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“In times long past, this planet was the home of a mighty, noble race of beings who called themselves the Krell. Ethically and technologically they were a million years ahead of humankind, for in unlocking the mysteries of nature they had conquered even their baser selves, and when in the course of eons they had abolished sickness and insanity, crime and all injustice, they turned, still in high benevolence, upwards towards space. Then, having reached the heights, this all-but-divine race perished in a single night, and nothing was preserved above ground.”
-- Dr. Edward Morbius “Forbidden Planet” (1956)
For a solid scare, who doesn’t like a good, old fashioned ghost story? When the restless, cinematic spirits are released onto the silver screen, an appreciative movie audience is fascinated to big box office returns. From director Robert Wise’s classic chiller, The Haunting released in 1963 to this year’s big budget remake of Ghostbusters starring Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig or the supernaturally potent The Conjuring franchise, with two feature film entries to date, ghosts make for great, spooky films.
Ghosts, adhering to that most basic supernatural rule, usually ‘live’ in haunted houses. The spirits of the departed are now disembodied souls or roaming phantoms. They exist alongside the living in a kind of limbo inter-dimensional state. Whatever your notions of what they truly are or their explanation, it’s certainly grist for scientific exploration - and science fiction speculation.
Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) - with Sigourney Weaver as resourceful bug fighter Ripley - plays as basically a haunted house in space. Long before Scott’s landmark film, another science fiction flick established the haunted house thrill ride of the future for sci-fi fans. In 1954, a motion picture from MGM was released which would change not only the landscape of modern science fiction, but also provide a guiding template for all future sci-fi horror. All that importance, plus it would highly influence creator Gene Roddenberry when he crafted his iconic Star Trek television series. Forbidden Planet - starring Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and Robby The Robot - warped a space faring trail for Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek and Star Wars. It’s Hollywood, media and pop culture legacy remain vastly important, however, at its core, it’s really a simple haunted house story - relating the terror of the ghosts of a long dead alien race.
The Bard’s Literary Shadow Looms Large - William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’
The play’s the thing. In the case of the inspiration for Forbidden Planet, the play in question is William Shakespeare's stage classic The Tempest.
Written by Shakespeare for the stage in 1610-1611, it presents the tale of a powerful magician named Prospero and his daughter Miranda, who’ve been stranded on an island for 12 years. Using his awesome, sorcerer powers, he conjures up a storm that crash lands his political enemies - so now they're at his mercy. Supporting his and his child’s survival on the island is a magical spirit - a kind of benevolent genie - named Ariel, whom Prospero had freed from being imprisoned in a tree by an evil witch, Sycorax.
There’s no starship in sight - nor a blinking, beaming Robby The Robot, but the characters and basic plot strongly parallel the MGM sci-fi epic. Instead of a magician weaving spells of illusion and weather control, Forbidden Planet employs Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Edward Moribus, a high tech sorcerer deciphering the mind bending advanced science and technology of the extinct Krell alien race. The main difference? Unlike Prospero, the Krell subconscious scanning tech which fleshes out his dark unconscious into destructive reality is unknown to him.
Dr. Morbius - A Mad Scientist & His Assistant Robby (Fritz)
Leslie Nielsen and his crew of young explorers from Earth travel to planet Altair IV in the Starship C-57D. Unlike later Hollywood depictions of future space vehicles with starship incarnations such as Captain Kirk’s graceful Enterprise or Han Solo’s streamlined Millennium Falcon, the C-57D is basically a flying saucer. To our much more sophisticated eyes today, it may seem overly simple, but for the time, it spoke to both notions of future travel depicted in pulp fiction magazine and also directly ripped from the UFO reports of the time.
Nielsen as Commander Adams has an important mission to fulfill. His crew must investigate the disappearance of an expedition who left the Earth 20 years earlier. What starts off as a mystery - even a criminal investigation into what fate befell the two decade old space explorers - ultimately morphs into a chilling monster movie.
We meet the usual, even iconic horror movie players when Adams and Morbius come together. Adams and his crew play like visitors who have stumbled upon a mysterious old house - and Morbius, the reluctant host, uses his electronic servant Robby as a kind of butler and lab assistant. Robby is an engaging mechanical stand-in for the infamous Fritz, who assisted Dr. Frankenstein in his grave robbing research - as Morbius conducts his Frankenstein like experiments into the unsettling unknown.
