Ze plane! Ze plane! OK, there’s no Tattoo, but the mysterious Mr. Roarke is still offering select guests a rare opportunity to make their dreams come true in Sony Pictures’ big-screen reboot of Fantasy Island, based on the popular TV series of the same name that ran from 1977-1984. This 21st-century update plays up the horror aspects and is being touted as a cross between Westworld and The Cabin in the Woods—perhaps with a little bit of Lost thrown in for good measure.
Fantasy Island was always kind of a terrific storytelling concept, despite its cheesier elements. Apparently, creator Aaron Spelling pitched the series to ABC executives as a joke after they’d rejected all his other ideas—and the network loved the idea. The ultra-urbane Ricardo Montalban played the dashing Mr. Roarke, proprietor of the titular island, providing guests the chance to live out their fantasies for a suitable price. He was aided by his trusty sidekick Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize). Every episode opened with Tattoo shouting the catchphrase, “Ze plane! Ze plane!” and ringing a bell in the island’s main tower as guests arrived.
There were usually two to three subplots per episode, focusing on the different fantasies of specific guests, who inevitably found things did not play out quite the way they’d imagined. And while the rules of engagement held that guests must see their fantasies through to the end, no matter what, Mr. Roarke always intervened if things got too dangerous. The series had certain supernatural elements (time travel was common, and ghosts, genies, and the devil himself made appearances), particularly in later seasons, with hints that Mr. Roarke was quite possibly immortal. Spelling has never revealed anything about the character, but Montalban later admitted that he viewed Mr. Roarke as a fallen angel presiding over an island purgatory. That would explain his fondness for moralizing and teaching guests a valuable lesson by fulfilling their fantasies in unexpected ways.
An attempted revival of the series in 1988 leaned even harder into the supernatural aspects. It starred Malcolm McDowell as Mr. Roarke, aided by a female shapeshifter named Ariel (Mädchen Amick) and his adoptive daughter Miranda—obvious allusions to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Fantasy Island was presented as a kind of limbo and a source for Mr. Roarke’s supernatural powers, while the many assistants worked there to pay off some unnamed debt. That reboot bombed and was mercifully canceled midseason.
This latest reboot seems to preserve much of the original premise—with a twist. Per the official synopsis: “The enigmatic Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña), makes the secret dreams of his lucky guests come true at a luxurious but remote tropical resort. But when the fantasies turn into nightmares, the guests have to solve the island’s mystery in order to escape with their lives.” Maybe there are shades of The Most Dangerous Game here as well. The tagline is “You deserve it,” so the moralizing aspect is probably intact, too.
The trailer opens, per tradition, with guests arriving via plane to the island and being greeted by an as-yet-unnamed host, played by Parisa Fitz-Henley (best known as Luke Cage’s deceased wife in Netflix’s Defenders series). “Here, anything and everything is possible,” she tells the guests, although it doesn’t take long for Melanie (Lucy Hale) to complain about the lack of cell phone service. She’s also convinced that the “fantasies” are created using realistic holograms, “like Tupac.”
Roarke greets his guests and outlines the rules: “There is only one fantasy per guest, and you must see your fantasy through. No matter what.”
One of the guests, played by Maggie Q, is a grieving mother longing to be reunited with her dead daughter—and it seems Roarke has indeed managed to bring the little girl back to life, or something so like her, her own mother can’t tell the difference. Another guest seems to find himself in a soldier-of-fortune/military-type fantasy. But it’s Melanie’s fantasy that is the main focus here: taking revenge on the girl who bullied her in school. She finds herself in a dungeon with said bully tied to a chair, ready for torture, but soon realizes it is not a hologram. That’s really the girl who bullied her, and there’s a creepy masked Surgeon (Ian Roberts) standing by to inflict unspeakable torments.
It’s the ultimate fulfillment of the adage “Be careful what you wish for.” As one male guest complains, “The island’s twisting what we asked for.” And our grieving mother notes, “We weren’t brought here to have our own fantasies. We were brought here to be a part of something else.” Forget about escaping the island by plane: we see it explode in mid-air upon approach. Who will solve the puzzle and make it off alive?
Fantasy Island hits theaters on February 14, 2020.
Listing image by YouTube/Sony Pictures