The Blue Lagoon (1980)
The Blue Lagoon (1980)

Genre: Adventure and Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: July 2nd, 1980 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Randal Kleiser Actors: Brooke Shields, Christopher Atkins, Leo McKern, William Daniels, Elva Josephson, Glenn Kohan

 


 

A

board the ship Northumberland, heading toward San Francisco from Boston, Arthur Lestrange (William Daniels) scolds his son, Richard (Glenn Kohan), and his niece, Emmeline (Elva Josephson), about playing too close to the bow. As a fog rolls in, a fire breaks out below decks, causing a panic that forces a very sudden evacuation. The two children are tossed into a dinghy with scruffy, lowly crewman Paddy Button (Leo McKern), who is mortified to learn that there’s no food or water on their tiny vessel. The children are vexed, too, but chiefly because the screams of the other passengers are steadily drowned out by sharks, the sinking Northumberland, and a growing distance due to the choppy waves.

“Land ho!” Miraculously, the trio makes landfall by morning, clambering onto the beach of a tropical island full of food and fresh water. But the remote spread of land harbors dangers, too, particularly when they discover a barrel of rum, poisonous berries, and a pile of human skulls. It’s likely that this plot has been used before by shipwreck survivors – who were stranded for the rest of their lives, or were killed off by the natives living on the other side of the island. And, indeed, the days turn into weeks and the weeks into months, though Paddy tranforms into quite the surrogate father, teaching the children how to fend for themselves, while also building a considerable, multi-story shelter. But in time, Richard and Emmeline will be on their own, forced to enter adulthood without any additional guidance or help.

Controversially, the youngsters are naked from time to time, which transfers over into the adult versions of the characters, played by Christopher Atkins and Brooke Shields (who was around 14 at the time, though an older double was used for many of the nude scenes). The point might be to show vulnerability and the harrowing adventures of kids trying to survive all alone in the wilderness, particularly as they must contend with adolescence – not unlike Tarzan or Mowgli – but it’s difficult to dismiss the exploitation angle of seeing two young teenagers prancing around in the buff. The paradisiacal setting and the romantic music by Basil Poledouris helps to soften the scenario, but the censors understandably slapped the film with an R rating.

“You’re not coming down with something, are you?” Many of the situations are interesting, chiefly concerning the teens coping with puberty – as if this film might serve as sex education for those who can’t handle detailed or graphic specifics. Or, perhaps more usefully, it demonstrates what might happen to people without any sex education whatsoever (encountering, without context or knowledge, the confusion and anger and anxiety). And it also touches upon death and mortality and the fears of both loneliness and unexpected confrontations. But there’s also a goofiness surrounding the whole ordeal, primarily due to the scripting and acting; the dialogue is mediocre and the performances aren’t terribly convincing. “There’s so many things I don’t understand.”

Nevertheless, a sweetness (and intermittent innocence) also permeates the misadventures, as Richard and Emmeline grapple with the possibilities of one of them dying and leaving the other in utter isolation. And when the secluded couple finally gives in to their desires, they must deal with the consequences of sexual maturity (in another comically flimsy set of sequences). “Will you stop eating? You’re getting fat!” And, finally, with its exotic locales and underwater photography, “The Blue Lagoon” is something of a nature documentary as well, capturing the abundant beauty of the shooting locations (which spanned from the Caribbean to the South Pacific). The ending, however, is something else entirely, belonging in a very different picture; it would be potent in an alternate storyline, but here it’s starkly unsatisfying, as if to suggest that life simply cannot persevere without adult supervision.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10