The Film: 1/5
NOTE: The text of this review was taken mostly from my January 2013 review of the Twilight Time Blu-ray, with the appropriate updates made to reflect any changes in this new release from Eureka! Entertainment.
Sometime in the late 19th century a ship sailing to San Francisco catches fire and the crew and passengers are forced to abandon ship. Young Richard (Glenn Kohan) and his cousin Emmeline (Elva Josephson) are separated from Richard's father Arthur (William Daniels) and end up in one of the lifeboats with the ship's cantankerous cook Paddy Button (Leo McKern). The trio arrive at a deserted tropical island where Paddy teaches them many skills to fend for themselves, including catching fish and game and building secure shelters, but after making a gruesome discovery he warns the children not to venture over to the other side of the island. They make the best of their unfortunate situation for a while and life seems to be good until Paddy gets drunk on a barrel of rum he found on the island and drowns in the ocean, leaving the children to survive on their own.
Years later an older Richard (Christopher Atkins) and Emmeline (Brooke Shields) have long adjusted to life on the island and have begun to become sexually infatuated with each other, but having to grow up without adult guidance has left them unsure of the workings of their own bodies. Their inability to take their relationship to the next level creates an emotional rift between the two that is further compounded when Richard and Em dare to journey to the other side of the island and discover what Button had saw long ago. Eventually the two teen castaways realize their love for one another and are soon blessed with a baby son, forcing them to decide once and for all if they are going to stay on the island for the rest of their lives or take a chance at returning to civilization.
The Blue Lagoon and I have been engaged in a deadly dance of death for nearly twenty years, though to be fair it was more like dancing with your grandmother at the wedding of a distant relative whose name you were never able to remember. In my youth I started seeing clips from the movie popping up at various times on cable television, typically on an uneventful weekend afternoon. There were times when I thought I could never escape its tentacles of mediocrity lashing out at my soul every time my eyes just happened to catch a glimpse of it while in the midst of mindless channel surfing. I would watch a minute or two, laugh at its sheer ineptitude, and move on to something better. In the darkest recesses of my soul I knew the day would eventually come when The Blue Lagoon and I finally met in battle with only one of us walking away victorious, just like in Thunderdome.
The movie may have poisoned my immortal soul and kicked my proverbial ass six ways to Sunday but I am here having managed to live to tell the tale, so I would consider the battle a draw. Having the chance to give the movie a full viewing for the first time courtesy of Twilight Time's 2012 Blu-ray release, and then being compelled to revisit it thanks to Eureka’s (identical in terms of transfer and bonus content) Region B edition, I had deeply hoped that seeing The Blue Lagoon from beginning to end in gorgeous HD splendor would lead to an enriched viewing experience I would not soon forget. That is exactly what happened and I wish to God, Vishnu, and J.R. "Bob" Dobbs that I could go into my own mind, Inception-style, and erase this abomination for all time so I can make room for the more pleasant memories, such as the time when I was two years old and a German shepherd bit me on my ass.
Even with amazing, picaresque visuals shot by the great Oscar-winning cinematographer Nestor Almendros, who had previous brought vibrant life to films by Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven) and Francois Traffaut (The Wild Child, The Last Metro), The Blue Lagoon is an absolutely dreadful movie. Based on the 1908 Henry De Vere Stacpoole novel that had been filmed twice - the first during the silent era - prior to this version, Randal Kleiser's attempt at bringing the book to the screen is barely past the opening credits before it starts to sink under a miasma of half-hearted soap opera theatrics and pointless titillation, both of which are the main reasons why the movie was such a big hit at the box office at the time of its release and why it continues to have a devoted following to this day. When you consider the fact that Brooke Shields was only fourteen years of age when the movie was in production, the implied sexual activity and nudity that The Blue Lagoon's sordid reputation was essentially built on comes off more disturbing and uncomfortable than as a natural by-product of burgeoning young love, and I am hardly a prude when it comes to sexual content in cinema.
