Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Not Rated; Directed by Byron Haskin; Starring Paul Mantee, Vic Lundin, Adam West
Oh, those days of watching a sci-fi film on Saturday afternoon TV. The movies would offer wobbling space ships, scary monsters that growled, and overheated emoting by B-movie actors. Now that was prime television when you were 10 years old. Still, there was one movie that offered something different – no growling monsters, space ships that were freaky-scary, and some serious acting by a very small cast. Robinson Crusoe on Mars has stayed in my memory all these years and when Criterion recently released it on DVD I had to snap it up.
For those of you who need your science-fiction movies to have the latest whiz-bang special effects, you may find Robinson Crusoe on Mars sadly lacking. It was made in 1964 after all. Yet, when watching the movie, you have to give the filmmakers credit for creating some convincing technology for that time. Not only that, there is no relying on rubbery monsters to provide the scares AND the alien space ships that we do see are amazing as they dart menacingly through the Martian sky.
With its silly title, the movie loosely follows the Robinson Crusoe story. Astronauts “Kit” Draper and Dan Macready (played by a pre-Batman Adam West) are forced to crash land on the surface of Mars due to an errant asteroid. Only Kit and a monkey survive. Alone, using up oxygen, food, and water, Kit must find a way to live in the harsh Martian conditions (shown as less harsh than we now know they are – in the movie Kit can breathe the slight atmosphere and can do without a pressure suit). One day Kit discovers that he is not alone on the planet. Aliens have been mining Mars. When one of their slaves (Vic Lundin) escapes and reluctantly joins Kit, the story at this point becomes a tale of two people forging a bond in a hazardous environment.
With such a small cast the movie requires decent actors. Mantee makes Kit an interesting character. It’s a shame that this was not the launching pad to a bigger career for him. Lundin is okay as Friday. Though the plot holds several hokey moments, overall the film manages to achieve its goal of telling a good story.
The extras on the DVD include an audio commentary, a documentary on the movie and Mars (Flagstaff and Percival Lowell get mentioned), a music video with Lundin singing a song about being an astronaut (yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds), and more. Criterion always does it up nicely.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars brings back those memories of sitting entranced before the TV, watching old sci-fi films. The DVD shows that I can still be entranced.