Saturday, January 24, 2015

1980 Week: The Blue Lagoon

          Originally published in 1908, Henry De Vere Stacpole’s romantic novel The Blue Lagoon has been adapted for movies and television several times, but the 1980 version is the most notorious. Starring model-turned-actress Brooke Shields, who was 14 at the time of filming, the picture attracted a fair amount of controversy because Shields’ character appears nude throughout most of the fable-like story about two shipwrecked children who become sexually active young adults during the years they spend alone on a tropical island. Even though it’s plain watching the film that body doubles were used and that Shields’ hair was strategically draped during many scenes, there’s no escaping the way the actress is sexualized in every frame. (Costar Christopher Atkins is objectified the same way, but he was over 18 when he made the picture.) The Blue Lagoon and 1981’s critically panned Endless Love represent the apex of Shields’ early film career, during which her target audience seemed to be pedophiles.
          Yet one gets the impression that Randal Kleiser, the producer-director of The Blue Lagoon, saw the movie as a poetic tribute to innocence, love, and nature. He even hired one of the industry’s best cinematographers, Nestor Almendros, to fill the screen with rapturous images of beautiful young people cavorting on pristine beaches and swimming with fantastically colored wildlife in crystal-clear waters. Had Kleiser realized his vision, The Blue Lagoon could have been sweet and touching. Alas, because Kleiser cast his lead actors primarily for their looks—and because he inherited all the creepy baggage from Shields’ previous films—Kleiser ended up making the equivalent of softcore kiddie porn.
          After a passable first hour during which the vivacious British actor Leo McKern plays a sailor who washes ashore with the children and teaches them basic survival skills, the movie takes a nosedive once Atkins and Shields commence performing the lead roles. Each has decent moments, but more often than not, their acting is laughably amateurish. This makes the story’s incessant focus on sex seem puerile instead of pure. Concurrently, Kleiser’s indifference toward promising plot elements, such as the presence of brutal savages on the far side of the lovers’ island, means that repetitive shots of naked frolicking dominate. Still, the promise of naughty thrills often generates strong box office, and The Blue Lagoon did well enough to inspire a sleazy knock-off (1982’s Paradise, with Phoebe Cates), a theatrical sequel (1991’s Return to the Blue Lagoon, with Milla Jovovich), and a made-for TV remake (2012’s Blue Lagoon: The Awakening, broadcast on Lifetime).

The Blue Lagoon: LAME

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