Robinson Crusoe for the Modern Age
If Robinson Crusoe was adapted into a film today. By me.
Everyone knows the bare bones of Robinson Crusoe, a story so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness that hearing “island shipwreck” conjures up images of a fuzzy man battling against the elements with his faithful brown companion. Or they imagine Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball. There’s something wrong with this picture (and I’m not talking about the deleted scene where Hanks tried to hump Wilson in a blind mist of sexual rage). Robinson Crusoe has had many TV shows and made for TV movies dedicated to it, but there hasn’t been any big budget, Michael Bay-esque re-imaginings of the classic tale. In an age of franchise reboots and teen-lit movie adaptations, Robinson Crusoe has been left untouched so far. Why is this? And what the hell does Twilight have that RC doesn’t?
We can write sparkly vampires into the story, right?
This injustice should not be allowed to continue. Robinson Crusoe needs to be creatively raped, spun through the washing machine of pop culture and Hollywood politics and spit out into the world of audience demographics and popcorn.
So what would I (I being a mentally stunted young adult with the attention span of a flea) do to make Robinson Crusoe “hip”, “snazztastic” and “fucking awesome”?
1) Robinson Crusoe? More like Robinson Crusoesn’t! (Please note: I am not creative with titling.)
Let me explain. In the novel, Crusoe is a character with some really huge flaws. He chooses to ignore his father’s doom laden speech of doom about how he will never make a living out at sea, gives his dad the finger, leaves for a life at sea and is promptly shipwrecked. It seems that God also agreed with Papa Crusoe. He then chooses to ignore a salty sea captain’s plea that goes something like this – “You are completely jinxed. You’re so jinxed that dipping your pinky toe into the ocean will result in it being eaten by a lobster. The sea hates you, the-stop playing in the fucking sea! Get those armbands off god damnit!”
If this guy tells you to stay the fuck out of the sea, you do it.
So what does Crusoe do? He leaves for the sea again, gets captured by pirates, escapes, sails to Brazil, plants things, sets sail again and is shipwrecked again.
Even when he manages to escape from the pirates and land in Brazil (I like to imagine him lying on a bed of cocaine and hookers), he tempts fate again and winds up lost and alone on a shitty little island. See, this is one of Crusoe’s biggest flaws – he’s too greedy! The whole reason he set out in the first place was to escape his middle class upbringing and make something of himself. That sounds pretty reasonable, right? Only he doesn’t stop there. When he eventually does have a plantation that’s making a reasonable amount of profit, he decides to risk it all by dabbling in a new trade – the slave trade. The harmless dabble in this flourishing market results in Crusoe getting shipwrecked. Oh, and did I mention that he sold the little slave boy who helped him sail to Brazil in the first place? What a dick.
If I was to adapt (and by adapt, I mean destroy) this character to suit a less slave-loving audience, I would start by making him less of a greedy, slave-selling hairy beast of a man and more of a laid back, hipster hairless waif of a man.
Less of this.
More of THIS.
Audiences today don’t want to see the main protagonist selling his trusty sidekick thirty minutes in, they want to see him teaching his young friend important moral lessons and sending him back to his homeland with a satchel on his back and a smile on his pudgy little face.
The modern Crusoe would preferably be hairless (ironic mustache optional), moderately attractive, politically correct (but only to a certain extent - the reasoning behind this shall be explained later) and have the ability to make men think twice about their sexuality. See, there isn’t a female lead in the story, so Crusoe has to look a little androgynous and girly in order to keep the male section of the audience sexually interested. Using Chatroulette and Craigslist (those are normal internet hang-outs, right?), I’ve determined that men will consider screwing anything with a hole and something to hold onto. Offensive? Yes. Accurate? According to the internet, yes. And the internet doesn’t lie.
2) Make Man Friday less submissive
Robinson Crusoe was written in 18th century England, when slave trading was really starting to take off. Black people were seen either as currency or cannibals (or both!), and as a result Crusoe’s island BFF had a submissive and childlike personality. Man Friday was completely under Crusoe’s control; Crusoe even chipped away at Friday’s pagan beliefs and replaced it with shiny Christianity, something that Friday was eternally grateful for. Oh, and Crusoe also told Friday that he was to call him “master”.
