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 —
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
(both 2000). The special effects are cheesy and the
science in the movie is ridiculous —
fireballs on Mars!
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.