Commander Kit Draper and Colonel Dan McReady are orbiting Mars in an exploritory surveyor. A malfunction forces them to eject with only Draper and a monkey named Mona surviving. Draper must learn to survive in this hostile environment fighting thirst, hunger and even hostile aliens if he expects to see home again.
Paul Mantee ... Cmdr. Christopher 'Kit' Draper
Victor Lundin ... Friday
Adam West ... Col. Dan McReady
This movie is a classic example of how good science fiction can be created from classic story material. The premise of a man trying to survive in unfamiliar surroundings is set on the then unfamiliar planet of Mars. USAF astronaut Paul Mantee goes through the rigors of trying to survive on an alien landscape, and is befriended by an escaped slave from an advanced, and hostile, civilization. The story isn't about war, "beating the bad aliens" or other story tripe that's so pervasive in today's science fiction films. The film is about friendship, trust, self sacrifice, and the willingness to help one's fellow man (or human like alien) survive in an inhospitable world.
Compared to other science fiction of the time, and even compared to contemporary sci-fi offerings, the acting and overall production values are top notch. The film is dated, so the viewer is advised to give it some leeway if he or she has never seen it before, but a strong story and presentation will keep your attention.
It's been a long time since I've seen this film, so perhaps I'm remembering it from a biased memory, but using that same memory to call up other films I saw back then I can truly say this one ranks up there with other good cinematic offerings; science fiction and non alike. The effects are passing, the backgrounds artificial at times (as was typical of 50's and 60's Hollywood), and the props are passable, but the acting, particularly how the relationship develops between the two leads, is what I'll always remember. The story is far fetched, but the actors pull it off by presenting sympathetic characters.
I for one am glad this has never been remade. I can see some snot-nosed hot-shot, low-I.Q. producer marketing a remake with lots of action, a pumped up soundtrack, action figures and a host of other spinoffs. To boot he'd probably cast some rap star in both lead roles, show the aliens with a ton of prosthetic makeup, and otherwise squeeze every last ounce of marketable dollar out of the thing.
We don't need a remake. We need a DVD release. The good kind with lots of extra goodies :-)
If you like sci-fi, heck if you just like good movies period, do yourself a favor and catch "Robinson Crusoe on Mars."
Even though this movie was made in 1964, it puts to shame the more recent (and astronomically more expensive) "Mission to Mars" and "Red Planet".
The characters act much more like real people/enslaved extraterrestrials than was common in sci-fi films of that era. Mantee is well-trained and resourceful, handling most problems (with the exception of his forced isolation) with reasonable aplomb. He is much closer to what we expect an astronaut to be than the ridiculous characters from MtM and RP.
The equipment is also a notch above the usual 60s fare, with real cables, actual dials and knobs, and that utilitarian look so common in military hardware. I have to give this film and extra half-star just for the realistic technology.
Overall, a good, solid sci-fi film from the golden age.
Director Byron Haskin and company spared no expense to make sure that all of the scientific elements of this film were accurate enough to function as a graduate level "motion picture textbook" for planetary sciences courses, and the special effects are so realistic that even Peter Jackson felt that his Lord of the Rings trilogy fell short of the technical wizardry on display here. Of course I'm joking. The truth is that while Robinson Crusoe on Mars is extremely cheesy in many respects, this is a very fun film, with a gripping, often-suspenseful story and a great sense of adventure. It rises above its flaws to merit an 8 out of 10 from me.
Actually, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a great example of why science fiction is usually considered to belong to the genre umbrella of "fantasy" (and yes, that's even true of literary "hard science fiction"). Even though they often involve plot points based on technical aspects of the sciences--and believe it or not, this film is primarily focused on that--in their broader structures, the stories are usually fantasy tales, and reality is dispensed with as soon as either (1) it doesn't suit what the author considers to be a good story, (2) the author's scientific knowledge/research reaches its limit, or (3) the author engages in speculation (which is fundamental to the genre).
Despite scriptwriters John C. Higgins and Ib Melchior frequently engaging in (1) (and very likely (2) plus an added departure point for films--budgetary limitations), the suspense in the first half of the film is propelled by Draper's need for oxygen, water and food. These are basic concerns that many other "shipwrecked on a planet" films often bypass through some kind of deus ex machine. In Robinson Crusoe on Mars, they never stop being central to the plot. Admittedly, if every film merely dwelled on those issues, we'd quickly grow tired of it, but it works extremely well here.
Even more remarkable, for the majority of the film, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a one-man show. Mantee must hold the audience's interest on his own for a good 70 or 80 minutes. He does so easily. He brings just the right mixture of tough-guy ingenuity and vulnerability to the part.
Of course, part of the enjoyment of watching the film at this point in time is that much of it is unintentionally funny. There are some strange editorial corrections, such as the overdubbed "15 Days" when Draper is making an accounting of his supplies. We are treated to ridiculously bad spaceship animation. There are odd floating fireballs when Draper first touches down. There isn't much effort in many shots to keep the settings looking like Mars. There is one scene with Ed Wood-style changes back and forth from night to day. And so on.
On the other hand, if we look at the film as residing more in a realm of surrealism, elements such as the floating fireballs are actually pretty cool, and much of the cinematography and settings are excellent. The exteriors were primarily shot in Death Valley National Park, and it is beautifully captivating here. Also, some of the attempts to make the exteriors look more Mars like are actually gorgeous. We get purple and blue rockscapes against smoky skies, and we often see nice nods to classic sci-fi illustrators such as Frank R. Paul (whose work often graced the covers of fiction magazines like Amazing Stories) in features such as bright red skies. Haskin also has a few moments of effective ingenuity, such as a crucial plot point appearing as video that Draper took and watched later. Plus, some of the film is intentionally funny--my favorite instance being the line, "Mr. Echo, go to hell!"
The biggest flaw in my eyes is that the ending seems a bit rushed. A lot happens in the last ten minutes or so of the film, without the suspense it could have had with a longer running time. Despite the flaws, however, this is worth a watch by serious fans of classic sci-fi, and it's interesting to note influences films like this have had on later-generation works in the same vein, such as Red Planet (2000).
* Many of the scenes of the Martian surface were filmed at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, California.
* Victor Lundin has recently (as of early 1999) written and recorded a "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" song.
* The Martian spacecraft are left-overs from The War of the Worlds (1953). Director Byron Haskin was involved in both projects, although George Pal is often given sole credit for the earlier classic.
* While filming in Death Valley, the cast and crew were ordered not to touch any of the plant life due to the fact that they were filming in a national park area and most of the plant life was federally protected.
* The lobby card for this movie has an official-looking statement: "This film is Scientifically Authentic ... It is only one step ahead of present reality!"
* The aliens are seen dressed in the spacesuits from "Destination: Moon"
* A sequel titled "Robinson Crusoe in the Invisible Galaxy" was planned but it was scrapped due to the films lackluster box office.
* Female simian astronaut Mona was played by a male Woolly Monkey named Barney.