10 Things You Might Not Know About The Blue Lagoon
Brooke Shields was just 14 years old when she filmed The Blue Lagoon, the infamously sexy and slightly salacious island-set romance that capitalized on burgeoning hormones in a big way. The film was shocking when it debuted in the summer of 1980—but even more than three decades later, it can still make jaws drop. Here’s a look at some of its more compelling tidbits, complete with undiscovered iguanas and a nifty trick to cover up nudity.
1. The film is based on a trilogy of books by Henry De Vere Stacpoole.
Although the film closely follows the events of the first book in Stacpoole’s series, also called The Blue Lagoon, the film’s sequel (1991’s Return to the Blue Lagoon) breaks with the storyline presented in the 1920s-era trilogy to essentially re-tell the original story (read: more tanned teens falling in love on a tropical island). Stacpoole’s books were far more concerned with the culture of the South Seas population, particularly as it was being further influenced by the arrival of European cultures.
2. The book was adapted into a film twice before.
In 1923, director W. Bowden crafted a silent version of the story. More than a quarter-century later, British filmmaker Frank Launder made a very well-received version for the big screen in 1949, starring Jean Simmons and Donald Houston. The film was immensely popular, becoming the seventh-highest grossing domestic film at the U.K. box office that year.
3. The film’s costume team used a clever idea to keep Shields covered up.
Shields' young age—she was just 14 at the time—led to some challenges for the production team, especially as Shields’ Emmeline is frequently topless. So the costume designers hatched an ingenious (and, really, just kind of obvious) way to keep her covered up at all times: they glued her long-haired wig to her body.
4. Shields’ age was an issue for a long time.
Even after the film was long wrapped, completed, and released into theaters, issues related to Shields’ age at the time of filming still lingered. Years later, a now-adult Shields testified before a U.S. Congressional inquiry that body doubles—of legal age—were used throughout filming.
5. The film was nominated for an Oscar.
Cinematographer Néstor Almendros was nominated for his work on the film, and while he eventually lost out to Geoffrey Unsworth and Ghislain Cloquet for Tess, he already had one Oscar at home for his contributions to Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978). The skilled DP was also nominated in 1980 (for Kramer vs. Kramer) and in 1983 (for Sophie’s Choice).
6. A new species of iguana was discovered when it appeared in the film.
Parts of the film were lensed on a private island that is a part of Fiji, one of the habitats of the now-critically endangered Fiji crested iguana. The iguana appeared throughout the film, and when herpetologist John Gibbons caught an early screening of the feature, he realized that the animal that kept popping up on the big screen wasn't a familiar one. So he traveled to Fiji (specifically, to the island of Nanuya Levu), where he discovered the Fiji crested iguana, an entirely new Fijian native!
7. The film won a Razzie.
Despite its stellar source material and Oscar-nominated camerawork, The Blue Lagoon wasn’t beloved by everyone: The Razzies foisted a Worst Actress award on Shields. The actress won (lost? hard to tell?) over an extremely mixed bag of other nominees that somehow also included Shelley Duvall’s work in The Shining. Come on, Razzies.
8. Director Randal Kleiser hatched a plan to get his stars to like each other.
Because the chemistry between the two leads was vital to the success of The Blue Lagoon, Kleiser (who also directed Grease) came up with the idea to get star Christopher Atkins feeling a little lovestruck with Shields by putting a picture of the young starlet over Atkins’ bed. Staring at Shields every night apparently did rouse some feelings in Atkins; the duo had a brief romance while filming.
9. Their affection didn’t last for long.
Despite their early attachment, Shields and Atkins soon began bickering nonstop. “Brooke got tired of me,” Atkins told People in 1980. “She thought I took acting too seriously. I was always trying to get into a mood while she would be skipping off to joke with the crew.” Still, Kleiser even capitalized on that, using the tension to fuel the more frustrated scenes, lensing the tough stuff while his leads were tussling.
10. The film shoot basically took place on a desert island.
Kleiser was desperate to capture authenticity for the film, going so far as to live like his characters while making it. "To shoot this kind of story, I wanted to get as close to nature as possible and have our crew live almost like the characters," Kleiser shared in an interview. "We found an island in Fiji that had no roads, water, or electricity, but beautiful beaches. We built a village of tents for the crew to live in and had a small ship anchored in the lagoon for our camera equipment and supplies. This filming approach was quite unusual, but it just seemed right for this project."