"I'll just get my gear."

The Blue Lagoon / Return to the Blue Lagoon

In my study of Summer of 1991 and especially it’s part 2s, I didn’t think I could skip RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON. But I had never seen the first film – 1980’s THE BLUE LAGOON – so I had to watch that first.

Based on the 1908 novel by Henry De Vere Stacpoole (previously filmed in 1923 and 1949), it’s an adventure and, I’m sorry to say, romance. Sorry because it’s between two teenage cousins who grow up stranded on a tropical island together. Even aside from the incest thing, they literally don’t know any other humans, how romantic is it gonna be that they choose each other?

It’s a period piece in the Victorian period, which we only know from the boat at the beginning. Richard and Emmeline are little kids. Emmeline’s parents have died, and her uncle, Richard’s dad (William Daniels, MARLOWE), is taking them to San Francisco. It is established that Richard is already a horny little bastard – he sneaks a peak at the cook’s collection of nudie photos and gets spanked for it. But there’s a fire onboard and only the kids and the grumpy cook, Paddy (Leo McKern, DAMIEN: OMEN II), escape on a life boat.

They manage to bring a trunk with them. The kids goof around, try on outfits and top hats while adrift at sea. To Paddy’s surprise they actually find an island. A montage of animal footage shows them being welcomed by exotic birds, lizards and insects. And when Paddy realizes it’s otherwise uninhabited, he’s fuckin psyched.

“No more ‘yes sir, no sir’ for Paddy Button!” he says.

He gets to retire in paradise. They play around in a waterfall, find fresh bananas and mangos, and holy shit – a barrel of rum! I feel so happy for Paddy. Richard is climbing around above and he says, “Look what a funny thing I found! It’s got holes in it!” He’s discovered a whole pile of skulls. But kids were pretty sheltered back then, or at least these two were. They literally believe that babies are found in cabbage patches.

In contrast, Paddy has seen it all and lived a long life of elaborate sin. He tells them he’s had seven wives, and at least seventeen kids, for some reason including the detail that most of them are Asian or Black, and he’s never seen any of them. Great guy! But now that he’s trapped with kids he’s actually very good with them. He builds a nice hut and tools, explaining it to them step-by-step and having them help so they’ll know how to do it too.

One day he’s wandering around and sees something that scares the shit out of him. Something that leaves a trail of blood. He tells the kids very seriously that they can never visit “the other side of the island,” that they should consider it against the law, and that the bogeyman is there.

Then one night he gets real drunk, dances around in a wedding dress from the trunk (you know how it is), and goes swimming. The next morning they can see him on another little island across the way and they think he’s passed out, so they row over there to play a prank on him, and realize he’s dead. It’s sad because that is fucked up for them to find him like that, and also because he’s the best part of the movie.

They get scared and find a new part of the island to set up on. It’s never explained which part is the blue lagoon, but maybe it’s this place with the dolphins. They grow older while swimming naked with a huge turtle. Now they’re played by Christopher Atkins (his first movie – later in PROJECT SHADOWCHASER III) and Brooke Shields (her seventh movie, even though she was only 14).

Despite their unusual upbringing, they maintain memories of their childhood and carry on traditions from the civilized world. Richard does a whole “Santa delivered the presents” thing to celebrate Christmas. Emmeline believes in God and Heaven. But they have kind of a BEYOND THUNDERDOME way of mixing up certain words. They were headed for “San Forisco” when the other people from the boat ended up “dud and berried.” And their version of the Lord’s Prayer ends in “With liberty and justice for all.”

And of course Emmeline hides from Richard that she has a period and Richard hides from Emmeline that he likes to jerk off and later they discover humping and then they’re swimming naked and there are two turtles fucking and they give each other a knowing look. Yeah, we know all about that.

