Thursday, October 25, 2012

#404: Robinson Crusoe on Mars

(Byron Haskin, 1964)

It would be easy to compare Robinson Crusoe on Mars to similar dated sci-fi in the Collection like Equinox and the Monsters and Madmen boxset. And in many ways, this would be an apt comparison: there is low and high art in all of these films and the passion of their creators shines through very clearly. They all work on two levels, since they could just as easily appeal to an eight-year-old (at least one whose senses haven't been dulled by the modern bend towards bright flashing lights and non-stop inanity) and a thirty-year-old cinema nerd - though of course it's arguable if these are different people I've just described.

Yet Robinson Crusoe on Mars, despite its creaky name, is something different from those other films. In fact - although its plot is directly cribbed from a well-known and very straightforward story - its visuals and pacing are more reminiscent of a different kind of sci-fi film made just a few years later: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although that film's technological predictions turned out to be wishful thinking, this film's visual palette has only been surpassed by the reality of what we've seen beamed back from light years away. Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a small movie in human emotion and scope - a tale of one man and his loneliness. But visually, this is one of the great epics of sci-fi, a stunning and cannily re-imagined portrait of space and the red planet for the technicolor era. There are moments here that took my breath away, in all that phrase's purple glory.

At this point, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is the final movie of this type that I have to watch in the Collection (though Island of Lost Souls hails from a related genre). The inclusion of such films makes the Criterion umbrella both broader in scope and more legitimate as an arguable "canon" of film. It is films like this that had  a direct influence on the filmmakers who transformed American cinema in the 80s and 90s (for better or worse), but they also stand on their own as works of art. Robinson Crusoe on Mars is the best example of this in the Collection. This is a must-watch for any lover of the visual spectacle of cinema.

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