Moviegoers were scandalized when The Blue Lagoon hit theaters in 1980 with scenes of a young Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins frolicking naked in a tropical paradise. The R-rated film was so controversial that Shields — just 14 at the time — had to testify before a U.S. congressional committee that nothing improper had occurred on the set. Now that notorious shipwreck saga, originally set in the 19th century, is getting a 21st century makeover on Lifetime. But don't expect Blue Lagoon: The Awakening to be as permissive as the original. In fact, the new edition is pretty darn close to wholesome.
"We wanted a story that the mothers and daughters in the Lifetime demographic could watch together, where the sexual content wouldn't alienate anybody or become the talking point," says executive producer Judith Verno. "When you watch the original it feels like you're doing something naughty. Brooke Shields was shockingly beautiful and sexualized. We had no desire to push those same buttons. Ours is a coming-of-age story that's about much more than two kids having sex. It's a sweet, epic romance."
Which means lots of longing looks, slo-mo dances in the rain and, above all, getting rid of that "ick" factor: In the original, the kids were cousins and barely pubescent when they first had sex; here they're conveniently 18 and, at first, mere acquaintances.
The remake, filmed mostly in Hawaii, stars Aussie actors Brenton Thwaites and Indiana Evans as high schoolers Dean and Emma, who travel with their class to Trinidad on a Habitat for Humanity-type charity project. It's the classic oil-and-water mix: She's an ideal student and a hyperorganized control freak; he's a moody, knife-carrying slacker with some very dark mommy issues. She's a virgin; he's not. While in the Caribbean, they attend a yacht party that gets raided by the local drug enforcement officials and the two end up escaping the chaos in a dinghy. A storm hits, natch, and the next day their boat washes ashore. But where? Days go by, then weeks. They know they're really in trouble when they discover the skeleton of a previous visitor.
"Getting shipwrecked now versus 100 years ago is a very different experience," notes 21-year-old Evans. "Today's younger generation would have it so much harder because we'd be lost without our comforts and our technology. I would be useless in a situation like that. I'd be, like, 'Kill me now!' "
The Awakening may be toned down for family consumption, but it does go somewhere the original didn't — back to civilization. "You get to see the downside of being rescued," says 22-year-old Thwaites. "Emma becomes a woman on the island and Dean becomes a man, then they're suddenly thrown back into their old lives. In some ways they were better off in paradise. No parents. No pressure. No expectations. They find their happiness, but then it gets threatened."
Denise Richards plays Emma's frantic mom, who jets to Trinidad and keeps searching for her daughter long after the local cops give up hope of finding her alive. "To have a child go missing is every parent's nightmare," says Richards. "It got to the point on the set where I didn't think I had any tears left." The former Mrs. Charlie Sheen admits she was at first "insulted" when offered the role. "I thought they were crazy to think I was old enough to play the mother of a high school girl. But then," admits the 41-year-old actress with a laugh, "I sat down and did the math!"
Atkins, however, had no such qualms when Lifetime asked him to make a guest appearance as a teacher who accompanies the students to Trinidad. (Shields was also invited but declined due to a schedule conflict.) "It was the greatest kind of déjà vu," says Atkins, 51. "To this day the original remains a really magical experience for me. When I first read the new script, all the memories came flooding back."
He isn't surprised Lifetime resurrected the property. "Being stranded on a deserted island is everyone's fantasy," Atkins says. "You can't help but wonder, 'Could I survive?' or 'Who would I want to be stuck there with?' Next to 'Romeo and Juliet,' this is the great teen love story." Bella and Edward, eat your hearts out.
Blue Lagoon: The Awakening airs Saturday at 8/7c on Lifetime.