But there’s still that bogeyman on the other side of the island. They keep hearing drums so they call them “drum people.” Emmeline finds a little island with a giant head made out of dirt and rocks – an altar – and there’s blood on it. She thinks it’s God. Richard thinks it’s against the law to go there. Later he actually sees the “drum people” performing a human sacrifice. So he goes home and swings a spear around saying macho shit about how they better not come here or he’s gonna fuck them up and “I don’t understand why people have to be so bad to each other.”

But weirdly it doesn’t build to a big confrontation. Instead, Emmeline has a baby (I’m not sure how they dealt with the umbilical cord) which they name Paddy and then the family goes out in the lifeboat for fun and she has to throw the oar at a shark so they drift out to sea. They are eventually found by their dad/uncle/grandpa’s ship. At first they appear dead, but they say they’re just asleep. I took this at face value, but the Wikipedia summary makes it sound like because the baby had eaten some poison berries the parents chose to do the same, to commit suicide. That’s almost the infamous THE MIST ending!

I knew THE BLUE LAGOON was a famous movie. It was also a hit movie, making back more than 11 times its budget in North America and becoming the #12 box office of 1980, above movies including CADDYSHACK and FRIDAY THE 13TH. One thing I didn’t know was that it was considered terrible. And it kind of is. Although I liked the stuff with old Paddy Button, the later stuff gets tedious, and I don’t really see the discovering sexuality stuff as anything but titillation about a 14 year old actress. According to Wikipedia all the nude shots are 32 year old stunt coordinator/dolphin trainer Kathy Troutt, but they really make it seem like it’s Shields, so it’s icky. Check out the poster that calls it “a sensual story of natural love” and says “When their love happens, it is as natural as the sea, and as powerful.” Jesus christ, poster. “When their love happens.” Get a room.

Shields won the first Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress, which shows that they’ve had that thing about being mean to pretty people since the very beginning. Even ones that aren’t old enough for a driver’s permit. If you ask me there’s nothing wrong with her performance, and she’s more natural than Atkins, who received a Golden Globe nomination.

Critics did admit at the time that there are many impressive technical things about the movie. First of all, it was filmed on an uninhabited private island in Fiji called Nanuya Levu. They had to build a village of huts for the crew to stay in. Cinematographer Nestor Almendros (BED & BOARD, COCKFIGHTER, DAYS OF HEAVEN) did a beautiful job – he was rightfully nominated for an Oscar – and the score is by Basil Poledouris (TINTORERA: KILLER SHARK). It was a dream project for director Randal Kleiser, who cashed in his clout from the success of GREASE to get it made. He was smart enough to get Richard Franklin (between PATRICK and ROAD GAMES) to co-produce, so it was apparently the first time an Australian crew did a Hollywood movie, paving the way for such films as THE PHANTOM. I was wondering if any of them had worked on LONG WEEKEND (1978), which also incorporated a bunch of nature footage, and sure enough there are 3 people who worked in the camera department for both. I can’t remember if there was any turtle sex in that one.

The Fijian crew members played the drum people. Which must’ve been weird. But I guess somebody was gonna play them. I hope they got paid well.

The coolest trivia I read about THE BLUE LAGOON is that it discovered a new species. Herpetologist Dr. John Gibbons of the University of the South Pacific was studying the Fiji banded iguana when he saw the movie and noticed a shot of a similar creature but with cream colored bands instead of blue. So he travelled to the island and identified the lizard as a distinct species called B. vitiensis, or the Fiji crested iguana.


11 YEARS LATER…

August 2, 1991 saw the release of the sequel, RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON. Kleiser is credited as a producer, and Poledouris did the score again, but it’s directed by William A. Graham (HONKY, SOUNDER PART 2, GUYANA TRAGEDY: THE STORY OF JIM JONES, THE LAST NINJA) and written by Leslie Stevens (creator of The Outer Limits and developer of Buck Rogers), adapted from Stacpoole’s 1923 sequel book The Garden of God. They filmed in Australia and Taveuni, Fiji, which was probly easier. There are plenty of animals, but no new species.

