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Film / The Blue Lagoon (1980)

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The Blue Lagoon is a 1980 American romantic and coming-of-age survival drama film directed by Randal Kleiser from a screenplay written by Douglas Day Stewart based on the 1908 novel of the same name by Henry De Vere Stacpoole. The film stars Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins. The music score was composed by Basil Poledouris and the cinematography was by Néstor Almendros.

The film tells the story of two young children marooned on a tropical island paradise in the South Pacific. But, without either the guidance or the restrictions of society, emotional and physical changes arise as they reach puberty and fall in love.

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It was released on June 20, 1980, by Columbia Pictures. The film was panned by the critics, who disparaged its screenplay, execution, and Shields' performance; however, Almendros' cinematography received praise. Despite the criticism, the film was a commercial success around the world. The film was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film, Almendros received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and Atkins was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor. Shields won the inaugural Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress for her work in the film.

Compare the 1949 version with Jean Simmons and Donald Houston.


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This film provides examples of:

  • Artistic License – Medicine: In the film, when Emmeline walks in the water she accidentally steps on a fish and gets sick. The fish that the movie shows is called Stone Fish and in fact, if you step on one the venom will cause excruciating pain, shock, paralysis, tissue death, and if not treated within a few hours, death. Emmeline doesn't seem to suffer from any of these symptoms outside of extreme pain and fever, and it seems it takes some time until Richard finds her.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The commentary track on the DVD mentions that Randal Kleiser and his crew never could get a straight answer out of the native islanders they had doing the Human Sacrifice scene as to whether the ceremony they put on in that scene was based on any actual historical religious rituals of theirs. He and his fellow commentators on the track also admit they have no idea what the natives were chanting at that ritual; it could be an actual religious ritual chant, they could be making fun of the cast and crew, or they could just be reciting total gibberish. The commentators go on to invite anyone who happens to know those islanders' language to get in touch with the studio.
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  • Babies Ever After: Richard and Emmeline have a son whom they name Paddy (Hannah in the book — it's the only baby name they know. The sailors later call him Dick M.).
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Even though they're stuck on a deserted island for years, the leads never really look like they're any worse for wear, besides a couple of tears in their clothes and deep tans.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Emmeline catches Richard stimulating himself manually. She asks what he's doing, and he guiltily says "Nothing!" In another scene when they're arguing, she taunts him extensively about this.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Exaggerated, since from early childhood they are literally the only partners of the opposite sex for each other.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: In a movie based primarily around emotional and physical self-discovery, Diabolus is personified in the form of a three-year-old boy throwing oars from boats.
  • First Period Panic: Emmeline is terrified when she gets her first period, and not knowing what to do about it, refuses to talk to Richard about it.
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: They have this as Em is recovering from stonefish poisoning that almost killed her. In the book, what they experience is closer to Slap-Slap-Kiss.
  • Godiva Hair: Emmeline. The makeup artists had to glue Shields' hair to her chest to prevent any inadvertent nip slips.
  • G-Rated Sex: It essentially shows Emmeline and Richard gently making out; they never make any motions that indicate they've figured out that Tab A goes into Slot B. This was one of the things critic Pauline Kael hooted at, specifically when Richard later says "Why'd you have a baby?" and Em says "I don't know": "The way they rub limbs, all they'll produce is friction."
  • Happy Ending Override:
    • Both the sequel film and book have it so that the otherwise-happy ending of the original work (Richard, Emmeline, and Hannah (Dick M) are found sleeping in the boat) is overridden by the reveal that the berries really were poisonous and the adults died. This is especially egregious in Return to the Blue Lagoon, in which the characters' positions on the boat have changed (they're now lying face-down instead of huddled together) and the scene is reshot to have different dialogue.
    • This was Stacpoole's doing. At the end of the first book, the words are "No, sir, they are asleep," just like in the film. We are meant to take words for granted. The Immediate Sequel (The Garden of God) has Arthur saying "No, they are dead" in the very first line, and we are told they have just stopped breathing at that moment. Seems Stacpoole didn't want to write any sequels; he ended up writing two. First, he killed off Richard and Em; book two ends up taking their son off the island as a boatful of New Hebridean slaves revolt from their white masters, kill them and take over the island; in book three, The Gates of Morning, Stacpoole went into full Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies mode. He killed off the island itself by having it completely swallowed up in a huge typhoon. He followed that up with an Everybody's Dead, Dave by visiting almost the entire population of Kanaka people on Karolin (and Dick, but not Katafa) with a measles epidemic. In the last chapter, Katafa's niece Le Moan offers her life to the gods to spare Dick's life and he begins to recover. Sheesh!
  • Hotter and Sexier: The 1949 film couldn't feature sex scenes; this one could and did.
  • Irony: After awakening from a nightmare, Emmeline is comforted by Richard and makes him promise to never leave her and always be with her. After which she kisses him but as the kiss intensifies, Emmeline pushes him away telling him not to.
  • Kissing Cousins: Richard and Emmeline are cousins. They are also the only available mates for each other.
  • Last Kiss: Richard and Emmeline tearfully share one, in the end, thinking they're not gonna live.
  • Loincloth: Richard and Emmeline wear them for clothing on the island.
  • Morning Sickness: Richard awakens one morning to discover Emmeline vomiting by the sea due to her pregnancy.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Done in a somewhat comic scene in which the two kids go running naked ahead of Paddy, who's yelling at them to get their clothes back on.
  • National Geographic Nudity: The film can be said to have this, even with Brooke's hair glued down over her top, but the books have it explicitly, especially in The Garden of God. Jim Kearney, the sailor who stayed to help care for Richard and Em's son Dick with his grandfather Arthur, notes that the child doesn't need any clothes, he's sun-browned and "doesn't look naked". Goes without saying that the Kanaka aren't wearing much either.
  • Nostalgic Musicbox: Among the artifacts taken to the island is a music box that plays Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9, #2 in E flat major. Emmeline says "That's Chopin! I can play it on the piano." It's used by the kids growing up as a connection with/nostalgic reminder of their life before the island. Sometimes they dance to it. None of this is in the book.
  • Oh, Crap!: Richard and Emmeline fear for Paddy when he swallows some of the poisonous "never-wake-up" berries. Worst when they both realize that there's no way they could induce vomiting and realize their son's going to die. In the book, all we know is that Em has a branch of the plant, called arita, in her hand; it's only implied that she and Richard ingest any, and the sailors believe their child got some through Em's milk but it's clear he wasn't seriously harmed.
  • Perverted Sniffing: Richard sniffs some of Emmeline's hair while she's sleeping.
  • Plot Hole: Being stranded on an island for years, neither Richard nor Emmeline show any signs of sunburning although they do have some pretty deep tans.
  • Raging Stiffie: There are many shots of Christopher Atkins swimming naked underwater with an erect penis. How the filmmakers got away with an R rating for that is quite a mystery.
  • Screaming Birth: Emmeline doesn't even know she's giving birth, only that she feels sick and is in pain and her body's pushing against something. She instinctively takes a hands-and-knees posture. The only acknowledgment of it being a birth is Richard asking why she had a baby. (She'd left while he was distracted fishing, then he frantically looks for her — in the book, he never finds her and she just comes back with the child. In the film, he does and is with her during the delivery).
  • Scream Discretion Shot: As Emmeline lets out a loud scream giving birth, it cuts away briefly to the animals reacting to the noise and several birds flying out of the trees.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: Justified, in that neither Richard nor Emmeline have had enough sex education to recognize the signs of pregnancy. They also don't even know what sex is, or that it causes this.
  • Two-Person Pool Party: Richard and Emmeline in a few scenes during their love montage.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Due to their lack of knowledge of human sexuality and intimacy, the romantic and sexual tension between Richard and Emmeline goes unresolved until the middle of the film when Emmeline falls ill and Richard nurses her back to health.
  • Wacky Cravings: In the film, Emmeline indulges in coconut to satisfy her pregnancy cravings. note 
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Richard spends most of his time shirtless.
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