The Nubile Savages
Two teens, an island, and some strategically placed palm fronds: Blue Lagoon returns!
Indiana Evans (Emma) and Brenton Thwaites (Dean) star in the Lifetime original movie Blue Lagoon: The Awakening.
Photo by Mario Perez.
Blue Lagoon: The Awakening (Lifetime, Saturday at 8 p.m. ET) is the fifth screen adaptation of Henry De Vere Stacpoole's 1908 novel. In the book, as in the famous 1980 version with Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, the protagonists are cousins Emmeline and Richard Lestrange. Shipwrecked in the South Pacific as children, they make like Robinson Crusoe and his girl Friday; surviving into adolescence, they make like unsupervised teenagers. In the original, Emmeline and Richard satisfy their erotic curiosity below a monolithic statue, one of those impassive Easter Island types: "At his base, in his shadow, looking as if under his protection, lay two human beings, naked, clasped in each other's arms, and fast asleep. One could scarcely pity his vigil, had it been marked sometimes through the years by such an incident as this. The thing had been conducted just as the birds conduct their love affairs. An affair absolutely natural, absolutely blameless, and without sin."
Clearly, BL:TA, a Lifetime original, doesn't want too much to do with all of that. The movie, less than sensational, prudently tempers the story's most sensational material. Who wants the headache? Who needs the hassle if you're working at Lifetime's level—outside of genre fantasy, below rigorous artistry? Producing a light entertainment about underage incest is clearly more trouble than it's worth. Here, the protagonists are not cousins living in an earlier century, just attractive schoolmates whose boat party goes awry, stranding them in a photo shoot for Hollister.
Emma Robinson (played by Indiana Evans) is a dimple in a prissy chin below eyes of honor-roll liveliness. Dean McMullen (Brenton Thwaites) is a bad boy and a new kid: "I heard he got kicked out of the last school he was in." (In terms of Breakfast Club membership, she is a straight-up Molly Ringwald, while he is a chuck steak seasoned with hints of Judd Nelson's defiance and Emilio Estevez's athleticism, and also a saffron-y touch of Ally Sheedy's slackerly strangeness.) She has a mother played by Denise Richards. He has a rich and withholding father but compensates with full wavy hair. Dean cuts quite an insouciant figure in the lunchroom, where he idly plays with a priapic jackknife and props his Chuck Taylors on a cafeteria chair.
Where earlier lagoon-maroons have explored Melanesia, our new heroes go astray in the Caribbean, much to the relief of the production's accountants. While doing a Habitat for Humanity-type deal in Trinidad, Emma and Dean join a flock of students sneaking off to a cruise—red Solo cups, blue Carnival feathers, a three-hour-tour. There is a raid, and a run for it, and a misadventure in a dinghy. Soon, within the show, cable news is frantic with hysteria about teens lost at sea, as if the ticker is crawling with sharks or underlining the way that Lifetime is braiding a patented girl-in-peril tale with a mother-in-pursuit quest. The eyes of Denise Richards well with tears beneath a canopy of mascara as she resolves never to quit searching for her daughter. The eyes of Denise Richards plead for the assistance of Christopher Atkins, who makes a cameo as a high-school teacher and wears a look of avuncular concern, as opposed to what he wore in the 1980 version (a loincloth and tribal beads, mostly).
Meanwhile, Emma and Dean wash up in the new Eden. Amid squabbles and flirting, they learn to fend for themselves in the wild. Offscreen, apparently, Emma discovers a Sephora that will sell her pink lip gloss while Dean frequents a nearby body-waxing salon. As a reward for their good grooming in the face of mortal peril, the characters get to have sex. One depiction of intercourse finds the camera peering at innocent skin through a gap in some strategically placed palm fronds. It's as if we're snooping—the implicit creepiness of which dents the effort at decency.
The actors playing the BL:TA duo are healthy and wholesome, if not terribly expressive; perhaps the matter is that both are Australian, and it's all they can do to keep their accents under control. Or maybe it's that both are fluent in English, and it's all they can do to keep from cracking while reading their dialogue. Perhaps the performers are waterlogged: Emma and Dean spend a lot of time caressing in the plunge pool of a waterfall, and they spend an eternity rolling in the spume of surf. "Should we feel guilty?" Emma wonders, in a sudden pout of introspection. About the fornication? No, that's absolutely natural, absolutely blameless. But you kids should be ashamed of the moment where Dean, as if in accordance with a tribal mating ritual, declares the constancy of his love while standing out in the rain. What a drip.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.