I can see how a movie like this would appeal to people who think books like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are the height of literary portrayals of love and sex. This is the kind of pure, seemingly innocuous fantasy that tends to get bought by the masses every time it is trucked out encased in the shell of a different shell, but that makes it no less the idiotic end result of a colossal wasted opportunity.
Making harmless romantic fantasies beloved by wide audiences was once Kleiser's stock-in-trade; this is after all the guy who also directed The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Grease, and Summer Lovers. Kleiser went to the University of Southern California and was part of that prestigious school's late 60's/early 70's explosion of filmmaking talent that also gave the world of cinema George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Robert Zemeckis, and Ron Howard. Once he got into film and television directing Kleiser found his calling in making inoffensive dramas that required a greater deal more suspension of disbelief than the average science-fiction blockbuster. There was potential in the story of The Blue Lagoon to tell a plausible, harrowing tale of children unprepared to survive and mature in body and spirit on their own without much adult guidance but forced to do so by extenuating circumstances, but if such a movie was made from this material I highly doubt it would have as big of an international fan base as the one Randal Kleiser ultimately made.
You can imagine what directors like the aforementioned Traffaut and Malick, both of whom made unconventional coming-of-age films that now stand among the greatest works of cinema, would have done had they been given the chance, but it is unlikely either would have accepted the challenge. The source material is already highly flawed and was designed to be a piece of escapist claptrap that any film adaptation would fail to be anything but. The movie that Kleiser made was not for artistic intent but for the sole purpose of making lots of money, and to that extent it did its job admirably. Sadly, that does not make it any less of a lousy film.
Lousiest of all are the two stars, Christopher Atkins and Brooke Shields. As beautiful as she once was Shields has never been a particular favorite of mine in the acting department. In most of her performances on both the big and small screens she always seemed like a vapid, personality-deprived attempt to give the young women of America a role model, but Shields was rarely more than a nice smile and a pair of wide, hollow eyes that grew even wider as that was the extent of her emoting abilities. In The Blue Lagoon, she spends the majority of her screen time whining, pouting, and sulking (sometimes all three at the same time), all the while running around half-naked with her cascading brown hair practically Super Glued to her bare breasts in order to dodge potential accusations of child pornography that greeted the release of Shields' other notorious turn as an big time Hollywood actress, Louis Malle's 1978 drama Pretty Baby. Shields had a body double for her nude swimming scenes but her co-star did not since he was of the legal age to do so without hassle, so if you are in the mood to see a young Chris Atkins totally Thunder Gun this shit, then you have come to the right place… and I feel very sorry for you.
Speaking of Atkins, Shields' on-screen paramour has the look of the handsome male bimbo gracing the cover of nearly every cheesy romance novel to ever clutter the shelves of your neighborhood pharmacy, but if he had ever been given the challenge of acting his way out of a paper bag Atkins would suffocate and die with a urine-stained loincloth. He has all the emotional range of one of the kids on The Brady Bunch and his scenes with Shields have all the dramatic impact of an episode of Battle of the Network Stars. Their love scenes are unsurprisingly chaste and devoid of any actual intimacy and eroticism. You never get the feeling that either character is enjoying their sexual encounters; it is more like watching a high school production of Romeo and Juliet where the lead actors hate each other. If the fact that they are both supposed to be immature teenagers with absolutely no knowledge of the inner workings of the human anatomy does not make the love scenes creepy enough, then just remember that Richard and Em are supposed to be COUSINS! We are basically watching the act of inbred rutting and if that is not enough to make you dry heave into your empty popcorn bucket then you must be able to watch Cannibal Holocaust while gorging on chicken sausage and chocolate chip ice cream without getting the slightest bit nauseous.
Leo McKern, the late Australian actor best known for starring in Rumpole of the Bailey and working in films with the likes of David Lean and the Beatles, gives the best performance as the soused, crotchety Button. He growls and slurs his every line like he was permitted to get hammered before filming his scenes, and though that probably did not happen McKern still plays an infinitely more interesting and authentic character than Atkins and Shields. William Daniels, another veteran actor who did great work in film and television before and after getting involved with The Blue Lagoon, fares worse because his character has little to do but look alternately worried or concerned, but being a true professional he makes the most of the opportunity. I am sure Daniels loves the residual checks this flick brings in every month.
