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Customer Review

8 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Forget my trip to Hawaii, THIS island seems more luxurious!, August 14, 2008
This review is from: Robinson Crusoe (50th Anniversary Edition) (DVD)
Adapting a book to a film is a difficult task. Not only must you get the characters right, but a director, or screenwriter, must drive deep within the mindset of the author. There are inside, as well as outside elements that must be considered. What was going through the character's mind? What was the time period like? What level of realism can we bring to the silver screen while still packing the theater seats? All of these are challenges that everyone associated with the film must grasp before committing to a project - which is why it is so rare to discover someone claiming the film was better than the book. It just is rare to discover the two in a blissful marriage. That is why there was hesitation with Bunuel's 1952 adaptation of Daniel Defoe's literary classic. Knowing what was going to be coming in the future, "That Obscure Object of Desire" or "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" or even "The Milky Way", one could safely wager your entire salary on this early film. I wanted amateur, I wanted independent, I wanted to see where Bunuel found his inspiration - but alas, none could be found with this bomb of an adaptation. Perhaps it was the blacklisted screenwriter Hugo Butler, or Bunuel's lack of excitement, but not even Dan O'Herlihy, in his man grown voice, could save this disastrous film.

Let's begin with some background. We are all familiar with the truth that Bunuel's was in exile from Spain, living in an unfamiliar world, facing the tough face of McCarthyism around every angle. So, why not make a film about a man, in essence, dealing with similar feelings. It is not uncommon for directors to take projects that they feel a connection towards, so Bunuel grabbed at the opportunity. Coupled with the fact that Bunuel had both the honor of making his first film in English as well as color, "Robinson Crusoe" should have been a staple in modern cinema. It could have ranked up there next to any of Godard's work - but it didn't. It garnished one Oscar nominee (for best actor), and then couldn't even find distribution for DVD until recently. Why such difficulty for such a pioneering film for Bunuel? This isn't a fantastic film. This is poorly directed, jokingly acted, and horribly misleading to anyone enjoying the works of Defoe. O'Herlihy is impossible as Crusoe, never giving us anything to believe or trust. As the island slowly becomes a luxury destination instead of a place of abandonment, as our hopes of seeing any decent cinema from this pathetic epic disappears as well. Bunuel did happen to place a couple of great scenes in this film, but they are scattered few and far between. Needless to say, in the cannon of Bunuel films, "Robinson Crusoe" ranks near the bottom.

Our story itself is the main root of the issues. From the beginning crash, the cheapish cinematography demonstrating the power of the sea (possibly made by school children), all the way to the "grand" finale, one never feels that sense of danger - or chaos. Taking this film away from the story, meeting Crusoe for the first time, Bunuel gives us nothing. There are no scenes in which Crusoe has to learn, where he has to survive - in the first twenty minutes he is found sleeping in a tree then immediately building a well fortified hut around a cave - within forty minute he has bread and some random length of time has passed. Butler's adaptation fails because there is no sense of danger - I never felt worried that Crusoe was going to survive - because he never went without. Sure, there were scenes of sickness and hunger - but they were just never that impending. Perhaps it was the close tight shots that plagued the opening of this film, or the bland colors - but the initial puzzle pieces never fit.

Since our story suffered, it seemed inevitable that our characters would as well. Never looking weak, never getting skinny, never finding anything except his deepened voice - Crusoe seemed more concerned about not being a man than staying alive (i.e. see the excessive beard growth). How could a man trying to survive in the wilderness, scream out to the mountains? More focus on Crusoe, his life, his personality, would have strengthened these dampening scenes. That said, Bunuel did attempt on a couple of occasions to spruce up what he could to the lackluster story. The scene in which Crusoe gets drunk (as there is an endless supply of booze on the island) and thinks that he sees his friends is phenomenal. It was brilliant to have the camera as tight as it was, hearing the ghostly voices speak to him, then, just as the cup falls - it all ends - and we are thrust back into the truth of the island. Wow. It was just as breathtaking again - but there aren't many of these gems in which Bunuel can demonstrate his talent. Instead, it felt like he worked for Disney on this project. Even the introduction of Friday seemed cheapened by the fact that within ten minutes he was speaking English or being shackled. I realize that it was the time, but if I were trapped on an island for that many years, would I make the only other living person a slave? Keeping his close as to not lose that sense of friendship is one thing; racism is a whole new bag.

As we approached the unexciting ending, I couldn't help but question Bunuel's motive for this film. The similarities between his life and that of Crusoe's are good, but why couldn't Bunuel put his own touch onto this story. It needed something to stimulate the audience, but outside of O'Herlihy's voice - very little could have kept my eyes open. Also, the transfer on this particular DVD is horrible. Popping sounds on the left of me, missing frames to the left. It was a feeble attempt to bring this film to the masses, and obviously not a favorite among others or this would have seen the royal treatment.

Overall, "The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe" is a very disappointing film. The acting is laughable, the story feels like a kiddy ride at Disney (coupled with all the food that you can eat), and the cinematography is amateurish. This is not a Bunuel film to place on the mantelpiece and discuss over a bottle of wine. This failed on many levels and embarrassed the late Defoe immensely. For a story that has been done time and time again (you can even see it weekly on "Lost"), there was just a lacking element of danger, chaos, and survival. As mentioned before, there was no built sensation that Crusoe was never going to make it (whether you knew the story or not), it just seemed like this island has all the luxuries he wanted. I cannot suggest or recommend this film to Bunuel viewers - it just seems like the black sheep in his film repertoire.

Grade: * ½ out of ***** (one star for that drunk scene with friends - it gave me hope)
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Location: Wet, Wild, Wonderful Virginia

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