It picks up right at the end of the first film, with Richard, Emmeline and baby Paddy being discovered by the ship. Whatever was intended in the first movie’s ending, they now say that part 1’s heroes (faces conveniently covered) are not asleep, they’re dead. But Paddy is alive, so they take him aboard, and rename him Richard, to be cared for by the widow Sarah Hargrave (Lisa Pelikan, GHOULIES, LIONHEART) because she already has a daughter named Lilli who’s about the same age.

One problem: the crew is dying of cholera, so the captain (John Mann – Slade Craven from TURBULENCE 3: HEAVY METAL? Is that really him?) convinces Sarah that her only chance of survival is to abandon ship in a lifeboat with the kids and a male protector, Kearney (Wayne Pygram, FAREWELL TO THE KING).

Kearney is a total dick though, refuses to give the babies water, and threatens to throw them overboard if they keep crying, so Sarah bashes him over the head and dumps him in the sea. Good for her. Then she finds an island, which is clearly the island, because there’s a fancy hut there and the baby runs to it saying “home” and “mama.” Sarah finds Emmeline and Richard’s collection of spears and teaches herself to fish.

Sarah does an admirable job of rolling with the punches, teaching the kids about the Bible and manners, as if any of that shit matters to them anymore. More importantly she figures out that the “drum people” row by looking for a sacrifice every full moon, and that it’s important to stay out of sight. (Like in the first film there will be some later encounters with these guys, but it won’t turn into a huge thing.)

One day she blushingly tries to “explain certain of life’s facts to you” when quizzed about private parts. Richard brags about his peeing: “I can hit a mango leaf dead center.” Even without exposure to other men he seems to be growing into a macho asshole. When they lose a spear fighting with a shark and Lilli asks what they’re gonna do, he whines “Will you just be quiet and let me think!?”

Of course Sarah gets sick and dies. She knows she’s dying and wishes the kids well, telling them what to carve on her tombstone. Even in a fairly cheesy movie it’s sad to see kids having to handle that.

Then Lilli and Richard grow older and they’re top-billed Milla Jovovich (in her second movie, after Zalman King’s TWO MOON JUNCTION) and Brian Krause (in his second movie after AN AMERICAN SUMMER).

While his dad kept the tradition of Santa Clause alive, Richard Jr. does Easter egg hunts. That is maybe his most endearing quality. Other hobbies including spying on Lilli through the slats when she’s naked and yelling at a shark that he’s better than it and he beat it and he’s “Master of the Reef!” and then going home and bragging to Lilli about it and how awesome he is. She tells him he’s silly and wonders why he gives a shit about such stupid meaningless macho horse shit (paraphrase) and he says, “I like the way it makes me feel.” Honest, at least.

Like their parents, and many others, they experience periods and boners, etc., and they decide to start sleeping in different rooms. And there is implied sex and they get married.

The major difference from the first film is that they come in contact with “civilization” when Captain Hilliard (Brian Blain, TOUCH AND GO) lands his ship there, treats them as the owners of the island and asks permission to stay. The two castaways are pretty funny in this scene, doing their isolated island person version of the manners they remember Sarah teaching them. Milla kind of gets to try out the alien-trying-to-fit-in thing she’ll later do so well in THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

Dick and Lilli host the visitors for eel soup eaten with dinnerware made out of shells. Dick and the captain’s prissy daughter Sylvia (Nana Coburn, from a mini-series called BODY SURFER) grow fond of each other, and Lilli (his wife, remember) gets jealous. One of the sailors (Peter Hehir, KANGAROO, I think?) sexually harasses Lilli with gross tongue gestures and eyes a pearl she wears in her hair.

They all plan to go to San Francisco with the visitors when the ship leaves, and Sylvia has fun teaching them the ways of civilization. She tries to convince Lilli she should bleach her skin with lemon juice so her tan doesn’t make her look like “a field hand.” There’s a funny part where Lilli tries to put on Sylvia’s makeup, smearing it on like war paint, and then tries to smile alluringly at Richard.