All around our intrepid players loom large the disturbing spirits of the past. As Adams as his crew mates learn more about the ancient Krell race, we can almost hear them wailing in the distance - spiritual remnants of a long dead people who were shattered completely by a tragic fall. It’s as if the entire planet of Altair IV is haunted by restless Krell phantoms, and Commander Adams must whether the storm and bring his crew out of the danger.
Of course, when a rampaging invisible beast starts tearing people apart and tossing them about like shredded, bloody rag dolls, things really lumber on down to monster alley.
Krell Cryptozoology - The Morbius ID Monster
What number and manner of rampaging monsters or inner demons do we all shelter and hide away deep within our minds? Like the raging inner conflict of the tortured Dr. Jekyll and his transformation into Mister Hyde or Bruce Banner who becomes the Hulk under great stress, we are not merely nor wholly the pleasant or civilized public face we share with our fellow humans in polite society. Many of us even fight to suppress those weird urges or the violent rage inside of us, so it doesn’t boil over into corrupting our conscious selves and lives.
At a fundamental narrative core, Forbidden Planet weaves a compelling tale of secret hate and fears which reside in all of us. It uses the Krell as the ultimate example of psychological things buried inside being dangerous and unstable. If they’re unrestrained and unleashed, they have the power to completely destroy lives or even entire societies.
Cryptozoology is defined as: ‘the search and study of animals whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated.’ The concept of Bigfoot, Sasquatch or the Yeti - an enormous sort of hybrid ape man, half man and human or missing link primate - still resonates with many in our real world. Amateur Bigfoot hunters and trackers have made a name for themselves in documentaries and are featured on numerous reality adventure shows. Imagine for a moment if this legendary beast wasn’t something substantive in the normal, everyday sense. It wasn’t flesh, blood and bone, but a product of the boundless undiscovered country of our subconscious? If there were ID Monster trackers, they'd have a treasure trove poking around Altair IV.
Morbius and his daughter live peaceful, even productive lives on the alien world. Morbius plucks transformative science secrets from the Krell’s extensive archives and mind blowing devices. Miranda raises flora and fauna of Altair IV and has Robby whip up gorgeous clothing for her in no time flat. Life is pretty good. But it’s not a challenging existence - at least not socially.
Once Commander Adams as his team broach their little insular paradise, thoughts fly crazily and hormones flow. Miranda has never been around another human man besides her father. And dear old Daddy, while nice enough and loving isn’t a 24 year old space stud hoping to whisk her off her virginal feet.
The primal sexuality and fiery physical urges of a girl whose blossoming into adulthood can’t be underestimated. Miranda is on the cusp of full blown sexual maturity. She needs to become a full fledged woman in every way. Her sexuality is a large and important part of a healthy female experience. Morbius, as with most fathers, is protective, but as one of the only survivors of a colony with no wife to help him or mentoring mother to guide Miranda in the intricacies of the female arena, he becomes overprotective and even witheringly possessive.
A Sci-Fi Horror Legacy
In the documentary, Amazing! Exploring the Far Reaches of Forbidden Planet, examining the frightening, landmark power of the film, here’s what FX wizard Dennis Muren remembers when watching the movie for the first time as a kid in a drive-in theater, “And it was really scary. I remember hiding behind the seat in our car. We were watching that movie at the drive-in.” Noted science fiction novelist, Alan Dean Foster, has this to say on his spooky experience watching the movie, “I had grown up seeing all the old films on television and I knew that Dracula was just a guy in a cape and I knew that Frankenstein was just a guy in funny make-up. But the monster from the ID from Forbidden Planet was not a guy in funny make-up, and it scared the bejesus out of me.”
Forbidden Planet blazed a powerful creative trail in Hollywood which is still felt today. It left an enormously important legacy for cinema in general and for science fiction and horror fans in particular. Like director Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror masterpiece, Alien (1979), it thoroughly entertains, greatly stimulates our imagination and truly scares us all at the same time.