The decade or so following the Summer of Love was, as we are now becoming painfully aware, a period during which certain people forwent the rules governing reasonable behaviour, indulging in whatever took their fancy in a haze of intoxicated permissiveness that would, in these more temperate times, be regarded as criminal activity. The Blue Lagoon is a film that wouldn’t be contemplated, let alone made, in 2017 – and yet its lingering full frontal shots of naked pre-teenaged children and sex scenes involving an actress who turned fifteen just weeks before the film’s 1980 premiere, are now available in high definition Blu-ray.
Producer Randal Kleiser knew exactly what he was doing casting Brooke Shields as Emmeline. Having two years previously appeared as the eponymous Pretty Baby in Louis Malle’s film about a child prostitute, and recently having famously gone sans underwear for a Calvin Klein ad, Shields had posed naked for Playboy at ten and would guarantee audiences both curious and lascivious. The Blue Lagoon was the ninth biggest film in the US that year.
Based faithfully on the 1908 novel by Irish author Henry De Vere Stacpoole (and actually the third of around five films inspired by the book), The Blue Lagoon is quite vacuously dreary in execution, brimming with superficially pretty compositions and clumsy symbolism, an almost impossibly benign nirvana fantasy with workaday dialogue that services its sub-pornographic intent. The first half hour is livened by Leo McKern as ship’s cook Paddy “Mr” Button, but once he’s drunk himself to an early exit we’re left with just the nascent romance between the budding adolescent castaways – whom a heavily expository early scene informs us in no uncertain terms are actually cousins, to no doubt great relief all around.
There’s a lot of “tasteful” near-nudity and “tastefully shot” actual nudity, which for balance is equally as leering over 18-year-old debutant Christopher Atkins’ Richard as it is Shields. But in spite of Atkins carrying the dramatic heft, there’s little doubt that Shields is the focus of the production, one that neuters the brutality of its subject concerns in order to venerate and fetishise its star.
It’s sad that The Blue Lagoon exists at all. Not the story, a pretty obvious synthesis of Robinson Crusoe and Romeo and Juliet, but the concept behind the 1980 production. For all its crystal-clear wildlife documentary trappings, its salaciousness is barely disguised. It is at once quite unnervingly shocking in intention and deceptively innocuous in execution, a real wolf in sheep’s clothing of a picture. As a product of its times, it’s as much of a reflection and indictment of those times as are those less public activities which are now coming to light. Uncomfortable viewing.
Special Features: Trailer / Contemporary Making of Featurette / 2 Commentaries
THE BLUE LAGOON (1980) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: RANDAL KLEISER / SCREENPLAY: DOUGLAS DAY STEWART / STARRING: BROOKE SHIELDS, CHRISTOPHER ATKINS, LEO McKERN, WILLIAM DANIELS / RELEASE DATE: 10TH APRIL