Fifty years before Matt Damon found himself growing pooh-potatoes and listening to funky ‘70s disco music during his enforced stay on the red planet in this year’s brilliant The Martian, Paul Mantee was in a similar predicament in this classic 1960’s sci-fi B-movie. But where Matt faced his predicament with a quip and a smile alongside the prospect of a long, hard struggle to stay alive, Mantee gets by with the help of a monkey in a spacesuit, a convenient oxygen supply and a mute alien he names Friday – as you would. Oh, and he’s also got to contend with an attack by alien spaceships fashioned out of the hoods of the ‘tripods’ in George Pal’s version of War of the Worlds whooshing about the place spitting Sparks as they try to root out their escaped alien captive. Never a dull moment on Mars...
A sticker on the cover of this welcome new budget-price Blu-ray rerelease proclaims “This film is scientifically authentic”, but we’re betting that runs about as far as depicting a Mars blessed with a potentially-fatal rarefied atmosphere. Elsewhere this is pure technicolour 1960s cornball sci-fi, clunkily riffing off Defoe and boasting an array of imaginative special effects combining animation, matte paintings, modelwork and the odd bit of atmospheric location footage in the formidable Death Valley. Astronauts Commander Draper (Mantee) and Colonel McReady (Adam West) abandon their space vessel to avoid colliding with a meteoroid. Only Draper survives the descent down to the red planet’s savage surface, and the beleaguered astronaut – with only flight-test monkey Mona for company – remains stoic and unflappable as he comes to terms with the Martian terrain in the desperate hope that a rescue mission will be launched from Earth. What kicks off as a slightly naive and fanciful survivalist movie soon descends into pure space opera territory when Draper, driven to the point of insanity by his enforced isolation, discovers alien slaves being forced to carry out Martian mining operations by hostile aliens and teams up with Friday (Victor Lundin) and travels through Mars’ canals (the existence of which have long since been disproved) to escape the attentions of the aliens by taking refuge in the planet’s polar icecap.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a product of its time of course, and as such it’s inevitably dated. But it remains an exciting technicolour spectacular full of striking, vibrant imagery and ingenious effects, and the dour Mantee is a likeable, rootable leading man. Undoubtedly resurrected now because of the success of Ridley Scott’s The Martian, this is a worthwhile companion piece which, in its own way, is a bit of a minor landmark in the history of movie sci-fi.
Special Features: Commentary / Trailer / Souvenir booklet
ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: BYRON HASKIN / SCREENPLAY: JOHN C. HIGGINS, IB MELCHIOR / STARRING: PAUL MANTEE, VICTOR LUNDIN, ADAM WEST / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 23RD