Forbidden Planet  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Forbidden Planet is a 1956 American science fiction film directed by Fred M. Wilcox. The film's characters and setting were inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest, though the plot is very different. The film features a number of pioneering special effects, groundbreaking use of an all-electronic music score (credited as "Electronic tonalities" partly to avoid having to pay movie industry music guild fees) was composed by Louis and Bebe Barron. Their score is widely credited with being the first completely electronic film score, and helped open the door for electronic music in film. The synthesized sounds of "bleeps, blurps, whirs, whines, throbs, hums and screeches" that make up the sound track contained carefully developed themes and motifs, while supporting the general atmosphere of the various scenes.

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Soundtrack

The movie's innovative electronic music score (credited as "electronic tonalities", partly to avoid having to pay movie industry music guild fees) was composed by Louis and Bebe Barron. MGM producer Dore Schary discovered the couple quite by chance at a beatnik nightclub in Greenwich Village while on a family Christmas visit to New York City. Schary hired them on the spot to compose the film music score. The theremin (which was not used in Forbidden Planet) had been used as early as 1945, in Spellbound, but their score is widely credited with being the first completely electronic film score. The soundtrack preceded the Moog synthesizer of 1964 by almost a decade.

Precursors

The use of the name "Bellerophon" ties in with Morbius's character in several ways:

  • The mythical Greek hero Bellerophon was struck down by the gods for the crime of hubris in trying to reach Olympian heights.
  • One of Bellerophon's greatest feats was his victory over the Chimera, a monster with mismatched body parts appropriate to many other animals. When the ship's doctor tries to reconstruct the Monster from the Id based on a cast of its footprint, he is puzzled by its having attributes appropriate to many different and incompatible animals.

Morbius tells Adams and Farman to view the Krell thermonuclear reactions only in the mirror: "Man does not behold the face of the Gorgon and live."

While not stated explicitly in the film, the novelization compared Altaira's ability to tame the tiger (until her sexual awakening) to the medieval myth of a unicorn being tamable only by a virgin woman.

As mentioned, the film was influenced by Shakespeare's The Tempest, though the plot of the film only superficially resembles the plot of the play. Some of the characters can more clearly be opposed:

Robby the Robot can be identified with Caliban -- he's clumsy; he does the housework and in a humorous scene similar to Act II scene II of The Tempest, he provides alcohol and gets intoxicated with the ship's cook; "This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine," Prospero says in The Tempest. The "monsters from the Id" represent the spirits, in addition to Ariel, who were invisible and controlled by Prospero. Alternately, most critical sources (see The Tempest) have identified the libidinous Caliban with the Id Monster, and the sexless Robby with Ariel, despite Robby's corporality. This is probably because Robby is entirely in Morbius' control, and because Robby, like Ariel, cannot be used to do harmful acts, going into lockup in somewhat the same way as Ariel when commanded to do "abhorred" acts by the witch Sycorax. Robby acts in accordance with Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, and is unable even to act against the Id Monster, which actually would require the killing of Morbius.

The title of the film surely alludes to forbidden fruit, as some critics have noted, reminding us that The Tempest itself is a version of the "Eden lost" story, in which isolated islands seem Brave New Worlds full of innocent people and different kinds of Serpents. Altaira, with her garden of tame animals and her ignorance of the meaning of nakedness, represents the innocence which is soon to be brought down by the forbidden fruit of knowledge, here represented both by the starship full of ordinary men, and by the re-awakening of the slumbering technologies of the Krell.

Unlike Prospero, the wizardly character Dr. Morbius is not in full command of the magic of the technology he discovers, and like the Krell he is ultimately destroyed by the combination of power and what Commander Adams calls "the secret devil of every soul on the planet." As the loser in a pact with technology and hidden desires, Dr. Morbius has something in common with Dr. Faustus, and this film of the post-atomic age also is keeping with the warnings of the Faust mythos.

Forbidden Planet follows Aristotle's rules for tragedy. A great man is brought down by a single "tragic flaw" or error of judgment — his belief in his moral superiority, which supposedly follows his intellectual superiority. The same flaw destroyed the "noble Krell" as well. And, as Aristotle preferred, the story takes place over many years (in this case, twenty), yet is told almost entirely through exposition.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Forbidden Planet" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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