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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD Review: Robinson Crusoe on Mars

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#1 of 24 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted September 17 2007 - 01:12 AM

Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Directed by Byron Haskin

Studio: Criterion (Paramount)
Year: 1964
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 110 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English
Subtitles: SDH
MSRP: $39.95

Release Date: September 18, 2007
Review Date: September 17, 2007

The Film


On paper, Robinson Crusoe on Mars sounds like it might be the cheesiest movie ever made, so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself totally engrossed and thoroughly charmed by much of this film. Yes, the science on view in the movie seems painfully naïve now in view of the various Mars probes which have successfully reported to us what’s really there, but that’s the wrong way to approach this movie. As an adventure tale based on a classic story but set on a faraway planet rather than a deserted island, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is first-rate entertainment.

Commander Christopher Draper (Paul Mantee) is the sole survivor of a Mars space mission when his space capsule crashes on the surface. Along with pet monkey Mona, Draper’s primary concerns become finding air, food, and water in order to prolong his survival until help can come. Some lucky discoveries save his life, and an alien presence on the planet provides him with his man Friday (Victor Lundin), as escaped slave running for his life from his captors. Now, both men begin a bonding ritual that may prolong their lives but might also lead to both of their deaths if the aliens find the duo.

Shot in Death Valley which makes a more than adequate stand-in for the surface of Mars, the movie is absorbing even before Friday makes his appearance. Draper’s constant struggles to rig ways to prolong his life keep us completely immersed in his plight, and each new discovery acts as a tonic for the audience to keep us engaged and invested in his survival.

Mantee makes a thoroughly likeable leading man, completely able to dominate the screen when he’s the only human actor present, and then later working in a realistic partnership with the alien he’s trying to help (and who helps him in return). Lundin as Friday isn’t bad but isn’t as thoroughly alien as one might have expected. Adam West makes a brief appearance as the doomed colonel in the Mars space mission. Woolly Monkey (actualy a male monkey named Barney) as Mona also adds immeasurably to the entertainment value of this obviously low budget but still entertaining enterprise.

In fact, the low budget really isn’t an obstacle to the entertainment value of the picture. What‘s more, its rather obvious optical effects, matte paintings, and stock footage only give the film a quaint charm that is hard to resist. Director Byron Haskin keeps things moving well, and interest never flags even with the rather endless alien attacks near the end of the movie.

Video Quality


The Techniscope 2.35:1 aspect ratio is captured in a brilliant anamorphic transfer. There isn’t a speck to be seen anywhere on this 40+ year old film, and the Technicolor flesh tones couldn’t be more beautiful or lifelike. The blacks of space blend completely into the letterbox bars, and fine object detail is superb. Yes, there’s grain to be seen in the opticals and stock volcano footage, but that’s to be expected. Fans of this film have never seen it looking this pristine. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.

Audio Quality


The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track sounded a bit treble-heavy in the early going, but soon thereafter, the sound becomes robust and surprisingly full-bodied for a mono mix of this age. No clicks, pops, or crackle were heard. It’s a solid mono track.

Special Features


An audio commentary carried over from the laserdisc release of this title features writer Ib Melchior, actors Paul Mantee and Victor Lundin, designer Al Nozaki, historian Robert Skotak, and director Byron Haskin in a patchwork compilation of comments about making the movie. The contributors are open and honest about their work, and it’s a most enjoyable commentary track.

“Destination: Mars” is a 19-minute featurette detailing the accuracy and inaccuracy of the science in the picture to what was actually known at the time about Mars. It’s presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Actor Victor Lundin composed a title song for him to sing at science fiction fan conventions and which was included on his 2000 album Little Owl. That stereo vocal is fashioned into a music video using edited clips from the movie in a 4-minute presentation.

A stills gallery offers a wide variety of sketches, storyboards, and notes on the making of the picture from its earliest incarnations to the poster art for the finished film.

The 4-minute theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic video and also contains an alternate commentary track and another alternate track of the audio title song.

Script excerpts from Ib Melchior’s original treatment of the story are available on the disc for computer download and reading by Adobe Acrobat Reader.

An enclosed 14-page booklet offers a critical analysis and celebration of the film by writer-director Michael Lennick (who also made the documentary included in this set) and two pages of suggestions from Ib Melchior’s treatment concerning the alien dialect used in the film and some known facts about Mars in 1963.

In Conclusion

4/5 (not an average)

If you’re a fan of classic science fiction, you’re already undoubtedly aware of this little gem. For those who might have resisted giving the film a try based on the title, put away your prejudices and rent Robinson Crusoe on Mars. It’s an entertaining and even memorable example of how a good story is open to many different adaptations and interpretations.

Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

#2 of 24 OFFLINE   Colin Davidson

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Posted September 17 2007 - 03:15 AM

Matt, Thanks for the review. I have been waiting for some time for this to finally be released. And it sounds like Criterion has, once again, done a fantastic job of restoration of this classic sci-fi movie. Glad I pre-ordered from Amazon and hopefully it will be in my anxious hands shortly. Colin

#3 of 24 OFFLINE   Will*B


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Posted September 17 2007 - 04:45 AM

Not to put the film down at all (I've never seen it), but I was just wondering if anyone has an idea why Criterion chose to release this? It seems at odds with most of their other output. I'm a big fan of 'B'-type films from the 50's and 60's, so is this worth a blind buy?


