Robinson Crusoe on Mars

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Synopsis

Special effects wunderkind and genre master Byron Haskin (The War of the Worlds, The Outer Limits) won a place in the hearts of fantasy film lovers everywhere with this gorgeously designed journey into the unknown. Robinson Crusoe on Mars tells the story of U.S. astronaut Commander “Kit” Draper (Paul Mantee), who must fight for survival when his spaceship crash-lands on the barren waste of Mars, a pet monkey his only companion. But is he actually alone? Shot in vast Techniscope and blazing color, this is an imaginative and beloved marvel of classic science fiction.

Picture 8/10

Previously released on both Laserdisc and DVD by Criterion, they now present the cult sci-fi favourite Robinson Crusoe on Mars on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.

The DVD’s transfer was fine and it looks as though the same high-def transfer that acted as the basis for that release has also been used here and it improves upon that release in all the ways one would expect a Blu-ray to do so. The image is much sharper and crisper, free of any artifacts or noise that did somewhat litter that standard-def presentation. Colours, specifically the reds, which there are plenty of in this film, are rendered a little cleaner, and blacks are even a little deeper and inkier as well. Detail is absolutely stunning in places, particularly close-ups, but the film can get a little mucky and softer in some long shots that have effects (more than likely an issue in the source materials.)

Grain is present and is generally fairly light but there are some effects shots or long shots where the grain can get pretty heavy, making the image fuzzy as a consequence. And though the effects in the film are extremely dated and have always had their rough edges, I think their seams become a little more obvious here thanks to the improved clarity of the image.

In the end I can’t say I was too shocked by how good the image looked since the DVD looked good to begin with, and overall I got what I expected, but it still has a few nice surprises, and, considering how hard it seemed to get the film on home video to begin with, it’s an absolute treat to get the film looking as sharp as this on Blu-ray.

Audio 7/10

The lossless linear PCM mono track does offer a subtle improvement over the previous DVD edition’s. Again it’s clean, free of noise and distortion, with the dated sound effects even coming off as though they were recorded recently. Volume levels are excellent, with some surprisingly loud moments, and dialogue is clear and intelligible. Though effectively mono, it’s a surprisingly effective and fairly robust track, never coming off flat.

Extras 7/10

Just about everything has been ported from the DVD edition, which in effect was mostly ported from the rare Laserdisc edition. One item is missing, but I will get to that later.

Thankfully we do get the audio commentary again, recorded for the original Laserdisc. This commentary features screenwriter Ib Melchior, actors Paul Mantee and Victor Lundin (no Adam West unfortunately,) production designer Al Nozaki, effects designer Robert Skotak, and Byron Haskin (through excerpts from a 1979 audio interview.) Unfortunately no one was recorded together, like most commentaries from Criterion’s laserdisc days; everyone was recorded separately and then Criterion has edited the track together.

It’s a very informative track, covering about every aspect of the film’s production history. Mantee has a good chunk of the track as he discusses his method of acting in the film. He did take the role quite seriously and tried to use method forms of acting. He also touches on his disappointment with the film’s failure are the box office. Lundin doesn’t show up on the track until his character appears one hour in and he discusses his character, some of his disappointments, and also gets in-depth about working with the monkey. Nozaki and Skotak get real technical, discussing getting the look of the film. They talk a lot about the original script and the changes that occurred as production progressed. Excerpts from Haskin’s interview are inserted here and there, audio quality being a little poor, but he talks about shooting the film and discusses some sequences specifically. Melchior offers the most interesting aspect. You can tell he is sort of disappointed with many aspects of the film as his original script envisioned different things. Like most Criterion commentaries this one is frank and honest and not everyone involved is chipper, though it doesn’t reach the levels of the Spartacus commentary (where Ustinov consistently bad-talked Olivier and Laughton.) A little repetitive at times but a decent track that I enjoyed.

The rest of the supplements are found under the “Supplements” section of the pop-out menu.

Of most interest for me was a new supplement for this release called Destination: Mars. Lasting over 19-minutes and presented in 1.33:1, various experts talk about the film and its accuracy about Mars. For the time the film was pretty accurate and a lot of thought was put into it, though since then (as little as a year after the film’s release when Mariner 4 went to Mars) we’ve learned much more about the planet. The documentary also goes through the history of Mars research and gives some of the most recent discoveries. I’m into this kind of stuff so I found it a great feature and next to the commentary it might be my favourite one on this disc.

Next up is a 4-minute music video for a song (presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround) called “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” by Victor Lundin. The song plays over clips of the film. It’s an interesting song, but admittedly not my cup of tea. I’d recommend it only for the hardcore fans of the film.

Next on the list is the 4-minute theatrical trailer presented. It’s like most trailers of the time, lots of blurbs, almost gives you the whole story.

We get an impressive stills gallery that contains a large amount of sketches and designs, both from Ib Melchior and then from Haskin’s team. It also contains poster art, photos from the set, publicity photos, lobby cards, excerpts from the press book (including possible tie-ins) and even storyboards. It’s very extensive and contains a lot of information. Text notes accompany most of the photos. By the looks of it everything has made it here from the DVD edition’s gallery (one thing I’ve noticed is, for whatever reason, Criterion doesn’t always port over all of the photos from a DVD’s gallery to the Blu-ray edition.)

What hasn’t made it are the “Script Excerpts” found on the DVD edition. This was actually a PDF file that needed to be opened from your computer after placing the disc in the DVD-ROM drive.

But the contents of the original booklet appear to have made it. It again contains an essay by Michael Lennick which gives a production history and a decent analysis of the film. There’s also some notes from Melchior’s screenplay containing a brief dictionary for Friday’s language, and some fun-factsabout Mars. It’s a slim booklet but worth skimming through.

Not much, but it’s a pretty informative set of extras that covers the film’s production pretty well.

Closing

Not a significant upgrade over the DVD edition but the transfer offers enough of an improvement over the DVD edition that people with bigger TV sets may want to consider the upgrade.

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Directed by: Byron Haskin
Year: 1964
Time: 110 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 404
Licensor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Release Date: January 11 2011
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
2.35:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 Audio commentary featuring screenwriter Ib Melchior, actors Paul Mantee and Victor Lundin, production designer Al Nozaki, Oscar-winning special effects designer and Robinson Crusoe on Mars historian Robert Skotak, and excerpts from a 1979 audio interview with director Byron Haskin   Destination Mars, a video featurette by filmmaker and space historian Michael Lennick detailing the science behind the film   Music video for Victor Lundin’s song “Robinson Crusoe on Mars”   Stills gallery   Theatrical trailer   A booklet featuring a new essay by Michael Lennick as well as Ib Melchior’s “Brief Yargorian Vocabulary” (a glossary of original alien dialect) and a list of facts about Mars, both from his original screenplay