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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Drama > Fantasy > Action > Literature > Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964/Paramount/Criterion Blu-ray)

Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964/Paramount/Criterion Blu-ray)


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Film: B-



Sometimes, film’s start out as Science Fiction and become classics, others become camp, but a few start as serious attempts to deal with the future (Forbidden Planet for example) and simply become time capsules of the past.  Many of these films are ignored, but deserve rediscovery and Byron Haskins’ Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964) is one such film.  Those originally running The Criterion Collection love the film so much, they went out of their way to release it on the old 12” LaserDisc format when Paramount (the studio that made it and owns it) was not doing much licensing of their catalog.  Now it is their latest Blu-ray release from their feature film holdings.


Based on Daniel Defoe’s classic book Robinson Crusoe, the film was originally going to be directed by its co-writer, Ib Melchior (Death Race 2000, Planet Of The Vampires, The Time Traveler), but Byron Haskins (the 1954 War Of The Worlds, 1958 From The Earth To The Moon) took the helm and the result is a surprisingly smart, ambitious adaptation of the book that is not just a throw-together genre disaster as we would get today in the franchise mania that produces mostly garbage.


An obvious influence on Planet Of The Apes, Paul Mantee and Adam West are flying a futuristic spaceship around Mars when a meteor heads towards them and they need to abandon ship.  They both eject in their own landers and to a hostile environment no human has ever encountered.  We follow Commander Christopher ‘Kit’ Draper (Mantee of A Man Called Dagger) and so begins his isolated journey.  Can he find Colonel Dan McReady (West, who would soon be Batman), can he survive and…. is he really alone?  Meant for a wide audience, it seems like a smart film for children today, but its appeal goes beyond genre despite its age and is one of the most successful and distinct adaptations of the classic 1719 novel along with Luis Bunuel’s The Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe (1954) with Dan O’Herlihy (of Robocop, nominated for an Oscar here) and Daniel Bourla’s underseen and underrated The Noah (1974, both reviewed elsewhere on this site and deserving of Blu-ray release).


I was surprised how well this really held up.  The film is well thought out for its time (not unlike Fox’s Fantastic Voyage in 1966) and remains interesting throughout.  I liked the use of the technology of the time and how the many scenes without dialogue were handled, down to the use of sound design.  Killer aliens show up and Haskins and the studio did clever job of recycling the Martian ships from the 1954 War Of The Worlds, but so much here is like nothing you would see before or after, making Robinson Crusoe On Mars a terrific one-of-a-kind cinematic experience that makes for a better Blu-ray than anyone could have hoped for and one movie fans will want to go out of their way for.  So how does it look…?



The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image was shot in 2-perf Techniscope, a cheap way to do widescreen, but a popular one on Spaghetti Westerns and independent films as well as a forerunner of Super 35.  Up to 1974, just about all such films were issued in three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor prints and though this comes from an internegative off of the original camera negative, the color is often that good.  Unfortunately, with good detail comes grain, but Director of Photography Winton C. Hoch, A.S.C., (Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, The Searchers) proved once again he knew how to use widescreen and color effectively.  Except for some limits expected for the age of the film and the format, this looks really good.


The PCM 2.0 Mono comes from a 35mm magnetic three-track soundmaster and though it was not modified to have stereo sound here, it also sounds good for its age (not unlike the recent Twilight Zone Blu-rays) and features a very good music score by Twilight Zone veteran Van Cleave.  Cleave had scored two other Sci-Fi films for Paramount before: Conquest Of Space and The Colossus Of New York.  Along with the look of the film, the music is another reason it defies its age decades later, even when it obviously became fantasy by 1968.


Extras include another informative booklet with tech details and an essay on the film by Michael Lennick called Life On Mars, while the Blu-ray adds a featurette with Lennick being interviewed called Destination: Mars, the original theatrical trailer, Stills Gallery, Music Video for actor Victor Lundin’s (who plays Friday in the film) novelty song named after this film and a feature length audio commentary track assembled with recordings for the original LaserDisc edition of this film including a 1979 interview with Director Haskins, plus Melchior, Mantee, Lundin, Production Designer Al Nozaki and a historian on the film, its special effects designer Robert Skotak.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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