The film tells the story of two young children marooned on a tropical island paradise in the South Pacific. With neither the guidance nor the restrictions of society, emotional feelings and physical changes arise as they reach puberty and fall in love.
Shields was 14 years old at the time of filming and later testified before a U.S. Congressional inquiry that older body doubles were used in some of her nude scenes. Also, throughout the film in frontal shots her breasts were always covered by her long hair or in other ways. The film received a MPAA rating of R in the United States.
In the early Victorian period, two young child cousins, Richard (Glenn Kohan) and Emmeline Lestrange (Elva Josephson), and a galley cook, Paddy Button (Leo McKern), survive a shipwreck in the South Pacific and reach a lush tropical island. Paddy cares for the small children and forbids them by "law" from going to the other side of the island, as he had found remains from bloody human sacrifices. He also warns them against eating a scarlet berry which is apparently deadly. (He calls it the "never-wake-up berry".)
Paddy soon dies after a drunken binge, and his body is discovered by Richard and Emmeline. Now alone, the children go to another part of the island and rebuild their home.
Years pass and they both grow into tall, strong, and beautiful teenagers. They live in their hut, spending their days together fishing, swimming, and diving for pearls. Richard and Emmeline (now portrayed by Christopher Atkins and Brooke Shields) begin to fall in love, although this is emotionally stressful for them because of their lack of education on human sexuality. Emmeline is frightened after she has her first menstrual period; confused about it, she refuses to allow Richard to inspect her for what he imagines is a wound. Richard finds himself becoming physically attracted to Emmeline but she, though often fearful of being left alone, does not reciprocate his feelings, inciting Richard to go off alone and masturbate.
Sometime later, their relationship suffers a major blow when a ship appears for the first time in years. Richard's desire to leave comes into conflict with Emmeline's desire to stay, and she does not light the signal fire. As a result, the ship passes by without noticing them. When Richard angrily confronts Emmeline about this, she tells him that the island is their home now and that they should stay, to Richard's disbelief. They insult each other and Emmeline reveals that she knows what happens when Richard goes off alone, having caught him in the act of masturbating and threatens to tell her Uncle Arthur about it, which leads him to throw a coconut at her. She throws one back, hitting him on the head. Immediately remorseful, Emmeline rushes over to him but he slaps her and says he wishes she was "dead n' buried".
Richard's fury leads him to kick Emmeline out of their hut. They make up for this fight after Emmeline is nearly killed upon stepping on a stonefish and Richard admits to his fear of losing her. Emmeline recovers and after she regains her ability to walk, they go skinny dipping in the lagoon and then swim to shore. Still naked, Richard and Emmeline discover sexual intercourse and passionate love. They regularly make love from then on while occasionally spending their time together in the nude. Emmeline becomes pregnant. During the pregnancy, Emmeline discovers cravings and morning sickness as she continually indulges in coconut and then is discovered by Richard the following morning vomiting by the seashore. Richard and Emmeline have no knowledge of childbirth and human reproduction and assume that the physical change in Emmeline's body is her getting fat. They are stunned when they feel the baby move inside her and assume that it is her stomach causing the movements.
One night, Emmeline gives birth to a baby boy, whom they name Paddy. Frustrated at not knowing how to feed the baby, Emmeline holds him and learns how to feed him as the baby instinctively starts sucking on her breast. The young parents spend their time playing with Paddy as he grows, teaching him how to swim, fish, and build things.
As the family plays, a ship led by Richard's father Arthur (William Daniels) approaches the island and sees the family playing on the shore. As they are covered in mud, their appearance is difficult to determine. When they notice the approaching ship, as they are happy with their life on the island with the young Paddy, they exchange looks and tacitly walk away and stay on the island instead of signaling for help. Arthur assumes that these are natives, not the young couple they have been searching for all these years, and the ship passes.
One day, the young family takes the lifeboat to visit their original homesite. Richard goes off and finds bananas for them to eat, leaving Emmeline and Paddy at the boat. Emmeline looks around the shore of the island and does not notice when Paddy brings a branch of the scarlet berries into the boat. Emmeline and Paddy return to the boat and slowly drift away, until Paddy tosses one of the oars out. Unable to reach the oar, Emmeline shouts to Richard and he swims to her, followed closely by a shark. Emmeline throws the other oar at the shark, striking it and giving Richard time to get into the boat. Though close to shore, they are unable to return or retrieve the oars without risking a shark attack. They paddle with their hands to no avail; the boat is caught in the current and drifts out to sea.
