Director: Florian Baxmeyer | 91 minutes | adventure, family | Actors: Chancellor Miller, Nick Price, Cameron Monaghan, Naima Sebe, Nigel Whitmey, Akin Omotoso, Fiona Ramsey, Langley Kirkwood, James Faulkner, Jannik Schümann, Yoshij Grimm, Daniel Claus, Andreas Fröhlich, Oliver Rohrbeck
In 1964, Robert Arthur created “The Three Investigators”, a series of detective stories starring three teenagers. The adventures of Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews captured the imagination of many young readers. Although the original series ran until 1987 and consisted of 43 books, Arthur wrote only the first nine titles. After his death in 1969, several others took over. Not everyone in the Netherlands will know the series, but in the United States and Germany, among others, the adventures of The Three Investigators – or “Die Drei Fragezeichen” as our eastern neighbors call them – were devoured by many generations of teenagers. Even in the twenty-first century, the stories are still in great demand. And as with every popular book series today, “The Three Investigators” was also made into a movie. And despite the poor reception, a second film adaptation was released two years later.
“The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island” (2007) is the first in the series of films. The makers seem to be limping on two ideas: on the one hand they will focus on the readers of the books, because the three protagonists are hardly introduced, on the other hand they will test the loyal readers by completely changing the original story. Perhaps they wanted to give the story, which was written as early as 1966, in a contemporary guise, although the popularity of the books proves that Arthur’s original story is quite timeless. Jupiter Jones (Chancellor Miller), Pete Crenshaw (Nick Price) and Bob Andrews (Cameron Monaghan) join Pete’s father in South Africa over the summer vacation, where he will help wealthy Miss Wilbur (Fiona Ramsay) build an amusement park on Skeleton Island. However, a native spirit is hindering construction progress. According to the locals, it is a sign that their ancestors do not like the arrival of the amusement park. A nice job for the boys to get to the bottom of it. They get help from the beautiful Xhosa girl Chris (Naima Sebe).
Before venturing into “The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island”, German filmmaker Florian Baxmeyer directed mainly TV movies and series. This can be seen in this feature debut, which has a somewhat amateurish feel. Not that it is solely up to the direction, because the biggest problem is the scenario. Time-tested recipes for adventure movies like “Indiana Jones” and “James Bond” have been carefully considered. In the film world, people often “borrow” from others and as long as this is done properly, it is justifiable. However, the execution of “The Three Investigators” is poor. It would have been better to stay closer to the original. However, little of the story that Robert Arthur once wrote has survived. For example, the story was moved to South Africa (to give it a multi-cultural approach?) And the fourth detective (a boy in the original book) was changed into a pretty girl. Then to add a romantic subplot, which appears forced in a film about three twelve-year-old detectives.
Although the young protagonists cannot be blamed for, their characters are quite colorless. Jupiter Jones, for example, looks way too serious and businesslike. Bob Andrews has to provide the comic but seems to be a one-trick pony. The side characters are also quite one-dimensional. A film like this may not immediately require depth, but a bit more work could have been spent on the development of the characters. The advantage is that the film never really gets boring, because the pace is good. For the youthful target group there are enough scenes that can hold the attention. It’s just a shame that it all comes across as a bit uninspired. It seems that the makers wanted to score easily and did not pay too much care and attention to the elaboration. Because the stories undoubtedly lend themselves to an exciting youth film. In any case, the inspiration is hard to find in this version of “The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island”. Its a shame, but there is nothing to do about it.