“Robinson Crusoe on Mars” is a 1964 science fiction movie based upon the early 18th-century Daniel Defoe novel, “Robinson Crusoe”. I’ve always liked this story. My Dad had water colored an illustrated version of this novel, when he was young and I enjoyed reading it when I was young too. It never bothered me that he hadn’t finished coloring every drawing in the book, because that always seemed to invite more story yet to come and then along came Mars. I remember seeing this movie after it came out. I also remember thinking that it was pretty neat. I watched it again last night, after I discovered that it was now available for streaming on Netflix.
Fifty years of technological advancement has not been kind to this movie. The Mars probe is studded with flashing lights and mechanical dials and switches. The astronaut’s personal data assistant (PDA) is the size of a small suitcase. For some reason, he even carries a handgun. The movie’s special effects are plentiful enough, but also laughably dated. The movie holds true to the original storyline, which helped the movie much back then and saves it from abject ridicule now.
It is impossible to predict the future, especially fifty years of it, so one shouldn’t hold the movie maker’s errors against them. In life there are too many black swans and exogenous shocks to expect one vision of the future to hold up for long. For example, the flashing lights and mechanical dials and switches of yesteryear have been replaced with backlit, touch sensitive glass displays, as seen on the iPhone, my PDA. But how did we get there?
The story is interesting. I heard it on “99% Invisible”, a podcast about design by Roman Mars. The story involves another science fiction show, the reboot, “Star Trek the Next Generation”. TNG didn’t have the budget to create a control room with all of the flashing lights and mechanical dials and switches of the original series, so a cost-effective alternative was used, backlit, touch sensitive glass displays. They didn’t really work, after all it was just a TV show, but it could cheaply be made to look like it was working.
Years later, along came Steve Jobs and Apple. Jobs liked the TNG controls and made them work and then embedded them in the iPhone. The rest as they say is history. Speaking of which, I’ll close this meandering post with Daniel Defoe’s original title for “Robinson Crusoe”, it’s a long one:
“The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely delivered by Pirates.”