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Children's Filmfest Hamburg - Film Review: Die Drei - Das Geheimnis der Geisterinsel
by Kirstan Böttger

Florian Baxmeyer, Germany/South Africa

While our childhood reading may have consisted of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, Germany was running wild with another series of books and taped recordings called Die Drei ???. Originating with The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur in 1964, the book included a forward and epilogue by Alfred Hitchcock, thus endorsing it with his renowned stamp of approval. After that, subsequent books were promoted with his name, but in reality were not actually written with Hitchcock. In recent times, there have been legal battles over name copyrights between the US and German publishers and estates (new releases are now labeled under Die Drei).

Despite this strange history of a hugely successful German market and a lukewarm US readership, filmmakers decided to have a go at it. The resulting first film, The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island, surely will have German audiences waiting with baited breath, as 40 years of cassette and book collectors will finally see their heroes, Jupiter Jones, Peter Crenshaw and Bob Andrews (Chancellor Miller, Nick Price, Cameron Monaghan) on the silver screen. I hope they can swallow a hard pill: this film is a real let-down, especially if you have collected all 120 episodes.

Set in South Africa where the three teenage detectives are vacationing, the boys are drawn to a new case involving a selfish white land developer and a local black tribal leader, concerning sacred land. There are cave monsters, missing people, family secrets and mysteries galore for the boys to mundanely solve, eventually involving long-time arch-enemy Hugeney.

I desperately tried to like this film for the sake of my sons, who are avid fans, but I just couldn’t bear the politically correct attempts to deal with racial tension and a poorly-acted puppy love triangle. I have listened to many episodes of Die Drei ??? in German, and even the flat radio-like play quality of the cassettes convey more dimension of character than the leading actors on the screen. In a world of Daniel Radcliffes, these boys don’t muster an ounce of charisma. Although my kids liked it, they eventually conceded that the actors were not how they envisioned Justus, Peter and Bob. I guess they should just come to terms now with the simple reality that the movies rarely live up to the books.