When the mystery of the other side of the island is revealed to be a stone face Em believes to be God and a tribe of savage Africans committing human sacrifices (Spike Lee, why are you not criticizing this shit?) it is a massive letdown that J.J. Abrams and the writers of Lost must have been studying when they were trying to come up with their own disappointing resolution to the mystery of their island. The tribe never figures into the action of the story; when Richard sees them he just runs away frightened and they are never seen or mentioned again. You would think on an island that size, for as long as Richard and Em have been co-existing with the murderous natives, they have not encountered each other more. The island is not exactly Middle Earth you know.
The narrative of the film at times is consumed by endless swimming scenes where we get to see Shields' body double and Atkins bathed in luminescent blue water and looking like the N'avi from Avatar. Richard and Em's newfound addiction to sex leads to the goofiest childbirth scene in a movie that is not intentionally a comedy of all time, and a later scene of their newborn son swimming nude under the sea makes me wonder if the album cover for Nirvana's grunge rock masterpiece Nevermind was inspired by this throwaway moment. As awful as The Blue Lagoon is, it is always comforting to know that even the worst movies ever made can still inspire greatness in others.
Thankfully not a part of its wonderful Masters of Cinema series, Eureka’s Blu-ray release of The Blue Lagoon is virtually indistinguishable from Twilight Time's limited edition Region A disc, right down to the quality of the restored video and audio. Eureka appears to have used the same 1080p high-definition presentation – correctly framed in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio – that was first present on the earlier U.S. edition, but regardless it is a rich and sumptuous transfer with sufficient amounts of grain and very little print damage and features lush tropical colors. The lagoon itself looks so blue and cool that you may often find yourself with the urge to doff your clothes and take a dive at your television set. The video quality is supplemented by a moderately strong English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack with good attention paid to the interminable dialogue passages and the romantic score by Basil Poledouris, the composer who would later endear himself to action and fantasy fans with his booming orchestral scores for Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn, Robocop, and Starship Troopers. He had a better future in cinema than most of the other people involved in the making of The Blue Lagoon. English subtitles have also been provided.
The supplements on Twilight Time’s Blu-ray were mostly ported over from the 1999 Region 1 special edition DVD released by Sony and have been preserved for the Eureka edition, but if you dislike the movie as I did they will not compel you to enjoy the movie than you already did. Director Kleiser sits for two audio commentary tracks, one with Brooke Shields and screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart and the other with Christopher Atkins. Fans of The Blue Lagoon will doubtlessly enjoy both tracks as they are warm and informative and the participants' love for the film shines through during their conversations, but I could barely summon the strength to give a damn.
The Basil Poledouris score is presented on its own isolated track in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio along with the sound effects mix and it makes for a far better listening experience when separated from the complete audio. A vintage behind-the-scenes featurette, "Adventures in Filmmaking" (11 minutes), gives us a first-hand look at the filming of The Blue Lagoon as it was happening. Concluding this moderate selection of extras is the original theatrical trailer (3 minutes), which has been presented full frame and appears to have been derived from a degraded tape source. The Twilight Time disc also included a trio of teaser trailers, but they have not made the cut for the Eureka release. A Region 2 DVD copy has also been included.
The Blue Lagoon looks and sounds great on Eureka’s new Blu-ray release, and the disc comes with a few nifty bonus features, but none of those virtues can disguise the fact that this is a poor excuse for a movie. I care little for the money it has made since its theatrical release and the sizable cult following it has built over the course of 37 years. Despite some stellar tropical scenery and the occasional scene where laughter may result when it was not initially warranted, the efforts of director Kleiser, writer Stewart, and a cast of marginal talents and no-talents have produced a movie that shows that even with time-tested source material and all of the money and technical expertise the film industry can spare at their disposal it can still fail miserably without a strong script and likeable characters at its center, and yet still be inexplicably loved by many. I am now sick of writing this review. The Blue Lagoon, you sick bastard, you finally got me. Damn you to Hell.