21 February 2011 | tomgillespie2002
Refreshingly slow-paced and interesting
1950's and 60's sci-fi movies can be easy targets. They were usually cheap, cheerful and woodenly acted by square-jawed male leads and big- eyed supporting women. They also reflected the attitudes, and usually the fears, of the society of the time. The heightened paranoia and fear of the unknown that plagued 1950's society was clearly reflected in films such as This Island Earth and Earth Vs. Flying Saucers, where America would be unwillingly attacked by an deadly force from outer space. Japan's post-Hiroshima movies portrayed a country under attack by horrific mutations caused by radioactivity in Japan's oceans, most famously in Ishiro Honda's quite excellent Gojira (or Godzilla), and were a massive amount of fun with a quite brutal and sobering undertone. Yet audiences and filmmakers alike seemed to lighten up in the 60's and focus less on the satire, and more on the science and fantasy aspects of the genre.
Instead of us fine Earthlings being attacked on our own doorstep by those laser-wielding bastards from outer space, we began venturing out and seeking adventure. Inspiration seemed to be taken from popular literature. Mysterious Island (1961) was (albeit very loosely) based on Jules Verne's novel, er, The Mysterious Island which followed a group of Union soldiers from Civil War-era America being washed ashore an unknown island inhabited by giant beasts. The Time Machine (1960) was an adaptation of H.G. Welles' fantastic book about a man who travels forward in time from Victorian England to encounter a very strange future world. Bringing me eventually to Byron Haskin's Robinson Crusoe On Mars, based of course on Daniel Defoe's classic novel.
Quite possibly having one of the best titles in cinema history, the film is a surprisingly effective adventure film. Two astronauts seemingly surveying the surface of Mars (played by Paul Mantee and TV Batman's Adam West, respectively) are forced to abandon ship to avoid a collision with an asteroid heading directly for them. Kit Draper (Mantee) lands successfully and begins to explore the barren landscape, only to eventually discover that McReady (West) didn't make it. The ship's pet monkey, however, did survive and joins our hero on his bid to survive this alien world.
Surprisingly, the majority of the film is a one-man show, with Mantee carrying it admirably. The film takes a serious scientific approach to his survival, as he must find ways to live without a constant supply of fresh oxygen, find a heat source, and a supply of food before his own runs out. Luckily for Draper, the air is breathable for short periods of time before he requires to take a 'booster' of oxygen, Mars' rocks seem to be able to burn, and the planet offers it's own food source in the shape of a half-plant, half-sausage thingy. Of course, the 'science' behind it all is a load of b******s, but it is refreshing to see it being taken seriously, and not ignoring it for the benefit of telling an easy story.
But where there's Mars there's going to be some of those bloody aliens, and here they seem to be in the middle of a kind of mining war with of tribe of human-shaped alien slaves. Draper rescues one during an attack and names him Friday (Victor Lundin). The two develop a comical and often rather sweet relationship, as the two attempt to mix and explain their cultures, and Friday makes an attempt to learn English (and he's an extremely fast learner!). Friday is constantly being tortured by two disc fitted around his wrists, which the aliens use to lure and physically effect Friday. When the aliens discover Draper and Friday's hiding place, they attack and force our heroes to flee.
A surprisingly slow-paced and interesting sci-fi flick that is low on cheesy action and bad acting, and high on good writing and wit. Haskin's direction is also solid, similar to his fantastic adaptation of The War Of The Worlds. Recommended for sci-fi buffs and fans of a good story. It also has Adam West and a sidekick monkey - what else do you want?