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Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe [DVD]
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Fulfilling his father's prophecy of disaster, Robinson Crusoe is stranded on a deserted island along with his cat Sam and his dog Felix while on a trip to purchase African slaves. His curiosity is unending and his recycling of the land's resources highly economical (he protects himself from wild beasts and savages using the pilfered remains of his now-sunken ship). More so than any other dramatization of Daniel Dafoe's classic novel, Buñuel's Robinson Crusoe is both morally ambitious and spiritually daring
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We all know the outlines of the story: a marooned man masters his environment, finds Friday and teaches him the ways of the West while listening to a decidedly non-Western point of view, and finally escapes with Friday. Because of the nearly two decades Crusoe spent alone, it is a very introspective tale of loneliness, a dialogue with God, and endeavor.
What makes this such an exceptional viewing experience are the angles that Bunuel highlights. First, there is a sexual tension between Crusoe and Friday, which I have never seen in any of the other versions. In particular, there is a scene where Friday finds a dress in a trunk and puts it on, appearing beautifully androgynous to the point that Crusoe is disturbed and gruffly orders him to put something else on. Second, Bunuel does not hide the fact that Crusoe was a slave trader and uses Friday as his servant while calling him his friend. This shows Bunuel's mastery of the medium, introducing something that he doesn't tie off in a pat manner but leaves it to create conflict in the mind of the viewer, much as the best essayists do. Third, Friday asks Crusoe many questions about God - essentially those advanced by the Marquis de Sade! - that he can't answer, for example, if God is so powerful, why doesn't God kill the devil; Crusoe answers that God wants man to have a choice, to which Friday responds: then why does God feel wrath when man chooses the wrong way? Crusoe is dumbstruck and merely says to the parrot that Friday doesn't understand. It is beautifully succinct and typical of the fine script.
Unfortunately, the DVD print left much to be desired. It is obviously taken from an inferior film version. Moreover, there are no subtitles, which would help given that the sound track is also unclear.
Recommended warmly. If commercial, Bunuel still weaves his magic in the conflict he creates in the mind of the viewer. I grew up watching this version and hugely enjoyed watching it with my son.
True, the film was made under immensely difficult conditions, but my problem was that only the limitations were visible - in the restored 90-minute version I saw there was precious little imagination or ability either, which I found particularly surprising from Bunuel: a flat and lifeless b-movie programmer was the last thing I would have expected from him. This felt more like one of Louis Heyward's worst efforts, only without the sporadic entertainment value. Only the fate of Crusoe's dog and the sound of its bark as he left the island really resonated.
Aside from a surprisingly inept dream sequence and a brief theological discussion, there's little to show that this is a Bunuel film (at times its perilously close to Ed Wood's print the first take approach, being shot almost entirely in bland tight medium shots), marking it as a failure as a Bunuel film, a literary adaptation and an adventure. A shame.