Thursday, 1 May 2014

Forbidden Planet (1956)

The one science fiction film that inspired everything, just about. This historically significant sci-fi pretty much gave birth to ideas and concepts that went on to influence so many other classic franchises that are now themselves deemed to be classics. The only science fiction characters I can think of that came along before this film that may have influenced it in one way or another are Flash Gordon Buck Rogers and, believe it or not, Duck Dodgers. That classic Daffy Duck cartoon has quite similar visuals and ideas you'll notice. Oh and lets not forget about that Shakespeare chap and his play The Tempest, there's also some kind of parallel there it seems.

It is very easy to see similarities with later sci-fi franchises whilst watching this film, the most obvious (to me) being Star Trek from the futuristic space attire to pretty much everything. The crew don't beam down in this film though, its all a bit more grounded. But the way they start to explore with lasers at the ready, the dialog and the fact you know most of the crew are dispensable accept for the main three leads and the young cook is amusing. The equivalent of Star Treks stock 'redshirt' characters, the young cook being a kind of early Scotty equivalent, almost like the happy-go-lucky crew mascot.

I think we can all agree on one thing here, its the visuals throughout the film in general that inspire and excite. The films starts off in a very typical spaceship interior which these days probably would do nothing for you. There isn't much to shout about at first, blokes in grey space suits, in space, with identical hairdos, being all militaristic and straight laced (although the suits have a nice natty design). Your eyes start to quiver with nerd orgies when we see the horrifically stereotypically designed 1950's flying saucer spaceship land slowly on Altair IV. This is where it all begins, this is where the film becomes one long continuous iconic vision after another. For starters Altair IV looks awesome it really does, its merely a matte painting in the background for both models and live action and its pretty basic in concept...but it looks gorgeous! (and sooo Trekkie-esque).

Despite the rather grey and dull colour scheme for the planet it just looks so vibrant and attractive in every shot. I love the jagged vertical rocks and the simple use of painted force perspective to create such a grand alien vista. Must mention the smartly named C57-D starship which, as said, is merely a flying saucer. Yeah it may look cheesy as hell but come cool is it with that sweet neon blue glow when it lands and that haunting whistle-like noise. Along with that there are the quite stunning underground machines of the 'Krell' which are again a combination of some fantastic matte painting work set against live action, again the forced perspective really tricks the eye (these sequences look like Duck Dodgers). And who can forget the monstrous 'Id' monster which is another brilliant piece of traditional craftsmanship in the simple form of hand drawn animation by a Disney animator (and you can tell). Its all the blue laser fire and that red/pink glowing outline of the monster that make it all look so unique, fun and ahead of its time (for the time).

There really is so much to talk about in this movie its hard to get it all in. Aside from the spectacular eye candy and effects you also have the legendary Robbie the Robot which can only be described as an almost mythical, immortal character of sci-fi. I mean just look at it! this film was made in 1956 but that robot is fudging epic! Sure its a bit cartoony looking but the obvious mechanics functions and hard work involved in making him are admirable, and Robbie isn't even the films main attraction really. The only thing that lets it down are the now slightly dated interior sets and the quite corny looking garden areas complete with Earth animals...which takes you out of the film.

Can't not mention the score can I, the first completely electronic score in a movie. Its an eerie spooky score that's for sure but it adds such depth and character to the whole adventure. An array of sounds which come across sounding like dripping water, bubbling, underwater noises, various hums, whirs, clicks, beeps, whines etc...The kind of things you'd expect to hear in an old fashioned mad scientists laboratory, I always felt this score could of worked well in the film 'Fantastic Voyage' personally, perfect for all those internal organ sequences. I love this score I really do, its so imaginative, simple and creepy, yet really pleasant to listen to and very relaxing surprisingly.

I still look back and find it hard to believe that the spoof master Leslie Nielsen was in this, as we all know he sure changed his persona. Yeah back in the days before his hair went white and he wasn't acting the fool in a genius kinda way Nielsen was a stoic stern no nonsense space Commander who gets his girl. The rest of the crew are all a bit faceless really (their identical outfits don't help) and its hard to think that such a game changer like this doesn't really have any big stars. Walter Pidgeon as the now famously named Dr Morbius who kinda looks like he should be in a haunted castle somewhere instead of an alien planet, is the only other big name really. Robbie and the effects are more of a draw than the cast truth be told, not sure how it was back in 56 but you get that impression.

As for the plot its definitely more than a simple humans vs aliens sci-fi which you might expect. Its actually quite a clever one involving an ancient alien race and their supreme technology getting abused by a human and the long dead aliens themselves causing their own downfall. Manifestations of the mind, a beings Id brought to life as a living creature. Here we see Dr Morbius losing control, the real monster is Morbius' mind, his subconscious. I believe Morbius wanted to prevent the human race from gaining the alien technology and similarly losing control wiping themselves out, plus he and his daughter have it pretty sweet on Altair and he didn't want that disturbed. Personally I always wanted to see more planetary aliens, bugs and monsters, a Doug McClure in space type adventure, but this is a more meaningful story.

Yeah the film does feel very much like a long original Star Trek episode I can't deny it, that's not a bad thing of course, it just shows how influential this film was. All I'm saying is looking back now its really incredible to see how close both franchises actually are visually. Even though I love the visuals I must admit to finding the plot a tiny bit dull with more hints of action rather than actual action. I'm not saying I want just pure action but as said I would have loved to see more space beasties, the look of the film cries out for it. I appreciate the Tempest similarities but I often think this could of been even more fun had it been more of a stand alone sci-fi plot wise.

But amazingly for a 50's space flick its a very intelligent and deep adventure which has become a full top level cult and the quintessential science fiction film up alongside the likes of '2001: A Space Odyssey'. Even the films poster is beautiful, the kind of classic colourful movie poster you could frame and hang on your wall.