The Island at the Top of the World (1974)

G | 93-94 mins | Adventure | December 1974

Director:

Robert Stevenson

Writer:

John Whedon

Producer:

Winston Hibler

Cinematographer:

Frank Phillips

Editor:

Robert Stafford

Production Designer:

Peter Ellenshaw

Production Company:

Walt Disney Productions
Full page view
HISTORY

Production notes found in AMPAS library files stated that Walt Disney Productions purchased film rights to Ian Cameron’s novel in 1968, and a 17 Dec 1968 DV news item reported that Ed Harper had been hired to adapt the screenplay; however, Harper was later replaced by John Whedon. Harry Spalding was listed as a co-writer on HR production charts from 27 Apr 1973 and 24 Aug 1973, but Spalding did not receive any onscreen credit.
       According to a 30 Jul 1972 NYT news brief, the film was budgeted at $8 million, making it Walt Disney’s costliest motion picture to date. Principal photography began 23 Apr 1974, according to 27 Apr 1973 HR production charts and an 18 Apr 1973 DV item. Though the final production charts for the film appeared in HR on 24 Aug 1973, suggesting that the film was completed in late Aug 1973, production notes stated that principal photography did not end until 1974.
       Producer Winston Hibler wanted the film to be as believable as possible despite the fantasy elements of Cameron’s story, as stated in production notes. After researching early expeditions to the Arctic, Hibler and the other filmmakers found that fourteen boats had disappeared from a tenth-century voyage to Greenland headed by Erik the Red, and those who went missing could have landed on a “mystical island” like the one described in the film. Also, since Iceland had volcanoes, they deduced that an Arctic island warmed by volcanic activity was plausible.
       Some scenes were filmed in Norway, where several Norwegian rowers were hired to play the Viking longship crew. In arctic ... More Less

