Genre Grandeur – Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) – Rhyme and Reason

deriviativeFor this month’s first review for Genre Grandeur – Derivative Work Films, here’s a review of Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) by SG of Rhyme and Reason.

Thanks again to Summer of Serendipitous Anachronisms for choosing this month’s very unique genre.

Here’s Summer to explain her choice:

Basically it is anything based or inspired by pre-existing source

for example:

Amelie takes its relationships from the Luncheon of the Boating Party

The Magnificent Seven is borrowed from the Seven Samurai

Sunday in the Park with George is based on painting by George Seurat

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is loosely based on Hamlet

My Own Private Idaho borrows from Henry the IV

Cosi is about a director directing the musical Cosi Fan Tutti

Pride Prejudice and Zombies borrows from Pride and Prejudice

Clueless borrows from the novel Emma

Monty Python and the Holy Grail borrows from the Arthurian Legend

Basically a film that borrows from pre-existing source but reinvents the source material into something else

Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Jordan of Epileptic Moondancer.  He has chosen a genre that is well out of my own comfort zone but I am up for the challenge.  We will be reviewing our favorite Foreign Language Films From 2013-Present.

Please get me your submissions by the 25th of July by sending them to  Try to think out of the box! Great choice Jordan!

Let’s see what SG thought of this movie:


1Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

Upon the red planet where no man has trod

Or traveled lone deserts known only to God,

The first human visitor lands unprepared

To live and explore where no other has dared.

His air running low and his resources few,

He searches as all great trailblazers must do

For food and supplies to survive his new lot,

A challenging home for the right astronaut.


MPAA rating: Not Rated (should be G)

With a name like Robinson Crusoe on Mars, one might expect an ultra-cheesy sci-fi transplant gimmick like Gilligan’s Planet. Yet the fact that it has its own Criterion Collection edition indicates its status as an influential piece of classic science fiction.

The film actually does a credible job in translating Daniel Defoe’s famous novel to a space-age setting, following astronaut Kit Draper (Paul Mantee) as he struggles to survive on the Martian surface with only a monkey named Mona to keep him company. Like Crusoe, Draper explores his new environment, makes discoveries, carves out a home for himself, and rescues an alien slave he calls Friday, in direct reference to the book. The need for oxygen is simply added to the many obstacles he must overcome. The scientific flaws are legion, such as the presence of water pools and how Draper manages to get by without a suit and helmet as long as he takes a few swigs of oxygen every fifteen minutes or so, but this film deserves some credit considering it was released in 1964. The American space program had only gotten as far as Gemini I, and concrete details about other worlds were still years away. Considering its speculative nature, the film holds onto a sense of reality, as long as you can accept the existence of fiery rock beds and underground air and Martian sausages that grow underwater. Draper’s exploration of such things is gradual and intentionally avoids cheap-looking aliens or potentially cheesy moments with the monkey. Given everything Draper encounters, I found his reactions and experiences plausible and even likable, like when he marches along a ridge with his monkey and some makeshift bagpipes.

I can’t go farther without mentioning the most notable aspect of this film: its influence on other isolation films like Cast Away and The Martian. Like Cast Away, there’s the one-man focus, the silent exploration, the home in a cliff-side crevice, the uncommunicative companion (a monkey instead of a volleyball), the burial of a former shipmate, and the satisfaction of creating fire. Like The Martian, there’s, of course, the Martian environment (in this case, shot in the visually distinctive Death Valley), explanatory recordings of Draper’s activities, a brief but meaningful religious moment, and his reflections on loneliness. One hallucination even brought to mind a scene in Gravity. I also noticed some interesting similarities to Star Trek, the original series of which would start two years later. Not only were the impressive matte paintings of the planet’s environment created by Albert Whitlock, who did the same for the entire original series, but the film’s opening seemed eerily similar to an episode of Star Trek: Voyager called “One Small Step.” In the episode’s flashback, like the film, an early Mars mission is interrupted by the sudden appearance of what looks like a moving sun, which leaves astronauts stranded on the surface. Coincidence?

Robinson Crusoe on Mars may not be the best of its genre, lacking the Oscar-worthy acting of Cast Away and the humor, music, and accurate science of The Martian. Yet it’s a surprisingly well-realized precursor to these, drawing smartly from its source material while creating its own unique hurdles with a clever sense of invention. While some recycled scenes and spacey sound effects are overused, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is the best kind of “old” sci-fi, one that deserves the title of classic.

Best line: (Draper, to a recorder) “All right, here’s another note for you boys in survival, for you geniuses in human factors: A guy can lick the problems of heat, water, shelter, food—I know, I’ve done it. But here’s the hairiest problem of all: isolation! Being alone! Boy, here’s where he’ll crack; here’s where he’ll go under…. Up here on Mars, you’ve got to face the reality of being alone forever.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2016 S. G. Liput

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2 thoughts on “Genre Grandeur – Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) – Rhyme and Reason

  1. Pingback: Genre Grandeur June Finale – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1990) – Serendipitous Anachronisms |

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