Blu-ray Review: The Blue Lagoon (1980) - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Controversial at the time of its release, ridiculed throughout subsequent years, and adored by a very small minority, The Blue Lagoon has received a limited edition Blu-ray release courtesy of Twilight Time. With only 3,000 copies available, fans of the 1980 teen romance would do well to scoop it up from Screen Archives while they can. Based on the 1908 novel by Henry De Vere Stacpoole, initially adapted for film in 1923 (a silent version), and again in 1949 (directed by Frank Launder), The Blue Lagoon is nothing if not enduringly popular. As recently as 2012, it was remade as a Lifetime movie.

The best that can be said for the 1980 version is that it works reasonably well as a guilty pleasure. During the plodding first act, a nasty shipwreck leaves two children and an aged cook stranded on a seemingly deserted island. Paddy the cook (Leo McKern) does the best he can parenting the kids, Richard (Glenn Kohan) and Emmeline (Elva Josephson). He warns them not to ingest poisonous berries. He discovers their island is, in fact, inhabited—apparently by cannibals. He lays down the law that the children stay on the shore where they landed.

Once the old man drinks himself to death, the youngsters are left to their own devices. As teenagers, Richard is portrayed by Christopher Atkins and Emmeline by Brooke Shields. The whole plot is built around the fact that these adolescents will eventually become sexually attracted to each other. Once they do, Randal Kleiser (who had hit the big time after directing Grease) teases the audience with a fairly lascivious (though ultimately harmless) piece of softcore fluff with a pseudo-profound conclusion. At least, I think that’s what he was going for.

Blue Lagoon cover (191x250).jpgYears before Robert Zemeckis attempted to inject some realism into the depiction of an unskilled individual stranded with limited resources in Cast Away, we see young Richard and Emmeline improbably living in a self-constructed bamboo house. The ingenuity it would take to build such a structure is far beyond the grasp of two uneducated teenagers. They have a limitless supply of fresh water and luckily Richard proves to be a born fisherman. We can only marvel at their luck in avoiding illness. The one instance of bad luck occurs when Emmeline accidently steps on a poisonous rockfish. Her recovery goes unexplained, but Douglas Day Stewart’s screenplay flirts with some impenetrable quasi-religious nonsense.

The entire affair hinges around the question, “When will they start having sex?” Once they do, pregnancy is basically inevitable. Gestation comes and goes without incident. By the time the new parents are raising their child, they don’t even want to attract the attention of ships that happen to pass within their sight.

Add to this hokum the scenes where Richard and Emmeline venture to the other side of the island. Richard actually witnesses a human sacrifice. But at no point are the island natives integrated in the story in any meaningful way. They live out of sight and apparently are a lot less curious about the goings on around the island than Emmeline and Richard are. In fact, the whole “cannibalistic native tribe” angle could’ve been completely omitted without altering the plot one iota.

The Blue Lagoon looks quite good on Blu-ray, for the most part. The 1080p, AVC-encoded image is fairly heavy with grain, but it’s consistent and looks entirely appropriate for an early ‘80s film. The one caveat I have involves the scene where Richard tries to sail away from the island alone. The image during this scene isn’t just soft, it completely phases in and out of focus. I’m not sure what happened here. I suppose this could be inherent in the source, but it’s hard to believe footage this problematic would’ve ever made it to the final cut. This scene looks terrible (I watched it on two different displays just to be sure my eyes weren’t tricking me). It stands out like a sore thumb in a transfer that is otherwise sharp.

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is excellent, showcasing both the dialogue and the score by Basil Poledouris. Other than the clarity of these elements, there isn’t a whole lot to report—certainly nothing negative. There is a fair amount of subtly immersive ambiance that makes it easy to appreciate the care invested by the sound department, headed up by Emmy-nominated sound editor John Duffy.

Speaking of the Poledouris score, it’s available here as an isolated audio track, presented in 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Two commentary tracks have been ported over from a previous DVD edition. One track features director Randal Kleiser, screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart and Brooke Shields. The other also features Kleiser, only this time joined by Christopher Atkins. A vintage ten-minute production featurette has some interesting behind-the-scenes footage, including a brief look at Atkins’ audition. A handful of trailers rounds out of the supplements. As usual for Twilight Time releases, Julie Kirgo’s essay in the accompanying booklet is insightful and a feature in its own right.

For anyone satisfied primarily by beautiful cinematography (by NĂ©stor Almendros in this case) and a memorable score, The Blue Lagoon certainly has positive attributes. But the dreadfully illogical and underdeveloped screenplay, made worse by amateurish performances by Atkins and Shields, is enough to cancel out the more accomplished elements.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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