the "MTV look" - the glossy, stylish look he created in his groundbreaking 1980s music videos for acts such as Duran Duran, Elton John and Billy Joel. (Mulcahy, who also directed the first video to air on MTV, "Video Killed the Radio Star," was given the Eastman Kodak Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Music Video Production Association.)

"I always thought visually. When I started making music videos in the '80s, no one knew what they were really. I would listen to a song, close my eyes and not even listen to the lyrics, and wait for an image. I would experiment with images and concepts. There were no rules then. Now, it's very controlled," Mulcahy says.

He went on to direct such fantasy tales as "Highlander," "Highlander 2: The Quickening," "The Shadow" and "Tale of the Mummy," before moving into more "grounded" stories as Showtime's "On the Beach"; "Queer as Folk"; and the acclaimed "3: The Dale Earnhardt Story" for ESPN.

"I just started getting offered more reality-based human shows. So when I had the opportunity to do "Mysterious Island,' I jumped at it," Mulcahy says. "I love all film, but I especially love fantasy, horror, adventure. When I make a film, I become the audience. I think, "what do I want to see?' So I feel very comfortable doing tales of the extraordinary."

While "Mysterious Island" is steeped in fantasy with its tale of gigantic creatures, Mulcahy also found its complex story and human element interesting, including the mix of races, genders and backgrounds.

"There's Captain Nemo, the castaways concept, strangers in a strange land - I appreciate the story on a basic level. There are diverse characters from a multitude of backgrounds. They're stranded on an island and seeing things no man has seen before," Mulcahy says. "It's intriguing how they would react and deal with their own persecution and love, the loneliness and also the horror of the island."

And although Verne wrote the story in 1870, Mulcahy says the story remains relevant.

"It's a very interesting story about humanity and survival. It's basically saying there is horror, there is terror out there, but if we all work together, and it won't be easy, we will survive. It's very relevant today," he says.

"But getting past the deep, philosophical aspects, it's just a great yarn, a great story," Mulcahy adds. "It's well-written and it's a roller coaster ride that I think people can also relate to emotionally."

Because of copyright issues, fans of the 1961 film should know there won't be any of those great Harryhausen-created mutated creatures like the oversized bee or crab, but Mulcahy says not to fret, there are other great creatures imagined for this adaptation.

"There will be giant spiders, big rats and big birds," he says. "All of the creatures are new and original and scary."

e-mail: truberto@buffnews.com

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