After drifting for days in the boat, Richard and Emmeline awake to find Paddy eating the berries he picked. Realizing that these are poisonous berries, they try to stop him, but he has already swallowed some. Hopeless, Richard and Emmeline eat the berries as well, lying down to await death. A few hours later, Arthur's ship finds them floating in the boat. Arthur asks, "Are they dead?" and the ship's captain (Gus Mercurio) answers, "No, sir. They're asleep".
The movie was a passion project of Randal Kleiser, who had long admired the original novel. He hired Douglas Day Stewart, who had written Boy in the Plastic Bubble, to write the script, and met up with Richard Franklin, the Australian director, who was looking for work in Hollywood. This gave him the idea to use an Australian crew, which Franklin helped supervise.
The film was shot in Jamaica and Nanuya Levu, a privately owned island in Fiji. The flora and fauna featured in the film includes an array of animals from multiple continents. As it turned out, the iguanas filmed on Fiji were a species hitherto unknown to biologists; this was noted by the herpetologist John Gibbons when he watched the film, and after traveling to the island where the iguanas were filmed, he described the Fiji crested iguana (Brachylophus vitiensis) in 1981. The blue lagoon scenes were shot in Comino Island, Malta and Champagne Bay, Vanuatu.
In the DVD and Blu-ray Disc versions of this film, it was stated that many of Brooke Shields' nude scenes were in fact done by older body doubles. In addition, the film's stunt coordinator, Kathy Troutt, was one of the body doubles, as well as the dolphin trainer. It was also stated that Brooke Shields had done many of her topless scenes with her hair glued to her breasts.
Underwater moving picture photography was performed by Ron and Valerie Taylor.
The Blue Lagoon was panned by critics. It currently holds a score of 11% on Rotten Tomatoes out of 18 reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film 1½ stars out of 4, claiming that the film "made him itch". He and Gene Siskel selected the film as one of their "dogs of the year" in a 1980 episode of Sneak Previews.
The film was the ninth biggest box office hit of 1980 in North America according to Box Office Mojo, grossing US$58,853,106 in the United States and Canada.Main awards
Academy Award for Best Cinematography – Néstor Almendros
Saturn Award – Best Fantasy Film
Golden Globe Award, New Star of the Year – Christopher Atkins
1st Golden Raspberry Award
Worst Actress (Brooke Shields)
Young Artist Awards
Best Major Motion Picture – Family Entertainment
Best Young Motion Picture Actor – Christopher Atkins
Best Young Motion Picture Actress – Brooke Shields
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated
The Blue Lagoon was based on Henry De Vere Stacpoole's novel by the same name, which first appeared in 1908. The first film adaptation of the book was the British silent 1923 film of that name. There was another British adaptation in the 1949 version. The 1980 version was true to the spirit of the book. It included much more nudity and sex scenes than the 1949 version, though far less nudity and sexual activity than did the book.
The story was eventually continued in the sequel Return to the Blue Lagoon (1991). This film loosely picks up where The Blue Lagoon left off, except that Richard and Emmeline are found dead in the boat. Their son is rescued. As Paddy's name is unknown to his rescuers, he is renamed Richard after his father.
The movie was briefly parodied in a flashback scene of the movie Top Secret! (1984). The Quantum Leap episode "Leaping of the Shrew" guest-starred Brooke Shields, and was about a young man and woman marooned on a deserted island. It was also parodied in the movie Going Berserk (1983) when John Candy reveals his reoccurring nightmare inspired by the movie. The end of the dream spoofs Christopher Atkins' masturbation scene when Candy is spotted masturbating by the jeering passengers of a ship that happens to pass by.
On December 9, 2011, the cable TV network Lifetime greenlit the television film Blue Lagoon: The Awakening. It premiered on the channel on June 16, 2012. The male lead from the 1980 film, Christopher Atkins, appears in the 2012 film as one of the teachers on the ship-borne field trip where Emma and Dean are lost at sea and end up on an island. This film is available on DVD.
The Special Edition DVD, with both widescreen and full-screen versions, was released on October 5, 1999. Its special features include the theatrical trailer, the original featurette, a personal photo album by Brooke Shields, audio commentary by Randal Kleiser and Christopher Atkins, and another commentary by Randal Kleiser, Douglas Day Stewart, and Brooke Shields. The film was re-released in 2005 as part of a two pack with its sequel, Return to the Blue Lagoon.
A limited edition Blu-ray Disc of the film was released on December 11, 2012, by Twilight Time. Special features on the Blu-ray include an isolated score track, original trailer, three original teasers, behind the scenes featurette, An Adventure in Filmmaking: The Making of The Blue Lagoon, as well as audio commentary by Randal Kleiser, Douglas Day Stewart, and Brooke Shields and a second commentary by Randal Kleiser and Christopher Atkins.
The 1980 movie was made available for streaming through services such as Amazon Video and Vudu.