”Oh no, not a murder in the first scene,” I thought, as my 7-year-old and I watched the opening of Shipwrecked and the music swelled ominously. But sure enough, the 19th-century pirate Merrick (a smoldering Gabriel Byrne) blows away an innocent officer of the Queen’s Navy so that he can steal the man’s uniform and masquerade as a captain.
Following a quick blackout, the scene changes to bucolic Norway, where young Hakon (ably played by Stian Smestad) bravely decides to leave his home and become a ship’s boy so he can earn enough money to save the family farm. After a short time at sea, the kind captain of Hakon’s ship mysteriously dies, and the evil Merrick takes over. It doesn’t take long for Hakon to discover Merrick’s true identity — nor for the pirate to realize he’s got an annoying adversary on board. Things are just getting predictably dicey when a storm destroys the ship.
After a windy, watery, and wonderfully suspenseful shipwreck scene, Hakon wakes up alone on a deserted island. He fends for himself admirably and finds Merrick’s booty: a chest full of enormous jewels. Hakon knows that Merrick will be back for his treasure, so he sets up a series of inventive traps. (”Home Alone on a Fiji island,” murmured the woman next to me.) When the traps are tried, first on an unsuspecting ape and later on the furious Merrick, the slapstick drew howls of laughter from the kids in the audience.
It’s obvious things will go swimmingly for Hakon after he ceremoniously replaces the small blade his father gave him with the much longer saber he finds among Merrick’s things — a saber that will play an important role when the two do battle.
Byrne, as do the best villains, looks like he enjoys being nasty. And his crew of pirates is so scuzzy and rotten-hearted that you can’t wait for the angelic-looking Hakon to outsmart them.
If it weren’t for that murder early in the film, Shipwrecked would be a perfect, well-scrubbed Disney adventure. Even with that scene, the abundant excitement, sturdy acting, and buoyant ending make this movie worth a trip to see.