Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Blind Spot Series: Forbidden Planet

 The most I knew about Forbidden Planet was that it featured in the song 'Science Fiction' from Rocky Horror Story and that it starred a young-ish Leslie Nielsen. I wasn't quite sure what I was letting myself in for.

The poster for the film is just brilliant. Like many film posters, this doesn't really capture what the film is about just where it is set and that it is most obviously a science fiction picture. The shapely woman in the robot's arms is just to get people's attention, as I'm pretty sure this is not in the film. Filmed in 1956 and directed by Fred McLeod Wilcox, who also happen to direct a couple of Lassie films too. The film is considered to be one of the great sci-fi films of the 50s and also hints to what was to come of science fiction films in the future. Apart from the film being nominated for an Oscar for the special effects, it was also featured the first all electronic music score. 

 The story is a bit of a confusing one. In the 23rd Century, humans have built spaceships that are able to travel at faster than light speed and are able to go on expeditions to colonise other planets. The starship  C-57D with a crew of Earthmen have been travelling for a year to the distant planet, Altair IV, after receiving a distress call. Upon arriving, they are warned to leave by the planet’s resident, Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), a scientist. The crew lands and are greeted by Robby the Robot. The three officers, including Commander John Adams (Leslie Nielsen) travel back to Morbius’ home where they also meet his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis). Morbius informs them that all the other men and women from the expedition died mysteriously, presumed to be a virus that he and his daughter are immune from. 

At night, after the crew start to prep the ship to leave it is sabotaged. Adams and the other officers return to Morbius who reveals to them that he has been studying the Krell, an ancient, highly intelligent native race of the planet that mysteriously died out 200,000 years previously. He had used their technology to advance his own mind at a great cost to his health.  Adams demands he had this over to Earth but Morbius refuses. A few members of the crew are mysteriously killed, Morbius fears history is repeating itself. By now, Adams agrees to leave and offers to take Altaira with them, as the two have formed a bond, much to Morbius’ disappointment. 

An invisible monster/force attacks the ship and crew again. Adams and the ship’s doctor try to find the source of the monster by using the Krell knowledge enhancer. The doctor gets the answer but dies soon after.  The monster is fabrication of the mind from Morbius and he doesn’t even know it. Described as ‘the monster from the id’ they tell the doctor that he has to control himself in order to save everyone. Morbius eventually manages to keep the monster at bay long enough for the crew and Altaira escape the planet. Morbius blows up the planet, keeping the Krell technology from anyone else.

 I’ll admit I was very confused by the plot. I expected a 50s sci-fi romp but it was more like a serious drama set in an alternative location. The film was in fact the first sci-fi film to be set entirely on another planet. From where I was sitting, the film was definitely a precursor to other science fiction films, especially where Robby was concerned and from the costume design, production design and themes of the story. One theory I read about (after I saw it mentioned on wiki) was that the film bares similarities to William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. At first I though it was stretch but I am not that familiar with the play. A little more reading (and watching The Tempest) it is painfully obvious that the two stories bare a striking resemblance, its creatively brilliant to reimagine Shakespeare in space, especially the story of a shipwreck and a mysterious island with a wizard and his daughter. Several of the characters fit the profile of The Tempest characters as well some plotlines. To see the play performed in the Forbidden Planet environment would be fascinating. 

Forbidden Planet wouldn’t be anything without Robby the Robot. He has emotions and a conscious and was seen as a supporting character rather than an appliance that talks. But, the actor wearing Robby and the actor who gave him a voice were not credited. In the credits he is billed as Robby the Robot. Robby also went to on to feature in other films and TV shows and without him, I’m sure we wouldn’t have had the likes of C3P0 and the gang. 

The film is an odd duck that I can’t really see myself watching again so instead of enjoying the story and the characters, as they felt like things I had seen before, I could study the film and do in depth about how it was made and what predictions it made for the future of sci-fi. I can agree that it is a classic and for any science fiction ‘nerd’ out there, this is a goldmine of ideas.

To see where it all started and for an excellent insight to film, have a look at The Matinee and have a look HERE for more Blind Spot posts from other bloggers.

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