Monday, January 4, 2016

Robinson Crusoe on Mars - 1964

I haven't seen the new Ridley Scott film The Martian, so some of my guesses in this review are completely unfounded.  But then again, I've seen the trailer and I read the synopsis online, so I'm not completely naive to it's basic idea and plot.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars is another one of these films where the title is both the name of the movie and the plot.  In Robinson Crusoe, a man is deserted on a island with no other inhabitants.  He has to find a way to survive, get food and water and shelter.  In this movie, the main guy juggles his oxygen supply, food rations, etc, and in the meantime makes surprising discoveries about ways to survive an a lifeless alien world.  So then, is it just me, or is that not the same plot as the new film The Martian?

In the opening of RCoM, a human spaceship diverts it's course and the two men on board need to evacuate.  They are Chris Draper and Dan McReady, with Draper going out first in a escape pod, with Dan going to follow soon after.  Also on board is their monkey pet Mona, a regular small monkey they have for some reason or other.  Once Draper lands, he encounters a bleak, alien world.  The effects of the world were the first thing I noticed that was simply top notch.  It was a lot of forced perspective, a lot of stitching shots together, and a lot of front and back projection, but the planet looks absolutely awesome.  There's fire everywhere, and cool colors, and it looks extremely inhospitable.

Draper salvages what he can from the crash, and goes out to seek shelter from the random fire everywhere.  He finds a cave.  Also, huge problem number one, he almost immediately discovers there is oxygen on Mars, but it's very minimal and he needs to supplement with his supply.  He figures out that he has about 2 days of air and about 60 days of water.  In his first two days he needs to try to find McReady.  He soon finds where McReady crashed, but McReady is dead.  He does however find the monkey, Mona.  That situation resolved, he takes Mona home, and is about to run out of oxygen.  Slowly he discovers a way to get oxygen, then water, then food, then clothing, etc.  All of this happens in the first hour.  Then an hour in, he makes the discovery of other life on Mars.

This is where the film lost it's interest and it's cool factor in my opinion.  I would have been more than happy to see him struggling on the planet, with an ambiguous ending - hell, even some half thought out ridiculous ending of him getting rescued.  But noooooo.  He finds this alien race that has slaves, one of the slaves escapes, Draper names the slave Friday, and it essentially IS Robinson Crusoe without the religious nonsense.  That sucked.  I mean, I get that it's right there in the title.  But do we have to have every single aspect copied?  Yep, guess so.  So then it more becomes about these guys struggling together, and them escaping the aliens that come looking for Friday.

The movie isn't bad, it's just that it has a complete tone change and feels different from the first hour to the second.  The darkness is gone, the cool sci fi feel is sacrificed.  Maybe if I'd expected the appearance of Friday, I would've thought it different.  But I got my hopes up that maybe this was just a survival story without that other bullshit.  It was not.

But still, great effects, the alien ships are awesome, and good acting.  There were definitely some parts that didn't age well, as is bound to happen.  But generally I'd say this is a true classic.  It even has a Criterion release.  Classy.  I give it 4 stars.

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