Robinson Crusoe On Mars
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Robinson Crusoe On Mars

Some films have managed to remain favorites throughout yur entire life. Movies of thIs type are capable of inspiring a sense of wonder that remains from childhood throughto your adult life. Personally, one of these films has always been ‘Robinson Crusoe On Mars.' I was about eleven when I first watched it in the theater and was greatly impressed. I had just read the original ‘Robinson Crusoe, ’ and the concept that a novel written so long ago could migrate over to science fiction was simply incredible. Even today with such great advancements in computer generated special effects this film remains a classic. Many of the giants in film today such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas grew up watching movies like this, and the effect it had on their work is evident. Whille the sets are admittedly chessy and the dialogue affecte with primative special effects many film buffs in my generation continue to enjoy this movie greaty. For years now we have wanted this cult classic on DVD only to be stuck with old full screen VHS tapes. Now, not only has it recently been released on DVD but it has recthe honor of induction into the much lauded and highly respected Criterion Collection. A significant number of science fiction movies from the fifties and sixties have been released to eagerly awaiting fans but few but few are provided such a prestigious and comprehensive treatment as observed here.

American astronauts Commander Christopher 'Kit' Draper (Paul Mantee) and Colonel Dan McReady (Adam West) are aboard the Martian bound probe, Gravity One. Just as they are about the go into orbit, a meteor looms too close. They men have to use all of their fuel in a desperate to avoid a collision. The probe is stranded in orbit with no fuel to land. The astronauts have no choice but to eject out of the crippled craft to the surface. McReady dies in the landing, but Draper survives along with a monkey named Mona. Draper begins the arduous tasks require for his survival. First, he has to obtain shelter. A nearby cave offers a place to rest and gathers his meager resources. He finds some coal-like rocks to ward off the cold Martian nights and discovers that they give off much needed oxygen. He can build a makeshift contraption to refill his oxygen tanks which permit him to explore his new home. Without the oxygen supplied by the rocks, he will die. To prevent running out of air while asleep Draper constructs an alarm using sand and counter weights to wake him. When Draper sees that Mona is going AWOL every so often, he naturally wonders where the little monkey is gong. This coincides in Mona not needing food from his rapidly reducing supplies. He gives her a salty treat and follower her when thirst overtook the little primate. Mona leads him to an underground grotto where there are fresh water and an edible ‘sausage’ plant. With a supply of oxygen, water, and food he can sustain his life. Every night Draper is mocked by the sight of his orbiting craft with its fresh supplies. Without fuel, there is no way to order it to land.

Sometime later Draper sees a rock placed at an odd angle. He realizes that it is a grave marker when he notices a skeletal arm with an unusual metal bracelet. Afraid that he is not alone and that the others may be hostile he sends the self to destruct signal to his craft. Descending from the Martian sky is a ship of some sort. His hopes that it is a rescue from earth are dashed when forming a hiding place he sees that it is a slave ship. One of the slaves runs for freedom and Draper helps him hid. The slave, whom he names Friday (Victor Lundin) has the same bracelet he saw on the corpse. It turns out to be a location and detention device placed on Friday by his masters. Slowly Draper and Friday begin to depend on each other for survival. Friday has some pills that release oxygen directly into the bloodstream. The two have to avoid the aliens and learn to trust each other.

This film is nothing short of being a classic. For those of the younger set watching for the first time remember that it was movies like this that inspired a generation of film makers. Without it so much of what we take for granted would not be around. This is most likely one of the reasons that Criterion included this title in their much lauded collection. Director Byron Haskin also helmed the equally classic 1953 ‘War of the Worlds.' Not only are there similarities in style but just take a look at the alien craft. They have reused props from War’. Science fiction flicks from the late fifties to early sixties where not known for large budgets. The crew had to make due with what was on hand, often reusing items and footage from previous films. The film goes to the themes and ideas of the centuries old original novel. A civilized man reduced to a noble savage is universal. It is an issue that demands to revisit every generation. Here, Byron demonstrates that science fiction can be more than space creatures, it can tell a truly human story. Draper is a man who depended on the advanced technology of the American space program. Now, to survive, he has to learn to make a first environment provide for his most basic needs.

This is mostly a one person show for Paul Mantee. His only screen companion for most of the flick is Mona the monkey. He does a remarkable job of getting across the plight of Draper without becoming melodramatic. He is the every man facing the most fundamental needs to survive. To make the film work, Mantee has to win over the audience, and he does so with flair. He allows the audience to sympathize with his plight but never lets us believe that he won’t make it. This was the height of the U.S. space program and the American astronauts where the ultimate heroes, not only for our country but for the American way of life. Mantee shows us that an astronaut can prevail against any odds. Victor Lundin does more acting with his face than most can do with the best crafted dialogue. He has a way of acting to convey his emotions that are great to watch. As a foot note, he was also the first actor credited with playing a Klingon on the original Star Trek series.

When you pick up any member of the Criterion Collection, you do not have to worry about quality. They are still the best around, and this release is no different, dedicated to presenting films on DVD while remaining faithful to the source material. Because of this, the no enhancement s were applilied to the audio; You get the original mono sound track. So many people get upset when a film is reduced to fit the 4:3 screen but are okay with re-mastering of the audio. Criterion faithfully brings the experience as felt back in 1964. The sound track is clear and without any discernable flaws. The audio is also true to the Techniscope masters. It is in 2.35:1 anamorphic video with an excellent color palette. Criterion is also known for imaginative extras. Here you get fascinating audio commentary featuring screenwriter Ib Melchior, actors Mantee and Lundin. It is great to hear their recollections about the production of the movie. Then there is a featurette called ‘Destination: Mars’ which considers the possibility of a manned landing on the red planet. Also included is a music video of Lundin’s song ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’, more interesting for its historical place than its music. Now there is one more ‘must have’ DVDs we can cross off our lists. This is a film that the whole family can and should enjoy together.

bulletRestored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
bulletAudio commentary featuring screenwriter I Melchior, actors Paul Mantee and Victor Lundin, production designer Al Nozaki, Oscar-winning special effects designer
bulletRobinson Crusoe on Mars historian Robert Skotak,
bulletexcerpts from a 1979 audio interview with director Byron Haskin
bulletDestination: Mars a video featurette by filmmaker and space historian Michael Lennick detailing the science and dreams behind the film
bulletMusic video for Lundin's song Robinson Crusoe on Mars
bulletStills gallery
bulletTheatrical trailer
bulletPLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by Lennick as well as Melchior's Brief Yargorian Vocabulary (a glossary of original alien dialect) and a list of facts about Mars, both from his original screenplay

Posted 08/13/07                Blu-ray    03/04/2016  04/24/2017

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