Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Forbidden Planet (1956) ***

NR, 98 min.
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Writers: Cyril Hume, Irving Block, Allen Adler, William Shakespeare (play “The Tempest”)
Starring: Leslie Neilsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Warren Stevens, Jack Kelly, Richard Anderson, Earl Holliman, Robby the Robot

“Forbidden Planet” is more than a sci-fi classic; it also borrows its story from Shakespeare’s final play, “The Tempest”. It is one of the most often attempted plays by dramatic outfits and one of the most often failed. I think I’ve seen more productions of “The Tempest” than any of his other plays, very few have been good. It isn’t the material either. It’s good stuff, but it’s challenging and dense with Shakespeare’s signatures, which can often throw modern histrionics off.

Perhaps the approach of “Forbidden Planet” is best for this material. It simplifies Shakespeare’s story. It cuts down on the amount of characters, and it doesn’t get mixed up in the language or settings of Shakespeare. True, it loses his poetry; but it’s a brilliant relocation of his ideas and story elements.

As a science fiction film, it’s a little drier than most sci-fi geeks are looking for. It’s a very talky film, which might be a result of its source material. It may also be a result of the clinical psychological theories explored within it. Beyond its roots in Shakespeare’s play, it is also an exploration of many of Freud’s theories about the human psychology.

It’s also a pioneering film for the genre. Made on a million dollar budget, it was one of the first science fiction films that was treated to the degree of an A-budget movie. It boasted established stars and no expenses were spared in terms of set. Even the invisible creature effects were a great combination of b-movie tactics and a more elevated approach. The animation might seem dated today, but it was something not found in any other sci-fi at the time.

Even the score was something new. It boasted the first fully electronic score by composers Louis and Bebe Barron. The score broke away from the tradition of the time period of orchestrated thematic scores. The Barron’s avant-garde approach utilized such eerie and non-melodic sounds as those of the theremin in a score that resembled the work of the sound effects crew more so than the composers. The truth is they were brought in for the sound effects, but the producers liked the sound so much they decided to hire the team for the score. Because they weren’t members of the Musicians’ union, the word “music” was removed from their screen credits on the film and replaced with “electronic tonalities.”

The movie does drag. Its pace is slow and deliberate. It may not be as thrilling as you like your sci-fi to be, but it is a monument in the genre.

1 comment:

RKC said...

Anne Francis can make your eyes pop out with springs like those cartoons of the 50's.