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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Forbidden Planet

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch one of the many movies in my DVD collection, and, in the words of my best friend, "go off on it."  I started this on my podcast many years ago, and gave up because it was so labour-intensive.  So, I started recycling the notes here on my blog!

I give that preamble because we're into a spate of movies that I watched from Christmas 2010 through New Years 2011, hence all the references to Christmas and New Years.  We're into a trio of films that a friend of mine gave me for Christmas at that time.  And first up, the classic sci-fi, Forbidden Planet.

These notes are originally dated January 7, 2011.

OK, so we're back from the Christmas holidays, and that means it's time to start working through the backlog of DVDs that I was given and/or spent my gift cards on.  Let's start with the Blu-Rays that a co-worker of mine gave me.  We kind of have this thing every Christmas where we essentially raid the 2 for $20 racks at HMV and get each other a buttload of DVDs.  This year, he gave me a trilogy of Blu-Rays.  Let's tie into this trio of films he gave me with the legendary 1956 sci-fi film, Forbidden Planet

I can't believe I regard myself as a sci-fi geek and yet, I've never seen this film.  I've constantly read of its influence and its enduring popularity.  We all know how it gave us the enduring sci-fi icon of Robby the Robot.  We've all heard how it's been commonly interpreted as a sci-fi re-imagining of Shakespeare's The Tempest.  And yes, we all know how it starred the man who went on to be a comedy kingpin, Leslie Nielsen.  But never have I seen how all these parts came together to form that much beloved movie.  So now it was time.

It's the 23rd Century.  United Planets cruiser C-57D is off to the planet Altair IV.  Their mission:  find out what happened to the starship Beleraphon, that dissappeared in the area some 20 years earlier.  As soon as they enter orbit around Altair IV, they are warned to stay away from the planet.  But our brave captain, JJ Adams (Nielsen), vows to land and investigate anyway.

When the ship lands, they are greeted by the legendary Robby the Robot, who takes Captain Adams to his creator, Dr. Morbius.  Morbius reveals that he and his family were the only survivors of the Beleraphon.  The rest of the crew was torn limb from limb by some great beast, but Morbius and his wife were spared for some reason.  Morbius's wife passed away of natural causes, and now Morbius has been living in seclusion on the planet with his daughter Alta.  Having been in deep space for over a year, most of the C-57D crew is instantly in lust with Alta.  Alta, having never seen a man besides her father, is similarily smitten with all these handsome young space-sailors she now finds herself surrounded by.  Adams does his best to protect Alta's honour from all these lusty astronauts, and in the process, Adams and  Alta begin to fall in love.

Let's talk about Alta, shall we?  First up, you've got to dig that Disney princess moment where she sings a tune and all animals come from the forest and gather around her.  Secondly, her mini-skirts.  My God, her mini-skirts!  Even by 2010 standards, those are some freakishly short skirts.  Don't bend over, Alta!  This was made in 1956, before the R-rating was invented!  I once read an interview with William Ware Theiss, the costume designer on the original Star Trek, and he explained why women in science fiction are usually wearing next to nothing.  As Theiss explained it, in most sci-fi productions, most of the budget is spent on special effects, and the costume budget is usually very, very small.  So, according to Theiss, every fashion designer in the world has two things available to them that are "cheap, in ready supply, and very pleasing to the eye."  One was some kind of fabric, the name of which escapes me.  And the second:  exposed female skin.  But I digress.

Adams has trouble believing Morbius's story, so he decides to get further orders from Earth.  There so far in deep space, though, that in order to build a transmitter powerful enough to reach Earth, their ship will be out of commission for almost a week.  One night, though, before they are to transmit, some unseen force sneaks into the ship and sabotages the transmitter.  Adams decides to question Morbius on the subject.  Adams discovers Morbius's secret study, and Morbius reveals why he's so defensive and secretive.  Altair IV was once home to a very powerful race called the Krell, who left catacombs beneath the surface of the planet, filled with all manner of advanced technology.  While uncovering the secrets of these machines, one of the devices increased Moribus's intelligence to near supreme levels, and Morbius has dedicated his life to unlocking the secrets of the Krell machines and figuring out why they died out centuries ago.

That night, back at the ship, once again the unseen force invades, and this time, it murders the ship's communication's officer.  Plaster casts are taken of the creature's footprints, and the conclusion drawn is that these footprints cannot be natural.  The next night, the crew prepares for the beast with gigantic ray guns and a force field fence.  The beast arrives, and when it touches the fence, we finally see it illuminated.  It truly is a gigantic, feral beast which manages to slaughter a great deal of the crew.  Convinced now that this planet is safe for no one, Adams and the ship's doctor run off to get Morbius and Alta and flee the planet. 

They arrive at Morbius's home and explain the situation to Alta.  While they are talking, the doctor sneaks away and uses the IQ boosting device.  The device is too much for the doctor, though, and he dies in Adams' arms.  But, before he dies, he tells Adams that his IQ was boosted high enough to learn why the Krell died out.  Adams ponders the Doc's dying words, "monster from the id." 

Morbius walks in, and is very angry at Atla's decision to leave the planet and live happily ever after with Adams.  As if by cue, the monster begins attacking the home.  When this happens, Adams is able to use the Doc's dying words and figure out what's going on.  The gigantic Krell machine was a device designed to turn thoughts into reality, but the Krell were not able to control their id, and from their baser, primitive instincts, they imagined up gigantic monsters that killed off their entire race.  And now, Morbius's id is creating a similar monster, driven by Morbius's anger at the spaceship crew for invading his privacy, and now at Adams for stealing his daughter.  When Morbius finally accepts this as fact, Morbius confronts the beast, and is gravely wounded.  With his dying breaths, Morbius realizes that the Krell technology is too powerful for anyone, and tells Adams how to destroy the entire planet.  From the safety of their spaceship, 100 million miles away, the crew of C-57D, along with Alta and Robby the Robot, watch the planet explode, and Adams remarks that perhaps this will serve as a reminder that man is not meant to play God. 

Wow.  Leslie Nielsen.  Let's not forget that he was a respected dramatic character actor for most of his career, and it wasn't until he made Airplane! in 1980 that he became a comedy superstar.  Having only been familiar with Nielsen's comedies though, it is very difficult to take him seriously in the opening moments of the film.  But once you adjust, you start buying him the role.

And again, you can see the influence this film has had on science-fiction as a whole.  The electronic sound effects that accompany the space scenes have become a cliche of the genre.  I call the effects the "Rocket Robin Hood echo" because that's what I still most closely associate those sounds with. 

And you can understand why this film has stood the test of time.  Like the best sci-fi, with its concepts of long-dead alien races and "monster of the id," this was a film that dealt with weighty concepts, and was about more than just shooting aliens with ray guns. 

It's a good flick, and I'm glad I finally saw it.

The next in the threesome that my friend bought me is the 1980s cult classic Highlander, so that's what we'll be doing next.

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