The Blue Lagoon: Island of innocence



Rarely do remakes of any film become more popular than the original production. ‘The Blue Lagoon’ (1980) is one of such films which far surpassed the popularity and success of the Black and White silent film, ‘The Blue Lagoon’ (1923), an adaptation of Henry De Vere Stacpoole’s 1908 novel of the same name about children who come of age while stranded on a tropical island, as well as its 1949 Technicolor reworking, ‘The Blue Lagoon’. The 1980 updated version of ‘The Blue Lagoon’ directed by Randal Kleiser was much closer to the spirit of the novel, for it included the desired nudity and sexual content.

The 1980 movie, in fact was a passion project of Kleiser, who had long admired the original novel. He hired American screenwriter, Douglas Day Stewart – the writer of the 1976 made-for-television drama film, ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’ – to write the script. Kleiser also met Richard Franklin, the Australian director, who was looking for work in Hollywood. This gave him the idea to use an Australian crew which Franklin helped supervise. Kleiser, who had directed the wildly successful ‘Grease’ two years previously, had a firm grip on the project right from the word go and was more than prepared to handle the film’s 4.5 million dollar budget.

It was Kleiser’s original concept to have the two grown characters play the entire film in the nude, which scared off many actresses including Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was the first choice for the female lead. Kelly Preston, Linda Blair, Jodie Foster, Tatum O’Neal, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daryl Hannah and Rosanna Arquette also auditioned for the role of Emmeline with reservations to go nude. Finally, the desperate director agreed to let actress, Brooke Shields act in the film predominantly clothed, with a body double employed for the nude scenes. Shields was 14 years old at the time of filming and later testified before a US Congressional inquiry that older body doubles were used in some of her nude scenes. Also throughout the film, her chest was always covered in frontal shots by her long hair or in other ways.

For the male lead actor, once Matt Dillon turned down the role of Richard, the casting director returned to the thousands of audition tapes made over the course of a year, and decided that 18-year-old Christopher Atkins would be alright if he permed his hair to look more savage. Actors Sean Penn, Christopher Reeve, John Belushi and John Travolta were among those considered for this role. Leo McKern played the crusty cook shipwrecked with the children, although he had a limited role in the film.

‘The Blue Lagoon’ was shot in various locations including Jamaica and Nanuya Levu, a privately owned island in Fiji. From the beginning, there were numerous obstacles to overcome in production. Many of the cast and crew were afflicted by tropical ulcers. When shooting began on Turtle Island in Fiji, it was winter on the island, due to which leaves that had turned brown during the season had to be spray painted green. Furthermore, the owner of the island was originally from Oregon and obviously feeling nostalgic for his homeland, had planted pine trees all over the area. Néstor Almendros, the cinematographer, had to go to great lengths to ensure none of these trees turned up in the frame, for they weren’t exactly native plants.

Almendros, nominated for his work in ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ (1979) and ‘Sophie’s Choice’ (1982), and a winner of the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for ‘Days of Heaven’ (1978), had a perfect setting for filming ‘The Blue Lagoon’. In addition to the less than optimal conditions the novelist, Stacpoole, himself a ship surgeon for over forty years provided very specific details regarding the island and its animal inhabitants, in his novel on which the film was based. Almendros’ heady task of recreating the paradise visually was accomplished, with the film full of lush landscape shots and exotic animal and insect close-ups. Almendros’ efforts did not go unnoticed and he was nominated for an Academy Award for his soothingly gorgeous work, although he lost it to Ghislain Cloquet and Geoffrey Unsworth for ‘Tess’ (1979).

The flora and fauna featured in the film include an array of animals from multiple continents. The blue lagoon scenes were shot in Comino Island, Malta and Champagne Bay, Vanuatu. The underwater photography was handled by Ron and Valerie Taylor, who had earlier done similar work in films like ‘Jaws’ (1975).

The music score for ‘The Blue Lagoon ’was composed by Basil Poledouris. His memorable compositions accompanied by fabulous orchestra lead the audiences to the edge of the ocean. A track like “The Children Grow” captures the essence of the film.

‘The Blue Lagoon’ originally shot in 35 mm format, was blown up to 70mm. The magnificently shot film was enhanced with the 70mm prints. The film received an MPAA rating of R (Restricted viewing) in the United States.

