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Robinson Crusoe (2001) – DVD Review


Written by: Christopher Lofton, Tracy Keenan Wynn, Christopher Canaan, based on the novel by Daniel Defoe
Directed by: Rod Hardy and George Miller
Starring: Pierce Brosnan and William Takaku


  • Theatrical trailer

Released by: Buena Vista
Region: 1
Rating: PG-13
Anamorphic: 1.85:1 widescreen (enhanced for 16×9 TVs)

My Advice: Pass.

When I pulled this little gem out of my latest shipment from Needcoffee HQ, I spent several minutes stomping around the house and saying really uncharitable things about Widgett and his family line unto the tenth generation. Then, after a short break to catch my breath, I repeated the process with Pierce Brosnan as the target of my ire. Once more for Buena Vista Home Video, and I was done. Pierce Brosnan? Robinson-frickin’-Crusoe? What fresh hell was this? But, because I’m that kind of guy, I hurled myself on this cinematic hand grenade to save the rest of you. You’d best be thankful.

[ad#longpost]I’ll start by saying this film was NOT as bad as it could have been. This is not to say that it’s a good film–it isn’t–this is just to say that on the scale of potential atrocity, this movie rated much higher than it actually performed. Brosnan is a decent actor, so he manages to pull some merit out of what comes across as a pretty atrocious script, and William Takaku is actually quite good as the “re-imagined,” politically-correct version of Man Friday. The sum total is a movie that comes across like a Hallmark Theatre special, instead of a direct-to-video abomination, despite having little to connect it with the source novel in question.

Robinson Crusoe, the movie, should not be confused with the novel of the same name by Daniel Defoe. This picture and the book have precious little in common with each other, and some key elements are essentially entirely reversed or re-written for the screenplay. No longer is Friday a subservient who converts to Christianity under the careful colonialism and stewardship of Crusoe (insert sarcasm). Instead, he maintains his pagan faith, and causes a bit of a crisis of belief in our hero Crusoe, and stands as his equal and friend throughout the movie in a stunning adjustment of the original. The film reverses the rampant colonialist attitudes of Defoe, and portrays Friday’s kinsmen as the victims of European oppression and slave trade that they were. But this issue has been artificially inserted to appeal to your social conscience, and give the movie more weight than it merits.

Essentially, they’ve taken Defoe’s novel (which I must confess I wasn’t fond of in the first place), and turned it from a fairly benign travel narrative/adventure story into a morality play with action sequences. Quite lame, I’m afraid, and the score, full of rising violins when we’re supposed to feel emotional, only serves to make these moments of “serious drama” all the more obvious and laughable. Add to this that Crusoe’s solitude on the island is brushed through in a montage of surf, carpentry, and sunsets, so that we can get more quickly to the PC re-write of Friday and their interaction, and the whole issue of man versus himself, and the power of introspection and solitude, is lost in a ten-minute voiceover sequence. Crusoe was supposed to be by himself for a LONG time before Friday showed up, and Friday was a minimal portion of the story. Here, Friday and the travails of the pair against hostile human-sacrificing members of a rival tribe are the focus of the entire picture.

Pierce Brosnan as Robinson Crusoe

If you know nothing about the original story, then this film might be painless enough to sit through if it were on cable some night, when the only other choices were “Watching Paint Dry with Bob” or “Cooking with Turnips.” Actually, I’ll go one better than that: if you don’t know the original, it’s no worse than most made-for-TV movies, and better than some. The idea of shelling out hard-earned moolah for this treasure makes me shudder on principle, and is not recommended or condoned. If you must know the story, read the book. And if you must watch a movie about a guy on an island, rent Cast Away (at your own risk) instead.

William Takaku as Man Friday in Robinson Crusoe

Takaku and Brosnan from Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe (2001)

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1 comment

  • One could tell what your review would be like from sentences of your first paragraph: “Pierce Brosnan? Robinson-frickin’-Crusoe? What fresh hell was this? But . . . I hurled myself on this cinematic hand grenade to save the rest of you.” Wow, one can tell you’re going to give the DVD an objective viewing.

    I very much disagree with your assessment. The movie was thoroughly enjoyable, involving, and suspenseful–and I certainly didn’t mind in the least the revisions that had Crusoe thoughtfully reflect on his colonialist beliefs in white man superiority. In case you didn’t notice, the movie was framed by scenes where DeFoe is reading the journal of the man from whom he’d create his Crusoe character. A clever frame, which gave the script writer the leeway not to stick to the story the way DeFoe wrote it.