Robinson Crusoe on Mars – Review

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Forget Matt Damon quipping into the camera: film history’s true Martian can be found in 1964’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars, a delightfully kitsch exploration into man’s relationship with himself – complete with endearingly hokey B-movie effects.

Commander Kit Draper (Paul Mantee) and Colonel Dan McReady (Adam West – yes, that Adam West) are orbiting the red planet in their ship, Gravity Probe One. To avoid a collision with a meteor, they eject in individual space pods onto the planet’s surface below – becoming the first men on Mars. When Draper finds his fellow astronaut killed under his own spacecraft, he finds an unlikely companion in the form of Mona, their onboard test monkey. Even if Draper solves the problems of air, food, water, and shelter, will he be able to overcome the greatest obstacle: isolation?

Byron Haskin’s brightly-hued survival story is a glorious and vibrant slice of speculative sixties sci-fi; without the knowledge we have now of how a human would survive on Mars, the movie is free to creatively kick about in the back pages of dime-store novellas. Draper is allowed to wonder the Martian lanscape largely uncovered, needing a hit of oxygen only every 15 minutes; firestorms, watery polar ice-caps, those infamous ‘canals’ of Martian folklore – and even some hostile visitors – also pop up over the course of Draper’s extended stay. But at the movie’s core – underneath all the creaky sets and dodgy effects, some of which are certain to summon a chuckle or two – is a deeply humanist perspective. Robinson Crusoe on Mars becomes a disarmingly engrossing tale about the need for interaction with others; Draper can only talk so much to a monkey before he starts losing his marbles, but although the mysterious arrival of Friday – an alien slave played to perfection by Victor Lundin – provides him with the connection he needs, even more questions about Mars’ role in the universe are raised.

Thanks to a taut story, and Mantee’s ability to hold our attention despite being the sole actor on screen for the majority, Robinson Crusoe has gently snowballed into a cult favourite despite its box office failings back in 1964. Perhaps it was the film’s intimacy that killed it in cinemas; with its new home release, on our TV screens, our astronaut has finally found his way back home.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars is now available from Eureka on DVD and Blu-ray.

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