Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1997)

Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1997)


In 1705, a poor Scotsman, Robinson Crusoe (Pierce Brosnan, GoldenEye), kills a love rival in a duel. Crusoe flees the country, but his ship wrecks on a small island. Crusoe meets a local “savage” whom he calls Friday (William Takaku, TV’s The Violent Earth), and together they fight for survival.

Reaction & Thoughts:

This is a failure. I don’t know how else to say it. I was a bit irked to see that Defoe’s most interesting ideas — white supremacy, British imperialism, colonialism, racism, etc. — are timidly caressed or altogether exercised from this retelling of the classic tale. The script, credited to Christopher Lofton, Tracy Keenan Wynn (son of actor Keenan Wynn), and Christopher Canaan, is definitely sub-par.

I much preferred Luis Bunuel’s 1952 adaptation The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, which is really a brilliant exploration of the often-told tale. Heck, I think Byron Haskin’s Robinson Crusoe in Mars (1964), a sci-fi rethinking of the story, is infinitely superior to this movie. Wolfgan Petersen’s Enemy Mine (1985) and Robert Zemeckis’s Cast Away (2000) are also interesting homages to Defoe’s classic story. None of these films were particularly faithful to the original text, but they at least managed to make some interesting ethical points.

I guess my main gripe is that this latest version doesn’t really do anything interesting with the material — it’s a bit soulless, gutless. Not all is bad. Robinson Crusoe, directed by Rod Hardy (Thirst) and George Miller (not to be confused with the guy who made the Mad Max movies), looks good. It was produced by Miramax (the Weinstein brothers’ production company) and they didn’t spare any expense. The visual effects are good and the locales are beautiful. The fine cinematography is by David Connell.

I also thought Pierce Brosnan was good as Crusoe. It’s really too bad that the script doesn’t allow him to do anything remotely interesting with the character. Takaku, a Papua New Guinean theater and TV actor, was much better, though. In fact, I thought he stole the movie. Takaku is the heart and soul of the film. Sean Brosnan, Pierce’s real-life son, plays a cabin boy. The cast also includes Polly Walker (Patriot Games), Damian Lewis (Dreamcatcher), and James Frain (Water for Elephants).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

I love Defoe’s book. It’s a simple story packed with goodies. Robinson Crusoe fails to capture Defoe’s subtleties. You are better off renting Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, or Enemy Mine Color, 91 minutes, Rated PG-13.

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