Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Special Edition DVD
Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English Dolby Surround [CC], Spanish Digital Mono, subtitles: English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, double side-single layer, 28 chapters, rated R, 104 min., $24.95, street date 10/5/99.
Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Cinematography, 1981.
Directed by Randal Kleiser. Starring Brooke Shields, Christopher Atkins, Leo McKern, William Daniels, Elva Josephson, Glenn Kohan.
The lush beauty and splendor of a South Pacific paradise is vividly captures in this version of Henry deVere Stacpoole’s 1903 novel. Two small children and a ship’s cook survive a shipwreck and find safety on an idyllic tropical island. Soon, however, the cook dies and the young boy and girl are left on their own. Days become years and Emmeline (Shields) and Richard (Atkins) make a home for themselves surrounded by exotic creatures and nature’s beauty. They learn to cope with the bewildering variety of physical and emotional changes that come with adolescence. And as they begin to mature, their childhood affections lead to a sensitive and more profound love and the birth of a child. But will they ever see civilization again?
Boy, did The Blue Lagoon raise a fuss when it came out in 1980. Brooke Shields had become a star but more for her semi-taboo sex appeal than for her talent. When I say "questionable," I don't mean to doubt that Brooke was fairly hot; I mean, she's too flat-chested for my liking, but she's always been very pretty and was precociously erotic. The issues arose due to her age; she was still firmly in jailbait territory when she made TBL and her infamous series of ads for Calvin Klein jeans, and in that Reagan-electing, Moral Majority-espousing age, those appearances definitely stirred things up across the US.
I know that I and my other geeky 13-year-old friends certainly got worked into a lather with desire to see TBL. Bizarrely, I got my wish while in Minnesota for my grandparents' fiftieth anniversary that August. While the grown-ups were at some fancy-pants dinner, the kids - who ranged from twelve to nineteen - were on their own. With our parents' approval, some of my cousins and I tried to see TBL. My cousin Mike was eighteen, so we figured he'd have no problem buying us the tickets. However, the fussbudgets at the box office insisted that the purchaser had to be a parent or guardian and my (obnoxious) powers of persuasion could not convince her otherwise. (Yes, I was a feisty little brat - the more things change...)
Anyway, eventually we (I) badgered my stepmother into coming over to the theater and buying the tickets for us. In retrospect, I'm pretty embarrassed that I pursued this so hard, but at the time it was a serious matter of principle! As such, I was damned pleased to get myself and the others into the theater.
I wish I could relate that we all had a swell time at TBL, but as I recall, we thought it pretty much sucked. Well, political victories aren't always pleasant!
Despite the fact that it did pretty well at the box office and caused such a stir, The Blue Lagoon hasn't maintained much of a profile among the public, and I hadn't spent much time thinking about it over the past 19 years. Nonetheless, I was vaguely intrigued to watch it again when Columbia-Tristar recently released it on DVD.
"Vaguely intrigued" should not be confused with "excited" or "interested;" it simply means that I was curious to review the film with my (theoretically) more adult eyes. Would my 32-year-old self see things that were over the head of my barely teenaged incarnation?
Nope - the movie still sucks. In fact, I probably dislike it more now than I did then, since it no longer boasts even that basic charge that came with its semi-taboo status.
The Blue Lagoon is a bad movie, a really bad movie that has no real reason to exist other than as semi-soft porn. I dunno, I guess it's possible that someone out there finds its storyline - such that it is - compelling and cares about its characters, but I have a hard time imagining that. This dull piece of trash did nothing for me on either account.
The adventure scenes aren't adventurous, the sex scenes aren't sexy, and the occasional attempts at comedy aren't funny. Did I miss anything? Oh yeah - any attempts at emotion or drama fall completely flat, largely because I really did not care about these characters.
Part of my disinterest in our protagonists has to do with the writing - they're very sketchy and flat characters - but most of it has to do with the acting. Shields never could act much, though I guess she's improved some over the years; while it's a dismal show, she does display some comedic flair on Suddenly Susan. No real skill was on display in TBL, however; she seems consistently wooden and blah.
Compared to castmate Christopher Atkins, however, Shields appears to be the next Meryl Streep. His performance may well be one of the worst that I've ever seen. Granted, all he really needed to be was a hunky presence, and he does that acceptably, but that's all he could do. The scenery - human and otherwise - is the real star of this show, which is good because the foliage and wildlife on the island outperform Atkins. Where did they find this guy? Your average fifth grade Christmas play offers higher quality acting.
I won't knock Leo McKern's performance as Paddy too hard, just because the guy was fun in Help!, but he took his work from the "arrr!" school of sea captains. William Daniels makes a brief but sad appearance as well; he mainly looks like he wishes he wasn't there.
That makes two of us. Now I've suffered through this disaster twice in my life, and I hope I never have to do so again. The Blue Lagoon is a genuinely terrible piece of filmmaking, one that would have been forgotten long ago were it not for the movie's infamous jailbait overtones. That's not a great stake upon which to make a reputation.
A much more positive reputation is the one that has been built by the DVD department at Columbia Tristar (CTS); they're well known for some of the best DVD releases on the market. While The Blue Lagoon isn't one of their best efforts, it definitely will do nothing to besmirch that reputation.
The Blue Lagoon is presented in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and also in a fullscreen version on this double-sided DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall the picture looks good but not spectacular, though it's pretty inconsistent; some segments appear fantastic while others seem merely decent. Sharpness varies throughout the film but tends to be pretty crisp; only on occasion does it seem slightly soft. The print used displays few flaws, although grain periodically mars the image; nonetheless, I detected no hairs, marks or scratches, which is surprisingly given the age of the material.