Although panned by critics upon its release, ‘The Blue Lagoon’ was the ninth biggest box office hit of 1980 in North America, grossing US$58,853,106 in the United States and Canada.

The 1980 version of ‘The Blue Lagoon’, was followed by the 1991 sequel ‘Return to the Blue Lagoon’, starring Milla Jovovich and Brian Krause. Although the sequel showed a strong similarity to the 1980 film, it had very little resemblance to Stacpoole’s sequel to the novel, ‘The Garden of God’ (1923).

A ‘contemporary remake’ of ‘The Blue Lagoon’ was made for television in 2012 and was called ‘Blue Lagoon: The Awakening’. It depicted two contemporary teenagers played by Indiana Evans (Emmaline Robinson) and Brenton Thwaites (Dean McCullen)). Interestingly, the male lead from the 1980 film, Christopher Atkins appeared in this film as one of the teachers on the ship-borne field trip where Emma and Dean are lost at sea and end up on an island.



In the Victorian period, two young cousins, Richard (Glenn Kohan) and Emmeline (Elva Josephson), and a galley cook, Paddy Button (Leo McKern) survive a shipwreck in the South Pacific and reach a lush tropical island. Paddy forbids the children from going to the other side of the island, as he finds evidence of human sacrifices. The cook also warns them against eating a scarlet berry, which is apparently deadly. He soon dies after a drunken binge, and his body is discovered by the children. Now alone, the children go to another part of the island and rebuild their home.

Years pass and they grow into teenagers (Christopher Atkins and Brooke Shields). Living in their hut, and spending their time together fishing, swimming and diving for pearls, they begin to fall in love, although this is emotionally stressful for them due to their lack of education on human sexuality. Emmeline is frightened after she begins her first menstrual period and is nervous when Richard wants to inspect her for a cut.

Sometime later, their relationship suffers a major blow when a ship appears near the island, for the first time in years. Richard’s desire to leave comes into conflict with Emmeline’s desire to stay, as she does not light the signal fire. Richard’s fury leads him to send Emmeline out of their hut. They make up for this fight after Emmeline is nearly killed after stepping on a stonefish and Richard admitting to his fear of losing her.

Subsequently, the physical attraction drives them to making love. Soon Emmeline becomes pregnant, and her resulting physical changes make her uncomfortable. One night, Emmeline goes missing and Richard searches for her throughout the jungle. As Richard reaches on the other side of the forest by following the sound of drums, he comes upon an altar where an image of the ‘stone God’ stands. Hiding behind the bushes, Richard witnesses a native tribe performing human sacrifice. Terrified, he flees as the victim is killed. A little far away he hears Emmeline’s cries, following them in time to help her give birth to a baby boy whom they name Paddy. They bring the baby back to their home and try to feed him. Frustrated at not knowing how to feed the baby, Emmeline holds him and soon learns how to do it. The young parents spend their time playing with Paddy as he grows, teaching him how to swim, fish and build things.

One day, as the family plays, a ship led by Richard’s father, Arthur Lestrange (William Daniels) approaches the island and he sees the threesome. However, as they are covered in mud, Arthur mistaken them for natives and moves away the ship.

Some days later, the young family takes the lifeboat to visit their original home site. Richard goes off to finds bananas, while Emmeline looks around the shore, just as Paddy brings a branch of the scarlet berries into the boat. Emmeline and Paddy return to the boat and slowly drift away, until Paddy tosses one of the oars out. Unable to reach the oar, Emmeline yells to Richard and he swims to her, followed closely by a shark. Emmeline throws the other oar at the shark, striking it and giving Richard time to get into the boat. Though close to shore, they are unable to return or retrieve the oars without risking a shark attack. They paddle with their hands to no avail as the boat drifts out to sea.

After drifting for days in the boat, Richard and Emmeline awake to find Paddy eating the berries he picked. Realising these are poisonous berries they try to stop him but he has already swallowed a few. Hopeless, Richard and Emmeline eat the berries as well, lying down awaiting death. A few hours later, Arthur’s ship finds them floating in the boat. Arthur asks: “Are they dead?” while the ship’s captain (Alan Hopgood) answers “No, sir. They’re asleep”.