Monday, November 20, 2017

Robinson Crusoe On Mars

"A guy can lick the problems of heat, water, shelter, food.
I know I've done it. And here's the hairiest problem of all---isolation. Being alone. Boy here's where he'll crack.
Here's where he'll go under.
I know I had great training including two months in the isolation chamber. But when I was in that chamber I knew I was coming out.
I knew I'd be with people again.
But up here on Mars you gotta face the reality of being alone forever!"

-Paul Mantee as Commander Christopher "Kit" Draper-

As of this writing this writer has been immersed in viewing a series of Criterion Collection films including director Byron Haskin's penultimate film as a director Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964).

Criterion is all about the restoration of films that are perceived as "classic," both young and old films alike. It doesn't necessarily deem those films as mainstream entertainment, but worthy of artistic merit on one level or another. Many films are noteworthy visually, while others for their writing, but not always for their pacing to be sure. Many are often laboriously paced, but to film aficionados they are often a lost treat packed to the gills with extras and/or new features, interviews or documentaries. Review sites like often HIGHLY RECOMMEND these films (including Robinson Crusoe On Mars). This writer appreciates film in all its forms and is given to a discerning eye, but many I've seen can be a slog. While still others are simply glorious to behold again.

And an appearance by Batman's Adam West. And given his now iconic cult status in Batman (1966-1968) part of me would have potentially enjoyed Robinson Crusoe even more had he been the astronaut to survive.

What makes these films classic? Much of it would seem fairly subjective. General audiences might yawn at many of these films, but to the film fan with a critical eye there is much to appreciate in them. Louis Malle's Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987), Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971), Lasse Hallstrom's My Life As A Dog (1985), Martin Rosen's Watership Down (1978) and Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas (1984) are among those released by Criterion that deserve a rousing affirmation of approval. Other endorsements are plentiful but some require caution.

As a staunch supporter of all things science fiction would Robinson Crusoe On Mars automatically reserve a spot among those ranks? Robinson Crusoe On Mars has its merits and certainly looks as good as a film of this vintage has any right to, but being a Criterion classic doesn't assure its value as entertainment. Many will miss the point of these films even falling prey to the idea they might all be fun to watch. There is value here to the film, but Robinson Crusoe On Mars is an entirely subjective entertainment, like all film, but one likely with ringing endorsements somewhere in the minority.

Robinson Crusoe On Mars approaches the material based on Daniel Defoe's classic novel, Robinson Crusoe (1719), by applying the spirit of that book to outer space and more specifically, an artistic vision of Mars based on the information available to us in 1964.

Thus, some of the scientific accuracy of the film is certainly in question today and even outright wrong. A partially breathable atmosphere. Water. Oxygen. Elements in the film simply don't ring true today. Science has taught us differently since this seeming time capsule was filmed.

Still the film is beautifully lensed and the spirit of the picture about a Martian-styled castaway, a la Matt Damon, in space as a kind of Robinson Crusoe makes for a worthy concept. It certainly worked for the space family Robinson for three seasons of Irwin Allen's Lost In Space (1965-1968) essentially taking the Robinson Crusoe On Mars concept and the foundational underpinnings of Daniel Dafoe and making a family-driven space show for television to great effect. And of course Lost In Space drew from the shipwrecked Swiss Family Robinson, a book published in 1812, by Johann David Wyss, not pre-dating Defoe's classic, but every bit an inspired and equally influential adventure story that's nothing to sneeze at.

And though the effects here have their shortcomings when viewed by contemporary expectations, the matte work and paintings here, on the other hand, are truly stunning and something to behold particularly in a cinema world saturated with computer technology today. They are simply beautiful.

Robinson Crusoe is not essential science fiction but for fans of film and the genre it's an intriguing exploration and snapshot of a moment in cinema. Some of the extras explore this historical angle of the film.

The film itself largely improves as it traverses its Mars landscape as envisioned by Haskins.

The addition of the monkey, a la Lost In Space's Blip (though not an alien monkey with pointy ears), makes for considerably sweet entertainment. Tom Hanks had his Wilson foil in Castaway (2000). Paul Mantee has his monkey. Science fiction was certainly enamored with the monkey during the era. Lost In Space. Planet Of The Apes and here Robinson Crusoe On Mars all explore the concept of man's evolution from ape and our perception of them.

To the point of Castaway, Robinson Crusoe On Mars reminds us just how good Hanks was in carrying a film on a singular performance. Mantee is good, but he's no Tom Hanks.

In many respects what Robinson Crusoe On Mars achieves for its day is fairly remarkable. Man has certainly come a long way and learned a tremendous amount of information since the film was made about Mars though seemingly still not enough.

Despite its impressive look, Robinson Crusoe never rises above B movie status and its by no means as engaging or impressive as the pacing found in a film like Castaway. So don't expect getting lost on the planet in the same fashion we were lost with Hanks on that island. It's a solid Criterion release, but as entertainment would be low on my science fiction radar. Robinson Crusoe On Mars has unquestionable vision to its credit noting its "retro look", but it lacks the rousing, compelling quality of some of the finest space films on record. However, it does look amazing.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Knights Of Sidonia S1 E6: Salutations

"Once upon a time this ship had a hero defending it.
I'd like you to become a Knight of Sidonia."
-Captain Kobayashi-

Nagate Tanikaze and Shizuka Hoshijiro are rescued and returned to Sidonia.

It is there that news rings out across the vast seed ship declaring Tanikaze as something of a hero.

Utilizing the Tsugumori, a Garde used in the legendary Fourth Guana assault, he has destroyed "single-handedly" a Guana. It is perceived he may be the "second coming of the Knight Of Sidonia."

The mythology grows in Knights Of Sidonia, Season One, Episode 6, Salutations.

Kobayashi visits the Immortal Ship Committee for guidance.

These moments continue to reveal details concerning the world of seed ship Sidonia.

Hiroki Saito mentored Tanikaze. Tanikaze is the late Hiroki's successor. Captain Kobayashi acts as Tanikaze's guardian. But Kobayashi knows that Nagate's piloting skills are essential as Sidonia reaches deep into Guana territory.

The consultation between Kobayashi and the Committee suggests the group wants the best for Sidonia and her survival. The immortals see Nagate as nothing more than a means to an end. Should the boy become a problem the suggestion by the group is that Kobayashi will "cut him loose." A heart is not required to live forever.

What's most fascinating about Knights Of Sidonia is the microcosm of humanity's trials and tribulations as presented within the great seed ship.

There is joy and celebration amongst the population over the return of Nagate and Hoshijiro yet there are also violent anti-military protests on the flips side.

Sidonia presents all of the beauty and flaws and suffering of our own civilization within its own walls and, relatively speaking, small universe. The story tells us no matter how far we come or how far we go or no matter our efforts just to simply survive out in the cosmos humanity will never find true peace in the universe or with each other.

There is no place in the universe that will quiet our DNA to fight or to struggle. All we can hope for is to find those that choose to live and love and share values while clearly others prefer chaos and conflict. Social unrest and upheavel will endure. We can only hope to contain all others who seek strife or at least find some common ground, but the battles will exist within our own lives as much as they might against the monsters around us. The fact is the monsters are among us now and they won't be going away anytime soon. What a timely story reminding us that some things never change and have the potential to worsen.

Even as Sidonia fights a mortal enemy from outer space people within Sidonia fight their own in protest against the war effort. These same battles face fellow countrymen today. There are those that would wish us wiped off the map and yet we must fight one another to wage that fight for survival.

As a result of their success Tankiaze and Hoshijiro are promoted from cadets to full-fledged Garde pilots. They will be joining Norio Kunato and En Honoka.

Kobayashi even informs Tanikaze she would like to essentially knight him as a Knight Of Sidonia, a protector of the realm.

Salutations builds upon what was first established in Adrift between Tanikaze and Hoshijiro---a love connection. The feelings the two have for one another transcend all that swirls around them. They are indeed linked by the heart and Salutations deepens their warmth toward one another. Most of all Salutations is the episode that cements Tanikaze's love for Hoshijiro.

Salutations also enjoys exploring life back upon Sidonia and concludes on a unique note and cliffhanger.

Following a night spent in each other's company, Tanikaze and Hoshijiro are deployed to fight another Guana with their team.

Instead of the heat of battle, Salutations cuts to Tanikaze wounded and waking following his return to Sidonia only to learn he had fallen unconscious in battling the multi-segmented creature.

More horrifying and cutting Tanikaze to his own core is learning that the girl in which he is falling in love with has been killed in the fight. Shizuka Hoshijiro he learns is dead. She has perished in the fight. Hello, greetings and salutations Tanikaze and welcome back from battle.

Knights Of Sidonia continues to flesh out character and enjoy building on the mythology of Sidonia herself and breaking from expected anime conventions as she goes steadily into the dark of space. It does so steadily and breathes as it goes along with some beautiful animation. It's a rare space yarn especially as anime goes.