Robinson Crusoe on Mars
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. When his spaceship crash-lands on the barren wastelands of Mars, U.S. astronaut Commander "Kit" Draper (Paul Mantee) must fight for survival, with a pet monkey seemingly his only companion. But is he alone? Shot in vast Techniscope and blazing Technicolor, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is an imaginative and beloved techni-marvel of classic science fiction.
A film that hasn’t received much love in the realm of home video (Criterion previously released this film on laserdisc only to have it discontinued rather quickly, becoming their rarest laserdisc release) Criterion has managed to yet again get their hands on Robinson Crusoe on Mars, porting over most of the supplements from their laserdisc release, and also giving the film a new transfer.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layered disc, the film looks quite good. I’ve never seen the laserdisc but I have a good feeling this transfer tops it. Sharpness and detail are pretty good, looking better in close-ups than in longer shots which look a little softer. I found some sequences within our protagonist’s cave could look a little smudgy at times as well. Colours are quite good. There’s a lot of reds and the reds are accurately represented with no smearing or bleeding. Flesh tones look very good and blacks look excellent.
The print is in excellent shape. Some of the effects sequences look a little dirtier and grainier than the rest of the film but this isn’t distracting. A very pleasant transfer from Criterion and I’m pleased they were the ones that were able to finally release this film on DVD.
Criterion sticks with the original mono track and it sounds surprisingly good. Music has excellent range, sounding crisp and clear. Bass is decent, and voices are clear and intelligible. The sound effects are a little dated but the quality is good. It’s only a mono track but it more than does justice for the film. It sounds really good.
Criterion has ported over most of what was on the laserdisc to this DVD, as well as added a bit. I have never seen the original laserdisc (it was pretty rare and went for Salo like prices on E-Bay) so I can’t compare directly but only based on what I can find online.
Thankfully we do get the commentary from the 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 is 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 a section called “Survival Kit” and there’s only a few things here.
Of most interest for me was a new supplement for this release called “Destination: Mars”. Lasting 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 called “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” by Victor Lundin. The song plays over clips of the film, presented in anamorphic widescreen. 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 in anamorphic widescreen. 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. Another feature I enjoyed.
Closing of the disc is “Script Excerpts”. Selecting it on the menu gives you the instructions to put the disc in your computer and download the PDF. The 42.2 MB file is in the root directory of the disc. It’s 80 pages and contains notes that describe the differences and then contains copies from the actual script. Rather cool and a much better presentation than flipping through on the TV screen (unless, of course, you don’t have a DVD-ROM.)
A slim booklet contains an essay by Michael Lennick. It 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-facts” about 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.
Finally getting a decent release on home video that won’t be quickly pulled (since it looks like Criterion and Paramount have a solid relationship going on now,) Criterion put some effort into this one. The image and sound is very good and the collection of supplements are entertaining and informative. High recommendation.