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ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS


STARRING: Paul Mantee, Vic Lundin, Adam West, Mona the Woolly Monkey

1964, 109 Minutes, Directed by: Byron Haskin


Description: Commander Kit Draper and Colonel Dan McReady are orbiting Mars in an exploratory surveyor. A malfunction forces them to eject with only Draper and a monkey named Mona surviving. Draper must learn to survive in this hostile environment fighting thirst, hunger and even hostile aliens if he expects to see home again.
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While its title might lead one to believe that it might be a story about the “real” Robinson Crusoe somehow falling into a time / space rift and being transported to Mars, it is of course nothing of the sort. Instead the plot actually involves an American astronaut who is stranded on Mars with limited oxygen and food resources, and who must find innovative ways to survive.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars is an upmarket early 1960s movie much beloved and sadly overrated by many science fiction fans. It is easy to see why though. The film is so given more a more thoughtful treatment by Hollywood than would normally have been the case. The widescreen Technicolor photography lovingly reproduced on the recent Criterion DVD is also a plus.

While the movie is quite dated today, Robinson Crusoe on Mars actually conveys a sense of excitement and discovery at being on another planet, unlike much later movies such as Mission to Mars and Red Planet (both 2000). The special effects are cheesy and the science in the movie is ridiculous fireballs on Mars! semi-breathable air! pools of water in which you can swim! But the filmmakers obviously did their homework and the movie is actually an accurate reflection of man’s cosmological and scientific views at the time, a few years before the moon landing itself.

"Much beloved - and sadly overrated - by many science fiction fans . . ."

Unfortunately some of the movie’s goodwill is squandered by your typical man fighting the elements and, um, interplanetary slave traders clichés towards the end of the film. As if being stranded on alien planet isn’t interesting enough, a subplot involving a Man Friday and slavers (taken straight from the original 1719 Defoe novel) is introduced halfway.

It is never explained where the slavers come from, what they are digging for on Mars, and why a technologically advanced race capable of interstellar flight would need manual slave labour. In this sense Robinson Crusoe on Mars becomes a faux science fiction movie, in which the movie’s science fiction elements are almost incidental to the whole plot.

Also, the slaver spaceship designs are so derivative of the ones featured in director Byron Haskin’s previous 1953 War of the Worlds feature that it all represents a serious lapse of imagination on the part of the film-makers, as if they didn’t know what to do with the story except stick to the Defoe original even though it made no damned sense whatsoever.

Note: The 2007 Criterion release of the DVD is up to this label’s usual high standards, and besides the brilliant restoration of the original film stock you have some interesting special features including an audio commentary, a music video and a featurette on the film’s actual science. Worth a purchase despite the rather steep price if you’re a fan of this particular title.

 

Sci-Fi Movie Page Pick: For all its faults, Robinson Crusoe on Mars remains surprisingly watchable and never bores. It is worth checking out by fans of genre movies of that period.


 



 

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