Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cinema Saturday - A Forgotten Classic Robinson Crusoe On Mars

Released in 1964 this wonderful movie was only released recently to DVD & remastered by the Crition collection folks. The film was directed by Special-effects wunderkind and genre master Byron Haskin (The War of the Worlds, The Outer Limits) & shot in Death Valley National Park. The film has Byron Haskin's touch all over it. The special effects are fantastic for their time but don't over whelm the movie. 
The plot follows this basic formula: Stranded on Mars with only a monkey as a companion, an astronaut must figure out how to find oxygen, water, and food on the lifeless planet. Umm yeah right that's the basic plot alright. Read about the plot Robinson Crusoe On Mars 
 I really don't want to spoil it for anyone but this is a great movie if your into retro science fiction movies. The film sort of follows Defoe's famous work in which the protagonist must find food, water, air, shelter, etc. 
 Robinson Crusoe On Mars & The OSR

There is lots to use here for the enterprising dungeon master. Please note that there will be spoilers ahead, so perhaps go watch the film & come back. 

  • Robinson Crusoe's Mars - Is just barely inhabitable, a world of desert canyons and columns of flame, like Death Valley meets Kuwait after the first Gulf War. The place is a geological nightmare of deep canyons, all stark colours and appallingly bleak dust blown vistas. This isn't a nice world but one that assaults its inhabitants both physically & mentally. Its a great place for a survival adventure. 
  • The problem of a dwindling air supply is tracked in the film -At the eleventh hour our hero burns rocks in order to cook out the oxygen trapped inside. Nice bit of writing there & something that a clever dungeon master could exploit to have his players wringing their hands with a few dice rolls. 
  • The food & water issue is solved when  by Mona, who Draper observes sneaking off on extended solo sojourns, yet never seems to get thirsty.This results in the discovery of a large underground reservoir, and the chance for the players to go exploring for their water supply. The ideas here for the dungeon master are endless. Really play it up for effect. The players will be sweating bullets in no time.
  • Friday in the case of this movie is an escapee from a gang of intergalactic slavers. He's your typical Egyptian style slave. No not really Friday is great fodder for a Human Space Empire game.I came across this little gem about Friday on Wiki: In Ib Melchior's original screenplay, Friday was from a planet called Yargor in the Alpha Centuri star system. Much of Friday's Yargorian dialogue was fully scripted in his "native tongue". For the film, however, Victor Lundin altered the lines to a dialect mirroring Mayan phrases and terminology. [1] For example, Friday says that Mars is called "Huehuetenango" in his language. Huehuetenango is a city in Guatemala. So we have a race called the Yargor in the Alpha Centuri star system similar to the Mayans. This is just screaming Human Space Empires!  The Intergalactic Slavers are some of the meanest little bastards ever to grace the silver screen. These guys are the remains of lush Mars in my mind. They zip litterally around in these ships blasting the landscape in George Pal style ships! Remember that Byron Haskin worked on the Pal's effort & it shows. Here's where that nice random chart of Martian weapons from Old School Heretic comes in real handy! Find that right Here
    Imagine one of these raining death & destruction on your party! 

  • The Slaver's ships as you can see are very similar to the George Pal War of The Worlds tripods. There are however 2 exceptions: one The speed of these things is very fast  & two they have a real sense of menace about them. They own the Martian sky. 
  • The Mega Dungeons of Mars -s Draper and Friday descend below ground, following underground conduits that mirror the Martian canals above. Of course, the canal theories of Percival Lowell were at the time of the films making largely discredited, at least so far as an artificial origin was concerned, (and as was subsequently discovered, they never existed at all) but to the writers credit a geological explanation is provided for.  The above statement is one I came across on another Here  which did an excellent job of reviewing the movie. This version of Mars is riddled with all kinds of huge tunnels similar to the underground highways of Talislanta. My mind is racing with the possibilities of alien artifacts, abandon cities, lost tribes, alien undead, & the sky is the limit! This one of the best parts of the movie to "borrow" frankly! 
  • The other idea that I had was to use the world of Mars from Robinson Crusoe as another alien planet. File off the serial numbers & stick this world some place else entirely. The uses for the movie, the technology, the world are endless. Have fun with this one!


  1. Nice! This is a fun old movie and you really have some good ideas for how to make use of it in a game. Those refurbished George Pal ships are cool.

  2. This is a favorite of mine! I saw this at a sci fi movie revival at a drive in recently!
    Those little ships scared the crap out of me when I was a little kid & they've stayed with me ever since. The wheels kept turning recently with this movie


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