The Adventures of the Wilderness Family DVD Review: The Defining Moment of an All but Dead Subgenre

Following the events of a seemingly-endless war in Vietnam and the horrid realization that mankind was emitting excessive waste into the air within the heavily-populated areas of the world, it was inevitable that someone somewhere in the already hygienically-questionable ’70s would pack up their daily struggle with life in the city and move out into the country to get away from it all. Today, we call them dirty stinkin’ hippies. Back then, however, they were something of heroic figures to those who secretly envied the ability to stop working for a living and adjourn to the mountains. Well, they were in the movies, at least.

Thus, cinema invented (or at least popularized) the family adventure picture. One of the greatest defining moments for this all but dead subgenre of filmmaking is the highly-enjoyable 1975 offering, The Adventures of the Wilderness Family, which cast former 77 Sunset Strip actor Robert Logan (who looks more like John Schneider did at this point in his career than John Schneider did) and former (as well as future) bit player Susan Damante-Shaw as Skip and Pat Robinson (I know, I know). Deciding life in L.A. is too much for them and their children, Skip and clan skip town and relocate to the mountains.

There, they build themselves a nice cabin by the lake, and spend every waking moment preparing for the diabolical winters the mountains have to offer — as well as learning to defend themselves from the assortment of deadly critters that inhabit the area year-round. Actually, they don’t. In fact, the family-friendly hit paints a very pretty picture here; one that can only be spoiled by actually doing exactly just what the Robinsons do in The Adventures of the Wilderness Family — in which case, the title could very well be changed to The Adventures of the Donner Party Family. That shit ain’t easy, you know.

I also have to wonder what the Hell these two allegedly-responsible parents were thinking taking their kids into the wilderness. Just who are they supposed to mate with that time comes? And what about that stinkin’ old prospector (played by George ‘Buck’ Flower) who wanders in and out of the camp? Doesn’t he have a sex drive? Wait, is that why his donkey is always running away from him? Just what is going on in this movie?!

OK, so clearly I’m over-thinking the premise behind this one. I realize this is a film for families — and, that said, The Adventures of the Wilderness Family is a higher-grade feature in terms of believability than many of the movies we’ve seen before or since. Scenes of the Robinson kids in peril at the behest of a dangerous animal are scary to both parent and child alike indeed, but are handled with enough care here by director Stewart Raffill (no stranger to the subgenre) that nobody should break out in tears (well, except for those overly-touchy individuals, that is).

Of course, the more dramatic moments involving the character of Jenny Robinson aren’t as easy to swallow on account that the “actress” filling the part — Hollye Holmes (a dirty stinkin’ hippy name if I ever saw one) — is absolutely awful. She was so bad, in fact, that her services were not required in the two sequels this film spawned (nor did she ever work in the industry again, at least not under that name), and the part was given to the oddly-named Heather Rattray instead. The part of the Robinson boy — Toby — was portrayed in all three films by an equally anomalous moniker, Ham Larsen, whose parents no doubt broke out into laughter and high-fived each other every time his name appeared onscreen at premieres.

Previously only available on DVD via a fuzzy, grey-market full frame release, The Adventures of the Wilderness Family is now available to enjoy via DVD or Video On Demand in a cleaned-up widescreen format from Lionsgate Video. The print is without a doubt the best the film has ever looked, and the 1.78:1 transfer boasts some truly marvelous colors and contrast. A newly-mixed 5.1 Dolby Digital English audio track is also quite nice to behold, and French and Spanish 2.0 tracks are also included. The only special features this title has to offer are some vintage TV spots and a theatrical trailer.

VOD lovers take note: the two sequels, The Further Adventures of the Wilderness Family and Mountain Family Robinson are available for online rental, though they have for the sake of not confusing the crap out of people that don’t know how to use the Google been re-titled The Adventures of the Wilderness Family, Part 2 and The Adventures of the Wilderness Family, Part 3, respectively.

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Luigi Bastardo

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