Mars Madness! Day Four: Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

Well…that happened…

I have to admit, I had a great time watching this movie despite the slow start and the annoying monkey.  I hate monkeys.  And Peter Jackson.  And Michael Bay.

Now I know what you might be thinking, but the name of the main character is NOT Robinson Crusoe, but Christopher Draper, played by Paul Mantee, who is on a mission to Mars with his partner Dan McReady, played by none other than Adam West, current mayor of Quohog, New Jersey.  Also there’s Mona the space monkey credited only as The Woolly Monkey.  I guess it’s hard for lower primates to get a good agent.

Anyway, the ship is forced out of its flight path by a giant flaming ball of giant fire in space and they’re forced to use up all their fuel getting the ship back in orbit.  Then something else goes wrong and they bail out to land on the red planet.  Draper crash lands and as soon as he gets out of the ship he opens the visor of his helmet.  Yes, this happens.  A highly trained astronaut, upon crash landing on another planet with practically no atmosphere, the first thing he does is open his helmet and start gasping for air like a dumbass.

I know this was to demonstrate to the audience that he would need a supply of air at all times to stay alive, but come on!  And I noticed a lot of other things throughout the movie that displayed a general ignorance of basic science that any third-grader would know.  Draper spends a lot of time thinking out loud, recording logs in his little computer box, or talking to Mona, but despite the extremely thin air in Mars’ extremely thin atmosphere, his voice sounds perfectly normal.  Sound needs air to move through.  He also uses the hose from his oxygen tank to feed air to a fire he’s trying to start, but after, the fire seems to have no trouble burning despite the aformentioned lack of air.

And so, as in the original Robinson Crusoe, Draper finds he is alone as McReady didn’t survive the crash landing, although Mona did, and he learns how to survive as a castaway, finding ways of getting breathable air from heating some kind of yellow rock, and Mona finds fresh water with water plants full of edible seed pods that look like sausages, and making himself a fairly comfortable home.

Then one day he finds a partially buried humanoid skeleton of someone he believes was murdered.  The next night he starts seeing flying saucers. I’m not even kidding.  Draper goes to investigate and meets Friday, played by Victor Lundin.  Friday is blatantly the “savage native” character similar to the Friday in the book, and is a runaway slave from the aliens who are quarrying for something on Mars.

This is the point where things started getting uncomfortable.  In the original story, when Robinson rescues Friday, he takes him as a slave.  Draper openly makes the comparison to his situation and the book, establishing from the start that he’s the boss.  An American astronaut in 1964 took an alien man as a slave… Just think about that for a minute…

The third act of the film is Draper and Friday forced to flee from the aliens who can track Friday by metal bracelets that all the slaves had to wear to keep them under control.  Eventually Draper gets them off and they make it to the polar ice fields where they can get water since the aliens seemed to have destroyed all the water everywhere else.  I think. Would they survive?  Would they ever be rescued?  Would someone please get Mona to shut up?  Watch it yourself and find out!

The movie was filmed on location in Death Valley, so the scenery really lends itself to the hostile environment of Mars, and the interior sets were passable.  For all the flaws in scientific accuracy, the movie tells a good story about survival and determination to beat the odds.  I recommend you check it out at least once.  And have fun making comparisons between Draper and Friday with Frodo and Sam.  You’ll see what I mean.

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