Colors look generally bold and are a strong point of this DVD since its tropical setting offers so much "eye candy;" at times hues seems ever-so-slightly flat, but that's the exception. The only significant area that doesn't maintain a generally high standard is the film's black levels; shadow detail and contrast seem dull and vague and they lack much depth. Since the vast majority of TBL occurs in daylight, that's not often a concern, but it does mar the nighttime scenes. Despite that and the other drawbacks, the image of The Blue Lagoon seems reasonably above average.
While the pretty good quality of the film's picture offered a mild surprise, I received much more of a shock from the atypically high quality of the movie's Dolby Pro Logic 2.0 soundtrack. The audio offered a much more vibrant and flamboyant presentation than I'd expect from a 1980 release. The front soundstage seems nicely active, with a fair amount of audio localized to the right and left speakers; not much panning occurs between channels, but the image nonetheless seems pretty wide. The rear channels also provide a surprisingly active component to the experience; it doesn't compare with modern movies, of course, but the surrounds offer some strong ambient effects and help bolster the musical score.
That music is the strongest point of the soundtrack, actually. The score sounds very lush and rich and it's spread out nicely through all of the channels. Dialogue and effects don't sound nearly as true and natural as the music; in general they appear somewhat flat and dull, but they don't significantly detract from the experience. No distortion was noticeable. All in all, The Blue Lagoon boasts a soundtrack that appears much stronger than I'd expect.
CTS haven't exactly knocked themselves out for the supplemental features of The Blue Lagoon, but there are a few choice extras here. The biggest draws are the two separate audio commentaries. Both feature director Randal Kleiser; he's joined by Shields and writer Douglas Day Stewart for the first track and by Atkins for the second. I found the second one to be the more interesting and enjoyable of the two. Kleiser's a lot more animated and engaging in his interactions with Atkins, which surprised me because it was the second one he did. Based on Kleiser's attitude, I initially figured that he must have completed the track with Atkins first, but his comments eventually indicate that it indeed was his second go-round. Anyway, the two of them seem to enjoy each other's company and they provide a fun experience that offers a lot of interesting information about the film.
The first track is also pretty good, but not as entertaining as the second. Kleiser seems surprisingly subdued; Stewart and Shields dominate the commentary. They offer some interesting information, with most of the good stuff coming from Shields; she pops up about 20 minutes into the track, and it immediately becomes more lively. Before Shields arrives, Kleiser and Stewart spend most of their time talking about dry technical issues, but Shields' presence starts to evoke more anecdotal discussions. It's a good track but not quite as much fun as the other one. All in all, both tracks offer a nicely complete picture of the making of the film; I found them to be much more entertaining than the movie itself.
We also see a nine minute featurette that comes from the period of the film's 1980 release. Called An Adventure In Filmmaking - the Making of The Blue Lagoon, it looks and sounds terrible - maybe it's been buried in that damned lagoon for all these years - but it's fairly interesting. Obviously its briefness precludes it from offering an in-depth detailing of the film's creation, but it seems to hit the important notes and it also offers some cool bits like Atkins' unsurprisingly poor screen test and a scene from the original Blue Lagoon film; it came out in 1948 and starred the luscious Jean Simmons - why couldn't we have seen her romp around naked?! Anyway, this little featurette packs a lot of punch.
The DVD of The Blue Lagoon includes Brooke Shields' Photo Album, a piece that features about 50 still photographs taken during the production. Other than some mildly sexy bikini shots of Brooke, I thought these were less interesting than most production photos, and I'm not a fan of the genre as it is.
My dislike of the pictures may have been exacerbated by the DVD's weak execution. As was the case for the Ghostbusters DVD, the braintrust at CTS can't leave well enough alone and present still photos in a normal, user-friendly manner. Here they create an animation of a photo album and a page "flips" when you go to the next picture. This is cute for about five seconds and then just becomes annoying, especially since the motion aspects of the production slow down your access; it takes much longer than it should to skip from picture to picture. Also, the "photo album" frame means that the pictures themselves rarely take up more than half of the space available on your TV. This is annoying because it makes the photos much smaller than they should be. Yuck!
Finally, the DVD of The Blue Lagoon includes a silly trailer and some poorly done talent biographies for the four main actors, director Randal Kleiser, and writer Douglas Day Stewart. As good as they are at some things, CTS provide the crummiest biographies in the business; they offer very basic facts and a filmography. I hope they improve this area of production in the future, because these biographies are pretty much useless.
(Based on my experience with CTS DVDs, I'd bet that a nice booklet appears with the DVD. It probably offers some basic production notes and a few pictures. However, my rental copy of the DVD didn't include the packaging, so I can't say if this is certain or not. Sorry!)
Recommendation time, and you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows. You don't need Roger Ebert to tell you that The Blue Lagoon blows as well. CTS provided the film a pretty nice DVD release, with generally solid picture, sound, and supplements (especially the very entertaining audio commentaries), but a well-polished turd remains a turd. If - God help you - you think this is a good movie, you'll be pleased by the DVD. For everyone else, this film is completely without merit and should be avoided at all costs.
Current as of 11/7/99
All About Brooke Shields--Besides the requisite information, the site features a unique category, "Shields Experiences," in which fans wrote about their brushes with the actress. The picture gallery is also pretty extensive, but it took frustratingly long time to load.