Saturday, January 30, 2016

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS was the favorite film of a good number of friends growing up. Way back when there were no VCRs, streaming movies, or 10,000 channels, any showing of the film, even late at night resulted in friends canceling plans and making sure they were in front of the tube. I never seemed to catch the film and it wasn’t until I was out of high school that I got a 2am screening off broadcast TV on my VCR.

The film has two astronauts going to Mars and crashing on the planet. One played by Adam West pre-Batman is killed, the other, played by Paul Mantee is stranded. It then becomes a struggle to survive until he runs into an escaped slave who shows him how to get along. Additionally there are appearances from the war ships from War of the Worlds minus the tentacled death ray.

It plays as a kind of early version of the recent Martian, but with a monkey and aliens, RCOM was meant to be a kind of scientific version of what happened. While the film was made by Byron Haskin and Ib Melchior it actually is a spiritual child of the early 50’s George Pal films like DESTINATION MOON or CONQUEST OF SPACE, but with more adventure and a bit less seriousness. (On the other hand director Haskin was involved with Pal's WAR OF THE WORLDS)

While I am not a rabid fan as some I know I do like the film. Watching the Criterion DVD a few months ago I realized that the film was much better than I had given it credit for. It is a grand adventure and it’s a lot of fun. This a film that you put on when you want a headier adventure over some of the similar films being cranked out at the same time. Though in a weird way, its insistence not to go too far afield with the craziness kind of lessens the film for me. I would have loved this to be a bit crazier and a tad less static or scientific.

In a weird way watching the film one can kind of see a through line to 2001. The drive to be scientifically accurate carried over in Hollywood and Kubrick. There weren't that many scientific based films and I know Kubrick studied any he could get his hands on.

For me this is a grand tale of survival. The interesting for me part is seeing how Draper manages to survive on red planet. The aliens that show up do ad excitement, but the space geek in me is more curious about how the film decided to depict how one might survive.  It is in many ways a kind of early version of Ridley Scott's Oscar nominated THE MARTIAN which also has a lone human trying to survive on Mars.

This is decidedly good and mostly mature science fiction film and is perfect for anyone who is tired of blasters and robots and general pulpy silliness.

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