For his part he starts wearing civilian clothes. A total sellout, ready to ditch his wife for the new girl. Not really sophisticated enough to wonder if his vows are legally binding. Well, shit, let her keep all the spears and shells and stuff anyway.

I kinda liked the climax where the pervy sailor guy is trying to steal the pearl and it turns into a big fight where Richard swims out into the water and for both practical and symbolic reasons he strips off his pants and suspenders, revealing that he still has the island toga thing underneath. Anyway his old nemesis the shark eats the sailor. Good stuff. I wish Richard had the grace and humility to acknowledge the shark as Master of the Reef after that, but I guess that’s asking alot.

The touching conclusion is that Lilli tells Richard she’s pregnant (“women know these things”) and that she’s not going to San Francisco with him because “I won’t let it be born in civilization. I want it to be born right here – where there’s no lies, and no evil, and no guns.” And he agrees to stay. Romance. Cue end credits with “A World of Our Own” by Surface featuring Bernard Jackson.

I’ve read that in the book there is no kid on the ship besides Richard (called Dick). Instead he falls in love with Katafa, a Spanish girl raised by natives of the nearby island of Karolin, who gets stranded nearby. Kearney (who makes it to the island) doesn’t trust her, but gets killed by a giant octopus. Dick accidentally starts a war with Katafa’s people and then accidentally ends up their new king. Then there’s a third and final book from 1925 called The Gates of Morning, which is intended as a message about Europeans pillaging South Sea Island cultures, and has Dick leading the Kanaka in a war against the people who took over one of the islands near the Blue Lagoon island (which itself has sunk into the sea).

Unlike the original film, RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON was a bomb, losing money, and the reviews were even worse than for the first one. I’m sorry to mention the very flawed Rotten Tomatoes ratings in so many of these reviews, but just so you know, this is one of only 44 films so far that have a 0% approval rating on there, along with POLICE ACADEMY 4: CITIZENS ON PATROL, PROBLEM CHILD, SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2, BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER and GOTTI.

(Zero percenters that I personally enjoyed are JAWS: THE REVENGE, HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING and SIMON SEZ.)

The much more lenient audience rating system CinemaScore gives it a B.

The stupid fucking Razzies gave it 5 nominations, including Jovovich for “Worst New Star.” You would think her subsequent career would’ve made them shut the fuck up, but they later nominated her worst actress for THE FIFTH ELEMENT (!), THE MESSENGER and RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION. Fuck ‘em.

There is actually one other BLUE LAGOON movie, a 2012 Lifetime movie called BLUE LAGOON: THE AWAKENING. Part 1 star Christopher Atkins plays a teacher, and Denise Richards plays the girl’s mom. It takes place in the present (there are cut off jeans on the cover) and they only get stranded for 100 days. Kids these days, with their helicopter parenting and what not.

Aftermath:

Part 1 director Randal Kleiser’s later movies include FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR, WHITE FANG and HONEY, I BLEW UP THE KID. My favorite movie by him is BIG TOP PEE-WEE.

Brooke Shields (Emmeline) went on to appear in BRADLEY COOPER’S THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN.

RETURN director William A. Graham went back to directing TV movies (ELVIS AND THE COLONEL: THE UNTOLD STORY, DEATH OF A CHEERLEADER, THE HUNT FOR THE UNICORN KILLER), plus 3 episodes of The X-Files. Screenwriter Leslie Stevens wrote the pig movie GORDY.

Wayne Pygram (Kearney) played Governor Tarkin at the end of REVENGE OF THE SITH.

