Monday, September 24, 2007

Criterion ships Robinson Crusoe on Mars

I received my pre-ordered copy of The Criterion Collection's DVD release of Robinson Crusoe on Mars. And, as I expected, Criterion has done a great job in re-releasing this classic film.

Here's an "Armchair Film Review" that I wrote for our local newspaper, Bloomington's Herald-Times, about the DVD:

If Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was the greatest science-fiction film released in the 1960s, then Byron Haskin's Robinson Crusoe on Mars ranks as Number Two. Don't be deceived by the hokey title. This is a fascinating, intelligent, and moving story about an American astronaut's struggles to survive on the Red Planet after an unexpected and unplanned landing. Though some of the Mars science is now certainly dated, it detracts very little from the film's enjoyment. Actor Paul Mantee, who looks very much like America's first man in space, Alan Shepherd, gives a tour-de-force performance as the stranded spaceman. His ingenuity in solving the survival challenges of air, water, food, and, the worst problem of all, isolation, is all very believable. The second half of the story moves closer to DeFoe's original Robinson Crusoe story, but I won't spoil the plot's surprises here. The DVD extras include the original film trailer, but be warned, it contains lots of spoiler details about the film. And there's a fact-rich commentary from interviews with director Byron Haskin, actors Paul Mantee and Victor Lundin, and many others involved in the making of the film. Unfortunately and despite high expectations by everyone involved with the film, Robinson Crusoe on Mars did poorly at the box office in 1964 due to terrible distribution. It's sad to hear the disappointment in Mantee and Lundin's comments as they recall their experiences during and after the film's production. Released during the early, heady days of the space race between America's Mercury and Gemini flights, Robinson Crusoe on Mars brings back the magic and excitement of those first journeys beyond the Earth. This film has long been out of print, and has been long awaited by science-fiction film fans. Criterion's DVD release is outstanding in quality, and the film itself is certainly in the top ten best science-fiction films ever made.

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