Synopsis: The Blue Lagoon, one of the most popular films of the 1980s, is producer/director Randal Kleiser’s sensual tribute to the South Seas genre, telling the tale of a pair of cousins shipwrecked on an island paradise. There, as they manage to survive and grow from children into vibrant young people (now incarnated by Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins), they begin to feel the first stirrings of love. Stunningly photographed in Fiji by the great cinematographer Néstor Almendros (The Wild Child, Claire’s Knee), the film also features a sweepingly romantic score from Basil Poledouris (Conan the Barbarian).
The Blue Lagoon 7.75
eyelights: its coming of age story. its beautiful leads. its sexy bits. its amazing scenery. its gorgeous score.
eyesores: its wobbly performances. its contrived ending.
“This is our home, now and forever.”
‘The Blue Lagoon’ is a movie that critics love to hate; the box office smash, which garnered 58 million dollars, becoming the ninth greatest earner of 1980, has received many a critical drubbing since its release. Heck, even Roger Ebert included it on his most hated list, saying it made him “itch”, and it was included in The Razzies’ list of “The 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made”.
Personally, I’m a fan.
Based on the 1908 novel by Henry De Vere Stacpoole, it tells the story of two young cousins who end up stranded on a deserted island when their ship burns down and they escape with the cook. Taught basic survival skills by the old man, the pair must fend for themselves when he drowns. As they grow older and come to depend on one another, a more mature love grows between them.
Though the movie is certainly imperfect, it captures innocence in a way that I quite enjoy: it doesn’t slather on heavy drama or conflict like pictures of its ilk would. Instead, it presents two naive children trying to co-exist and learning about themselves in the absence of education or guidance. It also shows young love in one of the least contrived contexts that you could ever find.
I like that Richard and Emmeline’s love deepens and blossoms over the course of a decade or so, that they are each other’s support and that their relationship becomes more complex as the fires of young lust begin to burn. I also enjoyed that their complications only stemmed from simple ignorance, of not having any complex understanding of human anatomy and interpersonal relationships.
Though there is a vague threat lurking in the shadows, in the form of tribal drums beating, though they do disagree and argue frequently, at no point are the characters subject to violence or abuse. They have the rare luxury of growing without trauma, aside for being torn from civilization – and they even cope exceptionally well to that, eventually choosing to stay on their island together.
What I think probably makes most critics cringe is this simplicity, this innocence, this naiveté: cynics would likely find this picture too sweet for their tastebuds. The picture certainly lacks grit. But there’s a time for grittier fare filled with traumatic experiences and sometimes a time to cleanse your palate with something that luxuriates in the basic aspects of human experience.
Case-in-point, ‘Babe‘ and ‘My Girl’.
Perhaps the nudity made them uncomfortable (or “itch”). Since the pair is living free, alone on a beach, they’re frequently in the nude – and there are many shots of their younger selves swimming fully naked. Admittedly, there was one shot that I would have trimmed because I found it inappropriate, but I otherwise felt that it was absolutely correct for the pair to be a modern Adam and Eve.
And their first act of love was done tastefully, all delicate and affectionate. It wasn’t gratuitous.
Or perhaps it was the religious subtext that made some uncomfortable: Em breaks the “law” and ventures into the forbidden side of the island, into the dark. There lies the site of blood rituals, and she believes that the large statue is God. It could also be that Christianity was made fun of when they tried to practice the customs they were taught – but their poor memories failed them.
Frankly, I found it contextually appropriate. In fact, it only made sense that their languages skills were rooted in what little they could remember from their childhood, so there are words they mispronounce and they couldn’t remember all the lyrics to Christmas songs or conflated basics prayers with pledges of allegiance. I thought that it unfortunate and sad, not risible or mean-spirited.
Where I had an issue was with the inconsistent performances by Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins as Em and Richard. Shields has frequently borne the brunt of criticism for her acting skills, being nominated and winning many Razzie awards over a few short years. She isn’t all bad, but is certainly wobbly at times. The same can be said for Atkins, in his debut, whining and overacting.
But the pair are pitch-perfect as golden gods on an island paradise. Though they weren’t the filmmakers’ first choices, from a purely physical perspective no one could have outdone them: they were fit, lean, chiselled, beautiful, and evenly tanned; they’re just unbelievably pristine. This may also irk some, but it seems to make sense given the activities and diet that they’d have had there.
And, anyway, it makes the nudity far more palatable.
It’s no wonder that they were in as many beautiful montages. And if the picture is anything, it’s resplendent with eye candy of all sorts, from its leads to the lush, green islands themselves, to the vast ocean, to the inserts of indigenous animal life. The movie is worth watching if only for that and it could even make for a beautiful background film to brighten up one’s environment.
The score is also splendid. Basil Poledouris , who gave the iconic ‘Conan the Barbarian’ and ‘Robocop‘ motion picture scores, serves up such a gorgeous, sweeping, epic score here that it’s a wonder it wasn’t nominated for any awards. The Blu-ray offers it as a separate lossless audio option and I can guarantee that it will get some playtime as background music in the future.
‘The Blue Lagoon’ trips up slightly with a contrived ending, but otherwise, it plays really well, zipping by smoothly. Granted, it’s not very plot-based, and the dialogues are simple, but they do capture the moment adequately. And beautifully. It’s a lovely little movie about young love as it would likely unfold away from the constraints of “civilization”, and in a more innocent time.
I will no doubt return to ‘The Blue Lagoon’.
Post scriptum: There was, in fact, a 1991 sequel starring Milla Jovovich and Brian Krause called ‘Return to the Blue Lagoon’. and the picture was also reimagined in 2012 as a TV movie called ‘Blue Lagoon: The Awakening’. But I think I’ll stick with the original.
Date of viewing: January 1, 2017