Brian Krause (Richard Jr.) immediately followed RETURN with the lead role in Mick Garris’ SLEEPWALKERS. Milla Jovovich (Lilli) went right into KUFFS. In the next ten years she was in films directed by Richard Attenborough, Richard Linklater, Luc Besson, Spike Lee, Wim Wenders and Michael Winterbottom, then she starred in RESIDENT EVIL and began her decades long reign as queen of digital age action-horror romps. So although RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON didn’t much follow in the rethinking-the-portrayal-of-women trend of THELMA & LOUISE and TERMINATOR 2, it still helped birth a new type of female movie star.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 10th, 2021 at 7:06 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “The Blue Lagoon / Return to the Blue Lagoon”

  1. Lil’ Majestyk’s very first exposure to the modern marvel of home video was a dubbed long-play tape with STAR WARS (missing the entire opening sequence), SUPERMAN II, and BLUE LAGOON. The first two formed the basis for my love of movies. The last one sparked my instant and lifelong hatred of middlebrow crap. BL beginning out of nowhere right when the SUPERMAN II credits start was like a splash of cold yet somehow still putrid water in the face waking you from a beautiful dream. Every image, every sound seemed finetuned for maximum dullness, despite its obvious (even to a six-year-old) perviness. Just a gross, boring piece of shit phony baloney drama that laid the template for how i react to all the gross, boring piece of shit phony baloney dramas that have tried to waste my time ever since. The critics might disagree but they’re all THE BLUE LAGOON to me.

  2. THE BLUE LAGOON seemed to be the TWILIGHT or 50 SHADES of its time. Something morally questionable that was perceived as very romantic by a whole generation of housewives and teenage girls and became a popcultural phenomenon for a bit, but left public concious almost immediately. They probably could’ve milked that shit a bit longer, if RETURN had been released the next year, but let’s not give assholes with time machines any bad ideas.

    Oh, and Wayne Pygram also played the main villain SCORPIUS on FARSCAPE.

  3. Not seen either of these, as by 1980 I’d worked out that this sort of thing was not for me. But I do remember seeing the 1949 version on TV some time in the ’70s. In my defence, I’d say that the 1949 version was directed by Frank Launder who co-wrote THE LADY VANISHES, which is a masterpiece, for Hitchcock, and Paddy Button was played by the glorious Irish actor Noel Purcell, who if I remember rightly dies attacked by skeletons while hallucinating drunk.

    Also – British TV trivia – although Emmeline was principally played by Jean Simmons in the 1949 version, the younger Emmeline was played by Susan Stranks, who introduced a generation of British youth to the concept of nipples by going braless in tight T-shirts when she worked as a presenter on the children’s TV magazine show Magpie in the ’70s. Stranks was eventually replaced on Magpie by Jenny Hanley, who’d played, the Irish girl, one of the women Blofeld is brainwashing at Piz Gloria in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. Knowledge really is power!

  4. Between Blue Lagoon and Flowers in the Attic, I don’t what was in the zeitgeist in the late 70s/early 80s that made proto-YA teen incest romance such a hot commodity. Don’t think I want to know, either.

  5. Jeezus. I was too young to know or care about the original when it came out but I grew up knowing of it. I was never interested in giving it a try somehow being icked out by it before fully understanding why. I’m not sure why it makes my skin crawl when other teen sexcapade movies like AMERICAN PIE or TWILIGHT (which isn’t really a sexcapade but deals with teen lusting) don’t. I guess it’s that it feels like those are made for teens whereas this sounds like it was made for pervy adults. Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong and can’t shake a life long repulsion that’s based on ideas in my head rather than the reality.

    It wasn’t just YA that seemed to have a fascination for incest. When I think of the 70s/80s weird incest thing I think of John Irving.

  6. No, you had it right the first time, Maggie. This is just some pedo shit dressed up in pseudo-literary rags.

  7. I’ve never seen either Blue Lagoon. Perhaps I can enjoy a new to me franchise on the 30th anniversary of its theatrical conclusion.

  8. “Sarah does an admirable job of rolling with the punches, teaching the kids about the Bible and manners, as if any of that shit matters to them anymore.” ?? If it were a Muslim mom teaching her stranded kids to pray to Mecca, would that still get a thumbs down? And when isn’t ‘cover your mouth when you sneeze’ a good idea?