Production notes found in AMPAS library files stated that Walt Disney Productions purchased film rights to Ian Cameron’s novel in 1968, and a 17 Dec 1968 DV news item reported that Ed Harper had been hired to adapt the screenplay; however, Harper was later replaced by John Whedon. Harry Spalding was listed as a co-writer on HR production charts from 27 Apr 1973 and 24 Aug 1973, but Spalding did not receive any onscreen credit.
       According to a 30 Jul 1972 NYT news brief, the film was budgeted at $8 million, making it Walt Disney’s costliest motion picture to date. Principal photography began 23 Apr 1974, according to 27 Apr 1973 HR production charts and an 18 Apr 1973 DV item. Though the final production charts for the film appeared in HR on 24 Aug 1973, suggesting that the film was completed in late Aug 1973, production notes stated that principal photography did not end until 1974.
       Producer Winston Hibler wanted the film to be as believable as possible despite the fantasy elements of Cameron’s story, as stated in production notes. After researching early expeditions to the Arctic, Hibler and the other filmmakers found that fourteen boats had disappeared from a tenth-century voyage to Greenland headed by Erik the Red, and those who went missing could have landed on a “mystical island” like the one described in the film. Also, since Iceland had volcanoes, they deduced that an Arctic island warmed by volcanic activity was plausible.
       Some scenes were filmed in Norway, where several Norwegian rowers were hired to play the Viking longship crew. In arctic regions spanning from Alaska to Greenland, uncredited nature photographers Herb Smith and William Bacon, III, were aided by Coast Guard members as they captured footage of wild animals, such as walruses, whales, caribou, musk oxen, and polar bears. In addition to location shooting, filming took place at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA.
       The May 1974 issue of Hollywood Studio reported that the set for Fort Conger as well as a large-scale blizzard were created on one of Disney’s largest sound stages. Hibler was quoted in the article, stating that mica, gypsum, plastic snow, forty-five tons of salt, and fans were used to produce the snowstorm. For the Viking Village, production designer Peter Ellenshaw built a temple using lava rock, according to production notes. Additionally, houses were made with “hand-hewn lumber,” and a suspension bridge was held up by “850 feet of coconut fiber rope.” Ellenshaw also designed The Hyperion, the airship piloted by “Captain Brieux,” that measured 220 feet long and was deemed “airworthy” by two Goodyear blimp pilots, according to production notes.
       Although critical reception was mixed, Frank Phillips’s photography, as well as Herb Smith and William Bacon, III’s nature footage, received consistent praise. A 23 Dec 1974 LAHExam review noted that the thirty-minute animated featurette, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, played on the same bill.
       The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction. In addition, an 11 Jun 1975 LAHExam news item announced that Josephine, the poodle owned by Captain Brieux in the film, won a PATSY award from the American Human Association for its performance.
       The Island at the Top of the World marked British actor Donald Sinden’s first American motion picture, according to an announcement in the 17 Apr 1973 issue of HR.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
9 Dec 1974
p. 4742.
Daily Variety
17 Dec 1968.
---
Daily Variety
3 Sep 1969
p. 1, 10.
Daily Variety
16 Sep 1971
p. 1, 12.
Daily Variety
28 Jul 1972.
---
Daily Variety
17 May 1973.
---
Daily Variety
18 Apr 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Apr 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Apr 1973
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 1973
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jun 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Nov 1974
p. 3, 8.
Hollywood Studio
May 1974.
---
LAHExam
23 Dec 1974.
---
LAHExam
11 Jun 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
20 Dec 1974
p. 1, 17.
New York Times
30 Jul 1972.
---
New York Times
21 Dec 1974
p. 18.
Time
13 Jan 1975.
---
Variety
27 Nov 1974
p. 16
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Unit mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Nature photog
Nature photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Key grip
2d grip
Gaffer
Best boy
Stillman
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Leadman
Prop master
2d propman
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
SOUND
Sd supv
Sd mixer
Mikeman
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Matte artist
Process cam
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Scr supv
Animal handler
Ramrod
Unit pub
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Lost Ones by Ian Cameron (New York, 1968).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Lost Ones
Release Date:
December 1974
Premiere Information:
New York and Los Angeles openings: 20 December 1974
Production Date:
began 23 April 1973
Copyright Claimant:
Walt Disney Productions
Copyright Date:
6 December 1974
Copyright Number:
LP44063
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Photophone sound recording
Color
Color by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
93-94
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Languages:
English, Eskimo, French, Old Norse
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1907 England, Professor Ivarsson, an American scholar who specializes in archaeology and anthropology, agrees to join Sir Anthony Ross on an expedition to the Arctic. Sir Anthony is searching for his son, Donald, who joined the crew of a whaling boat but later left the boat for his own expedition, a search for a mythical island known as “The Graveyard of Whales.” Donald has since disappeared, leaving behind only a letter and a whalebone carving at Fort Conger on Ellesmere Island. Ivarsson studies the carving and discovers that it matches the shape of an Arctic landmass, and when the carving is positioned to line up with the land, its handle points to an area where Donald might have traveled. Ivarsson and Sir Anthony begin their journey to the Arctic on a brand-new airship, Hyperion, piloted by Captain Brieux. After a long trip, the group arrives at Fort Conger, where the native Eskimos cower at the sight of the Hyperion. The Factor at Fort Conger informs Sir Anthony that an Eskimo named Oomiak originally accompanied Donald on his voyage, but Oomiak has since returned. Sir Anthony seeks out Oomiak, who says that he and Donald found the island they were looking for, but evil spirits attacked them with a blizzard, and they were separated. Though Oomiak insists he will never return to the island, Sir Anthony orders Brieux to launch Hyperion ... +


