Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Movie Review: The Blue Lagoon (1980)

A survival drama and romance, The Blue Lagoon is a lustrous reverie combining unsupervised young love with nature's idyllic beauty. 

In the late 1800's, cousins Emmeline and Richard Lestrange are children accompanying Richard's father Arthur (William Daniels) on a voyage across oceans to a new life in San Francisco. After an on-board fire forces everyone to abandon ship in a panic, Emme and Richard find themselves on a lifeboat with only the ship's gruff cook Paddy Button (Leo McKern) for company. After drifting for days they make land on a scenic but seemingly uninhabited island, and find fruits and fresh water for sustenance.

With no rescue forthcoming and no other survivors making it to the island, Paddy teaches the kids fishing and survival skills. When he suddenly expires the children are forced to subsist on their own. They grow into teenagers, and as puberty sets in Emme (Brooke Shield) and Richard (Christopher Atkins) have to navigate around unfamiliar feelings of sexual desire towards each other.

An adaptation of the 1908 novel by Henry De Vere Stacpoole, The Blue Lagoon is often beautiful and just as often cringey. Director and producer Randal Kleiser has a slight story to work with and 105 minutes to fill, and so sends out his cameras to capture the natural wonders of Nanuya Levu, the privately owned Fijian island and the primary filming location. 

The NĂ©stor Almendros cinematography is gorgeous, the assorted critters (almost) always cutesy friendly, and the underwater shots are spectacularly crystalline. Also beautiful are the young stars, 14-year-old child model Brooke Shields and 18-year-old model and sailing instructor Christopher Atkins. Both newcomers are undoubtedly photogenic, and just as assuredly they are new to acting. The teenage versions of Emme and Richard are supposed to talk with a limited vocabulary and act like petulant children, but this does not make watching the actors do so badly any easier.

One dumbfounding narrative choice features a sub-plot about supposedly dangerous natives occupying the other side of the island, but this threat rumbles without purpose. Better is a gradual self-definition of habitat and family, which reaches a peak in what is by far the film's best moment, Emme and Richard on the beach, covered in mud, locking eyes as they make a huge decision without exchanging a word.

Kleiser pushes the envelope with scenes of nudity, the context of seclusion and oneness with nature only marginally justifying frequent shots of unclothed children and young teenagers. A body double was used for Emme's nude and topless scenes, and otherwise Shield's hair was strategically glued to protect the young actress's modesty.

It's unlikely two kids marooned alone on an island will ever evolve into beautifully coiffed specimen ready to fall in love then engage in dreamy sex. But The Blue Lagoon is the perfect setting for a flight of fancy, flowy hair, flaming skies and all.



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