Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Blu-ray

by | Jan 3, 2011 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Blu-ray (1964/2011)

Director: Byron Haskin
Starring: Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West, Woolly Monkey
Studio: Paramount/The Criterion Collection 404 [1/11/11]
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: PCM mono
Extras: Audio commentary by screenwriter Ib Melchior, actors, effects designer and film historian; Excerpts from 1979 interview with Haskin; “Destination Mars” – featurette by Michael Lennick on the scenes and dreams behind the film; Victor Lundin’s music video; Stills gallery (drawings and storyboards for the film); Theatrical trailer; Illustrated printed booklet with essay by Lennick, a “Brief Yargorian Vocabulary,” and a list of facts about Mars.
Length: 110 minutes
Rating: ****

I’d heard of this 1960s sci-fi film but somehow never had seen it before. It turns out to be one of the better sci-fi features of that period – in blazing Technicolor and, as the interesting featurette explains, quite accurate in many of its imaginings of what Mars would be like – a year before the first robot Mars Lander hit the surface and sent back pictures. Though it was not accurate about some details, it certainly was more realistic than the previous imaginings of Percival Lowell, Edgar Rice Boroughs or Ray Bradbury.

The problems with the Mars-exploring spaceship were handled well – all the stuff about retro rockets and so on. The commander of the two-man spaceship has to crash-land his pod on the barren planet, his pet monkey in a little spacesuit his only companion. He finds out later that his fellow astronaut (played by Adam West – later to be Batman) didn’t make it when he crash-landed.  He struggles to solve the problems of enough oxygen, water and food, and eventually finds his Friday – a human-like alien from a planet in the Orion group, who was a slave made to work in the mines on Mars by other more advanced aliens.

Here is where things get a bit corny.  Friday is dressed in an outfit and with hairstyle that seems to be left over from some Hollywood Egyptian epic. The Crusoe/Mantee character has a portable AV system that uses a big cartridge something like the old 8-track format. The enemy’s spaceships look exactly like the ones in George Pal’s War of the Worlds, in which Haskin had been involved, and the aliens wear the spacesuits left over from Destination Moon. Friday learns some basic English awfully fast.  Actor Lundin created a really embarrassing music video especially for his appearances at sci-fi conventions.

While the production values are fairly high, at this same time Kubrick was already starting work on the film that would forever revolutionize sci-fi films – 2001.

— John Sunier

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