In 1907 England, Professor Ivarsson, an American scholar who specializes in archaeology and anthropology, agrees to join Sir Anthony Ross on an expedition to the Arctic. Sir Anthony is searching for his son, Donald, who joined the crew of a whaling boat but later left the boat for his own expedition, a search for a mythical island known as “The Graveyard of Whales.” Donald has since disappeared, leaving behind only a letter and a whalebone carving at Fort Conger on Ellesmere Island. Ivarsson studies the carving and discovers that it matches the shape of an Arctic landmass, and when the carving is positioned to line up with the land, its handle points to an area where Donald might have traveled. Ivarsson and Sir Anthony begin their journey to the Arctic on a brand-new airship, Hyperion, piloted by Captain Brieux. After a long trip, the group arrives at Fort Conger, where the native Eskimos cower at the sight of the Hyperion. The Factor at Fort Conger informs Sir Anthony that an Eskimo named Oomiak originally accompanied Donald on his voyage, but Oomiak has since returned. Sir Anthony seeks out Oomiak, who says that he and Donald found the island they were looking for, but evil spirits attacked them with a blizzard, and they were separated. Though Oomiak insists he will never return to the island, Sir Anthony orders Brieux to launch Hyperion with Oomiak aboard against his will. Later that day, Sir Anthony spots an island and orders Brieux to descend. Hyperion then crashes, causing Sir Anthony, Ivarsson and Oomiak to fall while Brieux floats away. After trekking through the snow, Sir Anthony’s crew discovers a valley, untouched by the blizzard and covered in green grass. Ivarsson sees volcanoes nearby and deduces that the volcanic activity must heat the island sufficiently for a temperate climate. A group of men speaking Old Norse find Sir Anthony’s group and take them prisoner. Ivarsson, who understands the language, learns that these people have lived on the island for centuries, believe it is paradise, and fear that barbarians will someday try to conquer it. Speaking to their captors with some difficulty, Ivarsson explains that his group has come in search of Sir Anthony’s son. The men escort them to the farm where Donald has been living, but when they arrive, Freyja, a beautiful young woman who speaks English thanks to Donald, explains that Donald has been taken to the temple of the Godi, the island’s religious leader. On their way to the Godi’s temple, Ivarsson becomes excited by the ancient weapons the natives use and the sight of a thousand-year-old Viking longship. As the group passes over a bridge, Oomiak, unwilling to remain captive, jumps off and disappears into the water. Ivarsson and Sir Anthony are led inside a walled city to the Godi’s temple at the top of a mountain. There, Sir Anthony is delighted to see Donald; however, a temple elder announces that the islanders no longer trust Donald, and the Godi condemns the intruders to death. When Ivarsson, Sir Anthony, and Donald are tied to stakes on the water, Freyja swims to the men and frees them, and the Godi’s troops pursue them as they seek refuge in a cave, reuniting with Oomiak along the way. The next day, Donald delights Sir Anthony with the news that he wants to return to England, help his father with the family business, and bring Freyja along with him. Freyja appears and says she has arranged for a dogsled to lead the group back to Fort Conger. Sir Anthony’s crew travels over exploding volcanoes on their way to the Bay of Whales, a sacred place where the natives won’t travel and where they encounter numerous frozen whale corpses on the shore. Ivarsson spots a crater nearby with a hole in the center, and knows from the island’s myth that the hole is a passage to the sea. As the Godi’s men approach, Ivarsson leads the others down the crater and into the sea below. Using an ice float to sail around the island, the group encounters killer whales and attempts to fight them off with sticks. As the whales close in, Brieux shoots the animals from the nearby shore where Hyperion has crashed. Though the airship’s engine is now broken, Brieux suggests that they abandon the motors and strip the ship of all excess weight so they can float away, using the wind current to drift to Greenland. Up in the air, the wind changes and sends Hyperion back to the island, and the Godi shoots the airship with a flaming arrow. Sir Anthony’s crew are taken captive again. In the Godi’s temple, the elders announce that the Godi did wrong by shooting Hyperion and says the captives are free to go in peace on two conditions: that they promise never to reveal the existence of the island, and they leave Donald behind as a hostage. Sir Anthony is devastated, but Ivarsson sacrifices himself in place of Donald, saying he wishes to stay and study the ancient culture of the island for the rest of his life. Parting ways with Ivarsson, Sir Anthony and the others depart on a dogsled. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.