A romantic drama that is more remembered for the skin shown and hidden from young Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, The Blue Lagoon is hardly what you’d call intelligent viewing. It gained negative reviews on release but was a big money maker at the box office. The cinematography and music are the big highlights here, but The Blue Lagoon is the kind of movie you’d call something of a guilty pleasure though the flaws shown are noticeable.
In the Victorian era, young cousins Emmeline and Richard are on a boat. They are journeying across the ocean but a fire onboard soon interrupts it. The children are separated from Richard’s father and end up in a rescue boat with boozy cook Paddy( Leo McKern) . After days of drifting, they come across a desert island. Exploring, it appears they aren’t alone and that a tribe resides on the other side of the island. Paddy forbids both children to visit there, while teaching them survival skills in the process. They are left to fend for themselves after Paddy has a drunken binge and drowns. Years later, the two have grown into athletic, attractive teenagers( and are now played by Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins). They’ve learned to be self-sufficient and have fashioned a hut to live in. Richard spends most of his days hunting fish for food and exploring, while Emmeline admires the beauty of her surroundings. With both not having much education and having been marooned from civilisation for a long duration, they often don’t understand what they are feeling in any shape or form. This is most prominent in terms of attraction to each other, as they don’t know how to deal with their raging hormones and changes in their bodies. Puberty is hitting for Emmeline and Richard, though they are not really aware of what entirely it is. Yet as their feelings grow into love and they discover the joys of sex, they aren’t prepared for pregnancy or even a chance of survival from the outside world.
Randal Kleiser, of Grease fame, is the director of The Blue Lagoon. He does a decent job, though his overall approach is uneven and choppy. I feel like big parts of the story have been cut out and that the adventure which was promised in pasts wasn’t there. The main point everyone mentions is the sexual content between Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins. Shields was 14 at the time of filming and Atkins was 18. Atkins did his own nude scenes, while Shields had a body double and had her hair stuck to her chest to cover her modesty. While the sexualisation of the two is questionable and would certainly not be allowed today, it’s the fact that film wants to be a showing of natural love but is clearly peek a boo stuff involving young people that stands out. Sex in itself is something natural but The Blue Lagoon treats it in a way that’s on a pedestal yet attempting to seem to be classy . In actuality, The Blue Lagoon is not classy because of the film not having much in the way of realism or sense and is obviously wanting box office returns with the promise of revealing content. I don’t understand how it expected to be one thing when it’s actually the other, marketing might be to blame. The Blue Lagoon wants to be sexy and somehow chases and discovers it can’t be. It’s not difficult to see why the film raised eyebrows on release and is still spoken about now. I must say while there is nudity on show, large parts of it are obscured and films nowadays definitely display more than what is shown in The Blue Lagoon. But I can understand the stir of this film back in 1980, I doubt something like this would be made today.
The script is pretty risible, trying to almost be a sexier Swiss Family Robinson while promoting itself as being a natural and free expression of burgeoning desire. It leaves the stars uttering lines that raise laughter rather than sweetness or sexiness. Plus, certain plot points like the tribe that are on the other side of the island are practically all but forgotten and blink and you’ll miss it. It’s as if someone just cut out that part and thought it would help( in reality, it doesn’t). The best things in The Blue Lagoon are the cinematography and music, which actually provide some feeling of atmosphere. Néstor Almendros is the cinematographer and his use of natural lighting is inspired at capturing the romanticism of paradise and supplying us with an array of breathtaking vistas. He breathes life into the film and shows the set location of Fiji to beautiful effect. Aiding the cinematography and the film itself is the lush music that is simply gorgeous. It has such a sweeping and intoxicating aura to it that is better than the film it belongs too. That can be said of both aspects as you do have to admire them, but obviously wish the film had more to involve us.
The acting from Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins was lambasted on release. Yet while neither is perfect or especially earth shattering, they aren’t horrendous and have some moments to shine. It’s the writing that doesn’t give them a lot to do, often making the characters sound unconvincing. I know they are supposed to be uneducated and unaware of things, but they come off as dim witted. Thankfully, Shields especially has enough charm and presence to compensate this. Not amazing by most standards, Shields, with her prominent eyebrows and dazzling eyes, at least suggests her character’s changing mindset and unsure feelings with some semblance of conviction, As I’ve said, Shields is hardly delivering Oscar worthy work here, but is decent enough and her face is made for the camera. Christopher Atkins comes off less well, mainly seeming overly petulant or over the top . I think both where cast for their attractiveness that is hard to deny, but they are stranded with a story that doesn’t allow much for them to work with. At least they are both watchable (Shields in particular) , considering the main focus of The Blue Lagoon is on them and they are mainly required to be attractive and lounge about in tropical surroundings. Both became stars, with Shields becoming a face of the 80’s and teen idol in the process. Leo McKern, in the time he’s seen in the film, has bluster and fear but most importantly he does move the often slow movie forward.
So thanks to delightfully arresting cinematography, gorgeous music and wonderful setting, The Blue Lagoon has at least three things going for it. Despite its dopey logic and wanting to have its cake and eat it, the film is at least watchable and has the handsome pairing of Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins.