It’s interesting how some movies stay with you for life. Some you outgrow, and some you don’t.
Back in the 1970s my Mom would take my sister and I to the kiddie matinees at the General Cinema in Shrewsbury, NJ. We got to see Don Knotts movies like “The Incredible Mr. Limpet”, “Willie Wonka” with Gene Wilder, and the 1966 “Batman” movie with Adam West. And on one such Saturday, she took us to see the 1964 film adpatation of “Island of the Blue Dolphins”.
To this adolescent it wasn’t up there with “Planet of the Apes”, but I do remember enjoying it, and there were scenes that really stuck with me. Particularly one where the film’s heroine, Karana, rubs poison berries into the open wound of Rontu, the dog she’d just shot with an arrow. In the VHS version there’s no closeup of her doing this, but I swear in the theatrical version there was. And I never forgot how scenes of her running along coastal mountaintops looked on that large movie screen.
One night in the mid-90’s I spotted it in Blockbuster and thought it’d be a kick to revisit the “kiddie” film from my youth. At this point in my life I had a curiosity about Native Americans. I always had a great deal of respect for them, and my great grandmother on my mother’s side was Native. It was early summer, and based on what I remembered it seemed like a perfect choice.
From the opening credits I was immediately drawn in, and Paul Sawtell’s orchestral score transported me to another world. I was also struck by the fact that it took place on the Santa Barbara Islands in the 1800s. As a child I think I actually thought it took place in prehistoric times(!). Discovering it was California of all places, in a time not that long ago, definitely gave pause.
I really fell in love with the movie that night, and it would become one of my seasonal “ritual” movies. For the next few years, I’d pick an evening in the summer and rent it from Blockbuster, out to recapture that same feeling again.
Life events happened, and I didn’t see it for quite a long time. One day I went looking for it on Netflix, and was deeply upset to learn it was out of print. I was able to score a bootleg DVD online, but predictably the transfer is from a VHS.
I imagine if the film were made today, they’d inject it with more “realism” to make it more like “The Revenant”, focusing more on the struggles Karana endured on the island and the tragic ending to her life. That’s a movie I wouldn’t mind seeing, but it would be a much different experience. They’d probably play up the strong female hero angle as well – let’s just hope not in a “Lara Kroft” kind of way.
For me, the best movies are the ones that take you somewhere. There’s still good movies being made, but rarely do you leave feeling like you got to fully inhabit the world in which the movie exists. I love where “Island of the Blue Dolphins” takes me. It’s a beautiful film, that deserves to be remembered.