Unless you’re viewing the film in the Deep South, audiences would not be happy with this, which is why I propose a complete change of tactic – Friday is Samuel L. Jackson. And I don’t mean just played by him, I would change the character’s name to Samuel L. Jackson and just run with it. And by run, I mean change the entire ending of the classic story. Here’s an example of how it would work:
Rob: So heathen, what is your name?
Sam: African motherfucker, do you speak it?!
Rob: I cannot and choose not to understand your language, but I assume that you are grateful for my rescuing you from your attackers.
Sam: “Rescue”? Does it look like I need rescuing? I was about to BBQ THEM, NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND MOTHERFUCKER!
See, Sam understands Rob perfectly well but chooses not to respond to Rob’s tomfoolery, letting him believe that he is boss long enough to steal his iPalm (patent pending). However, as time passes (told through a wonderful montage of Rob and Sam creating waterski’s out of shark penises), Sam warms to Rob’s ridiculously backwards worldview and learns to pity him, not ridicule him.
3) The invention list
Daniel Defoe enjoyed making his reader’s imaginations walk the plank at swordpoint while cackling maniacally. Let me put the pirate imagery aside for a moment to explain; Defoe marketed the book as a true story. While the jaded, internet soaked youth of today would scream “Bullshit!” at the ‘true’ story of a man who builds his own canoe out of a forty foot tree, the readers of yore tended to shrug and say “Well if it’s in print, it must be true!”. There isn’t really a problem here, except that modern audiences would not readily believe that one man was capable of building all of the things Crusoe apparently built. Granted, he was on the island for twenty seven years, but he manages to have fields of crops, a whole herd of goats, bread-making equipment, pot-making equipment, wicker baskets, a canoe, and many other amenities that make his life considerably better than it was before he was shipwrecked. Tom Hanks only managed to bleed on a volleyball and make it his BFF, and that took him four years. Which is why the adaptation could go two ways; it could either take the Tom Hanks route and show Crusoe continuously try and fail to make fire, or it could throw that realism shit out of the window and just go to town with the idea that one man can prevail with inventiveness and a small knife. In the film, Crusoe could build a sprawling mansion out of bamboo and palm fronds, complete with a sauna powered by a conveniently close natural spring. He could master the art of origami and fashion a three piece suit out of durable hand made paper he mulched up himself, complete with a fancy hat. Hell, let’s give him wiring and metal from the shipwreck and allow him to turn it into a beautifully sophisticated female android. A volleyball? How about something that can actually satisfy a man’s need and talk to him at the same time? In the original book, Crusoe had a parrot as his initial companion. Now he has Shelly (named so because she’s powered by crushed seashells), his faithful robotic companion that eventually turns on him and he’s forced to short circuit her in the sauna.
Robinson Crusoe is basically a love letter to God. When RC initially shuns God and his smiting habits, he is shipwrecked, enslaved and shipwrecked again. He connects his heathen ways with his misfortune and decides that God is awesome after all. The rest of the book involves Crusoe saying how wonderful/gracious/giving/forgiving/loving God is. In 18th century England, this made the book wildly popular. If you had a choice of reading a book about God or catching syphilis from your mentally unstable spouse (syphilis is a crazy, crazy thing), which would you choose? Nowadays people go to Taco Bell more than they go to Church, so this could be a small problem. Crusoe today would probably put his faith more in his iPod than in the bible he stole from his last motel stay. In the book, RC is left with a bible and reads it religiously. What’s the modern day equivalent of the bible? The Da Vinci Code? More Tom Hanks? OK, so let’s not go with the modern day bible. Let’s go for a book that can advise people on how to live their lives, a book that modern audiences can identify with and recognise as a useful and spiritual piece of literature.
Robinson Crusoe obsessed with zombies and the zombie apocalypse? In fact, instead of Crusoe protecting his island against cannibals from another island, Crusoe must defend his bamboo mansion from the undead. It’s politically correct, it’s in vogue and it’s FUCKING AWESOME.
Rob is a hipster. He has an iPod, an iPad and an iBoat that breaks (it’s first gen) and he winds up on a desert island. With no travel adaptors to power the “how to survive in the wilderness” app on his iPad, RC has to battle against the elements, zombies, hilarious racial misunderstandings and really bad hair in order to survive.