Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964), Everybody’s Got Something To Hide, Except For Me And My Monkey

23 07 2009

All right, Hollywood, we’ve all heard or seen the story of Robinson Crusoe. How droll, how banal! I’m done with your 19th century bullshit! Give me something fresh, give me something NEW! Something for my Mod lifestyle, wherein I run around town taking various sundries into my shopping cart in South London while listening to the sounds of Small Faces in my tailored bright-blue Italian suit while waiting for the trolley to take me to see a rude boy reggae concert inside a coffee shop. I’m no grandpa, goddamnit! They’d have to do something PRETTY astute and Mod and hip and awesome to get me to even CONSIDER watching a fuddy-duddy, dusty-balls, saggy-assed Robinson Crusoe movie! Well, luckily for Hollywood, they came up with just the right sensibility to get someone like me into the theater. Robinson Crusoe on Mars is the perfect cure for 19th century boredom. It gives us the same basic story, but instead of stranding us on a desert island, we find ourselves isolated on the red planet, unmoored in the vast expansion of an entire world. Despite a goofy and gimmicky title, as well as some minor gripes, I find that this movie has a lot to offer, and I couldn’t get enough of it, personally.

It all begins with a simple mission to Mars (should be easy, right?). Christopher “Kit” Draper, his Colonel, Dan “Batman” McCready, and a delightful monkey named Mona are going to the planet on a fact-finding mission for good ol’ planet Earth. Everything’s going fine UNTIL a meteor runs into their projected course. To avoid it, they end up expending the last of their fuel (???). This leaves them at a precarious position hovering in the Martian orbit. With no choice left to them for survival, they decide to eject from their cool yellow spacecraft and go to the surface. Draper makes it, along with plucky Mona, but McCready is killed by the landing. All alone, Draper and the monkey walk around the planet looking for shelter and food while they await rescue. During this time, which goes on for pitiless months, Draper becomes Crusoe in the truest sense; a hardened survivor making the best of a tough situation, sustaining on what he can scrounge and inventing contraptions with what little resources he has to make his tough life just an ounce more convenient. He longs for company, though, and it seems at one point like he might have some, although he soon finds out that it is not the kind of company he had hoped for. Aliens from another world, mining for minerals on Mars, are keeping humanoids as slaves to help with their mining progress. One of the slaves escapes, running into Draper and Mona as he does so. The three then go into hiding as the aliens scour the area for the missing worker. Can Draper wait it out on Mars while waiting for rescue? Can he find friendship with his new man Friday, who doesn’t speak a lick of English? Or will the aliens fry him up like a Bloomin’ Onion?

Now, to be honest, I never cared for Robinson Crusoe. The thinly-veiled allegory for European imperialism was a downright offensive look at how superior the white man is, and how industrious Caucasians are compared to the rest of the world. I never appreciated the sentiment, the attitude, and most especially the treatment of poor, forlorn Friday. It’s all very exasperating, and it makes for an adventure story about anything BUT adventure. But I’m not reviewing books here (yet), I’m reviewing movies, and as a movie, I can say that I enjoyed it. By the time the 60s rolled around, the sentiment of the age was anti-imperialism, so they stripped as much of that out as possible. Inherent to the story there still is the master-slave relationship of Draper and Friday (compounded by the fact that Friday is ACTUALLY a slave), but there is a lot more to experience here besides that.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a story about adventure and survival. Like the action serials of the previous generation, RCoM pits a lone man against an entire uncaring world and leaves it to him to save himself and the day. It’s about the romance of exploration and the drive to survive, something that gets me right in my inner Kid. It doesn’t hurt that the Technoscopic beauty is VERY easy on the eyes. It’s way ahead of its time in the special effects department, stirring up images of Forbidden Planet and War of The Worlds. It’s a lush and strangely beautiful movie that, when combined with patient pacing, takes one back to a bygone age of filmmaking.

The acting is a point of contention with many people. Some say that Paul Mantee as Draper was an excellent choice, and that he lent the movie an air of excitement. I personally think, however, that perhaps the roles should have been reversed. Because the Colonel at the beginning of the movie? That was none other than Adam West! DAMN IT, would I have liked to see Adam West as Draper! Not taking away anything from Mantee, but Adam would have been so perfect for the role. His debonair charm emanating from every pore as he force-fed Friday English phrases. The extra dash of class added to Draper’s character as he cursed his ship for being an inaccessible supermarket up in the sky while he slowly starved! MMMM! It just makes you wonder. But, all in all, Mantee is very good. Not great, like Adam West might have been, but very good.

So I recommend this movie. RCoM is the kind of film that they just don’t make anymore. With CG, it’s too expensive to linger at the awesome details of it all, and they simply don’t use as many real props and effects as they used to. Plus, it’s chock-full of the old adventure romance that you don’t see as much nowadays. It’s just a grand-old sci-fi odyssey into our last frontier, and I thoroughly enjoyed it almost all the way through. I give Robinson Crusoe on Mars 8 Mod gentlemen out of 10. Check it out!

Tomorrow we go head to head with Over The Top!!!

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