    I guess I could see the ‘how would sexuality/romance develop in the absence of societal expectations (except I guess the societal expectation from being raised by a civilized person and also there’s no rape because we don’t want to go that dark)” premise being interesting, but does that really require the young, YOUNG teenager stuff? I suppose maybe… it’d be hard to explain two separate ‘raised by wolves’ types meeting in adulthood. But then probably you should keep that story in prose. I’m sure there’d still be people who get off on it, but at least there wouldn’t be any actual kids involved.

  9. I don’t know when we decided that it’s okay for grown adults to unironically use the word “icky”, but I’m decidedly against it.

  10. The best Blue Lagoon is the parody in “Top Secret”.

    (On another note… Jay-sus, don’t be like these Internet imbeciles who use “literally” as a synonym for “figuratively” or a substitute for space!)

  11. JugoBetrugo – Explain your reasoning.

    Max Canada – I apologize for my oversight (they believe babies are LITERALLY born in cabbage patches) but nobody ever said I wasn’t an internet imbecile. By the way AP style guide hasn’t capitalized internet for over five years.

  12. JugoBetrugo and Max Canada – Why are you nitpicking Vern’s writing? The man’s been reviewing films for nearly 20 years (or more?) and has cultivated a distinct style and point of view. Instead of complaining, create your own thing. Start reviewing movies using the language you prefer.

    This isn’t a diner where you can complain because the cook put mayonnaise on your hamburger.

  13. VERN – My reasoning is that icky is barely a real word. It’s one of those fake words we teach to 5 year olds because we don’t trust them to use the words “gross” or “disgusting” for some reason. For me, a grown adult using the word “icky” is comparable to someone saying ca-ca or wee-wee. It’s just not befitting of an adult.

    This kind of infantilized langauge just bothers me. I think you’re a great writer, I have bought all your books and will buy anything that you publish in the future. In my mind, the word icky is beneath a writer of your calibre. Of course, it is not my place to tell you what is or isn’t beneath you and I didn’t mean for my initial comment to come across as agressive and judgemental as it probably did.

    Full disclosure, my parents refused to ever use baby-talk when I was a child and instead of children’s books, they read to me from newspaper articles and instruction manuals for household electronics. So my hardline aversion to what I consider to be childish language is probably more of a personal issue than anything else.

  14. “Icky” came out of jazz slang in the ’30s, referring to sickly-sweet commercialised music. I think the swing musicians who used the word were generally adults.

    On another note, I’ve never seen anyone use “literally” as a synonym for “figuratively.” I’ve seen people use it as an intensifier, which isn’t the same thing.

  15. Also came here to defend the use of “icky”, but as Matthew has already made the point I was gonna make, I’ll just add that the White Stripes album Icky Thump cannot be used to defend the use of “icky” – not that anyone has – since that is a corruption of “ecky thump”, a northern English expression of delight or surprise the etymology of which remains obscure.

    Generally I’d agree that there is a case for reducing the use of infantilised language, but that scene in PAPER MOON where Tatum O’Neal says “Daddy, I need to go to the shithouse” would lose all its power if we all talked like that all the time. And that would be a shame, as I thought my sister was gonna die laughing the first time she saw that scene.

  16. The English language is full of words that aren’t really words until they are. Shakespeare made up dozens of them. That’s the beauty of a living language. We all get to play with it and mold it. Well, except boring traffic cop prescriptive grammarians who think their lack of whimsy and adaptability somehow makes them superior. But we all pretty much ignore those drips anyway.

  17. I do not find “icky” to be baby talk in American English, and I have considered the other options for conveying the specific feeling, and I stand by my choice. But I appreciate the clarification about where you’re coming from. And I obviously found the comment about “literally” to be dickish and pedantic, but I would have appreciated it from an editor, so I am granting Max temporary one time only retroactive editor status, and all is forgiven. Thank you for reading this review, which I wasn’t sure anybody would.

  18. Man, this one got heated.

  19. I’m deep in ca-ca because I literally (in all senses of the word) wrote a very adult book called ICKY. I like the complexity and quirks of the English language, and there is nothing in Vern’s review which is immature or unreasonable.

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