#4 of 24 OFFLINE   pitchman



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Posted September 17 2007 - 06:20 AM

I forget who, but one of the Criterion principles has championed this film for a long time. Years ago, Criterion released a splendid 2-disc "special edition" version of the film on laserdisc that retailed for $100. Judging by Matt's excellent review, it sounds like all of that content has been ported over to this new DVD, which IMO, makes it quite a bargain! As far as this being a 'B' movie goes, yes, the film was produced on a low budget, but it is handsomely staged, well acted, sometimes thought-provoking and entertaining throughout. So, compared to your typical exploitative 'B' film... it is not, IMHO. As always, YMMV, but at the very least, you may want to give this a rent.

#5 of 24 OFFLINE   Jordan_E



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Posted September 17 2007 - 06:28 AM

Can't wait to buy this one! Loved it as a kid and still enjoyed the heck out of it as an adult.
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#6 of 24 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott


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Posted September 17 2007 - 07:22 AM

Ok. I had gone from expecting to purchase this to waiting to rent it- but Matts review convinced me to make this a future blind buy. It sounds exactly like the kind of movie that I enjoy the most- and the apparent a/v quality sealed the deal.

#7 of 24 OFFLINE   Jonathan Peterson

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Posted September 17 2007 - 07:56 AM

Great review Matt.
I agree and the first hour has always been my favorite as we watch him find new ways to prolong his life on Mars. My copy should be here tomorrow and I can't wait to give it a spin tomorrow night.

#8 of 24 OFFLINE   Russell G

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Posted September 17 2007 - 08:03 AM

I've have this on a pre-order, blind buying it after hearing about it for so long. Nice to know this was handled with the typical Critereon care! Great review!

#9 of 24 OFFLINE   Will*B


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Posted September 17 2007 - 08:21 AM

Thanks Gary - info much appreciated. Will definitely check this film out.


#10 of 24 OFFLINE   onecent



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Posted September 17 2007 - 08:41 AM

Thanks for the review Matt. I'm glad I read your review because it does sound like an entertaining movie that I'd want to see.

#11 of 24 OFFLINE   Jack Briggs

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Posted September 17 2007 - 08:42 AM

Matt, your review hit all the points readers are looking for. A superb disc, for sure. Additionally, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is not -- repeat, not -- a "B movie" in the classic 1950s sense. It's a very well-made film.

#12 of 24 OFFLINE   Terry Hickey

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Posted September 17 2007 - 09:59 AM

Mine arrived in the mail today and have only watched the first 30 minutes, and like Matt said, the transfer is spectacular. Those of you who have waited for a long time for this to be released, just like me, will not be disappointed.

#13 of 24 OFFLINE   Steve Christou

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Posted September 17 2007 - 10:44 AM

That's all I wanted to see! Thanks for the review. Posted Image

Mine hasn't been posted yet, hopefully soon.

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#14 of 24 OFFLINE   Parker Clack

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Posted September 17 2007 - 04:24 PM

I have had this move on laserdisc for some time. Looks like the DVD is something I am going to be buying. As far as those of you wanting to know if the film is worth a blind buy I can say that it is worth it without question.

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#15 of 24 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted September 18 2007 - 01:14 AM

Our own Robert Harris has informed me that the film was actually shot in Eastmancolor, and that the "Color by Technicolor" credit implies that the film was processed by Technicolor. I am adding this information to the thread for clarification. I certainly appreciate his input.

#16 of 24 OFFLINE   Jeff Willis

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Posted September 18 2007 - 01:56 AM

Matt, great review! I also have owned this one on LD and my DVD should arrive in a couple of days. As Parker mentioned, this is a guarantee for the blind-buy group here.

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#17 of 24 OFFLINE   Charles_Y


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Posted September 18 2007 - 03:10 AM

I used to have the great Criterion Laserdisc edition and I'm very happy to hear about the transfer but I'm very disappointed that it appears that much of the super extras on the LD have NOT been ported over to the DVD - a MAJOR letdown in my estimation. This was to be a somewhat higher budgeted picture but was constantly wittled down sadly and one could see what was originally planned in Criterion's previous release on Laser. I fear that will be rather less apparent here. Well... I guess I should be happy it was released at all.

#18 of 24 ONLINE   Nelson Au

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Posted September 18 2007 - 03:45 AM

Charles, I don't know which extras are not ported over from the LD to the new DVD. I do have the Criterion LD, and a large amount of the supplimentary material from the LD is in text form and still images, as Criterion often did in those days. Could be they found that as the medium is becoming more mainstream, most customers don't want to sit and read. It was easy on the LD with the Step function to read each frame of text, and it was fun in those days! And I know early DVD's did have Step frames for text material. But that went away pretty quickly. Just a theory on my part. But in re-reading Matt's great review, sounds like most of the suppliments made it. I'll get the disc today and will compare.

#19 of 24 OFFLINE   Charles_Y


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Posted September 18 2007 - 08:12 AM

I wish I held onto that LD but I ended up selling my LD collection back in 99 when I switched to DVD - no room for it. Darn! I actually lament the loss of many of those features. I had no problem "reading" extras on LD special editions. Those consumers are likely the same people who don't like reading subtitles on foreign films or putting up with those pesky "black bars" on widescreen movies. It may have a been a niche format for collectors but my fellow Laserdisc enthusiasts and I were an educated and opinionated lot. A mainstreamed format DOES have its drawbacks I suppose. All griping aside I WILL be snapping this one up now!

#20 of 24 OFFLINE   Charles_Y


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Posted September 18 2007 - 08:13 AM

lest you think I'm alone just read Stephanie Prange's newest column in The Buzz on the portal. How timely though I doubt she would begrudge Criterion on this one.

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