Saturday, July 4, 2009

Planet of the Monkey

The main reason I wanted to see Robinson Crusoe on Mars is the cool cover of the Criterion release - which, of course, we don't get from Netflix. Reason number 2: Monkey!

Our tale begins with two astronauts, Adam West and Paul Mantee, and Mona, a woolly monkey, in orbit around Mars. An asteroid causes them to bail out in separate pods. We follow Mantee as he lands and tries to survive on the inhospitable planet.

In this movie, Mars looks like beautiful and forbidding, both romantic and surprisingly realistic. As I understand it, the secret is Death Valley locations with a process color sky. Details aren't exactly hard science, but close enough for Hollywood. Our astronaut can breathe martian air for a few hours before needing a shot of oxygen - very optimistic. Mona the monkey can breathe the atmosphere with no problem - unlikely. But other movies of the period would have let him breathe just to move the story along.

The plot is similar to Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. They really get across the idea of struggling for survival in an alien environment. The sets/location/process shots are stunning, in the Chesley Bonestell tradition that mixes scientific realism with mystery and awesome grandeur. Paul Mantee, who doesn't have a lot of film credits, isn't a great actor. However, he seems perfectly suited for the role: A can-do flyboy being pushed to his limits.

I'll skip over Adam West's role.

As usual, the monkey steals scene after scene.

Why didn't De Palma remake this instead of Mission to Mars?

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