Draper dictates his discoveries and troubles into a recorder (always a great device for exposition): He is short on water, low on oxygen, without food. It’s just him and his monkey who, if she could just understand simple commands such as “Yes” and “No” and “Come” and “Go,” would make for a more useful partner. But no matter, because all of these problems are solved through awfully convenient findings and not wit or training: when he’s thirsty, he stumbles upon a pond; while rationing oxygen, he discovers warm rocks that give off the element; when he nears starvation, he finds…sausages?
For at least the first act, Byron Haskin’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars borders on an existential science-fiction tale, keen on dismissing the obvious genre route of alien attacks and McCarthyism-esque allusions, two ideas Haskin explored in his more widely known sci-fi film The War of the Worlds (1953). But sure enough by the third act, an alien spaceship begins shooting direct, purple laser beams at our hero and his new companion, an escaped slaver miner named Friday (Victor Lundin, who named and recorded a miraculously awful song after the film), that finds the trio dodging boulders and debris in a climax that is anything but thrilling.
Backed by the prestige of The Criterion Collection, who gave the film its first DVD release in 2007 and are now unveiling the Blu-ray in 2011, a casual science-fiction fan may find the plot (and incredible--if slightly misleading--poster art) enticing. Certainly many parts are, like Draper’s first moments alone out there on the Red Planet. The Techniscope-shot Robinson Crusoe on Mars must have been a real visual treat back in 1964. But today, it works best as a kitschy yarn set somewhere you may not want to visit more than once.
Destination: Mars (19:30): This fascinating documentary directed by Michael Lennick, “explores the Red Planet’s place in our cultural imagination, and how that is evoked in Robinson Crusoe on Mars.” Included are interviews and photographs that suggest the film contains a strong amount of scientific accuracy.
Under the Surface is a solid gallery that houses sketches, photographs and publicity material.
Music Video for co-star Victor Lundin’s “Robinson Crusoe on Mars”
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 12-page booklet with an essay titled “Life on Mars” by writer-director Michael Lennick, as well as a Yargorian dictionary and details about Mars, both of which were included with Ib Melchior’s screenplay.