Friday, May 29, 2015

Forbidden Planet (1956) - A Response

While Forbidden Planet (1956) involves alien races, advanced robotics, and revolutionary technology, the movie more or less takes these elements for granted. The “vortex” in the movie is not one of space or of time, but of the mind.

The film is set in humanity’s future, and concerns the crew of a rescue mission contacting a colony planet which earth has lost contact with. All but two of the colonists have been destroyed through violent but unknown means, leaving behind only Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis). As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that the monster that has destroyed the colonists is the same that destroyed the planet’s previous inhabitants: the invisible but very physical manifestation of the id.

While the superhuman Krell’s own subconscious destroyed them, it is now Morbius (who has undergone a mind-altering technological procedure which has given him enhanced capabilities) who now threatens the planet. Awakened by threats to his childish and innocent daughter, the manifestation of his jealousy begins to kill off the crew.

It is clear that the wonder and terror the film produces is not dependent on the interplanetary travel or the technology that is discovered, but on the strange and frightening nature of the human person. This is “an important film within the genre because of its deliberate and foregrounded references to psychoanalysis” (Cornea, 2007, p. 53) and this quality makes the story stronger than a mere adventure flick; it is intimately relatable across genres.

It was noted that “what is unusual about Forbidden Planet is the fact that the threatening alien force, the monster, is seen to emanate from the mind of the male scientist” (Cornea, 2007, p. 56). The scientist is the figure who, in horror as well as science fiction, is portrayed as an authority, as having the answers. While not always sympathetic, he mainly plays the part of the savior, or the destroyer, set above the rest of humanity in some way. Here, the scientist is put on the level of those around him in a devastating and game-changing twist; he shares the same weakness as those of lower intelligence, and has found it to be his downfall.

The Freudian “tri-partite structuring” (Cornea, 2007, p. 53) motif can be seen in imagery the film uses. The Edenic gardens that Altaira spends her time in, at one with nature and the creatures that fill it, is analogous to the superego: this is the world as it should be, where peace and innocence are the standards. The red effects used to show the outline of the invisible monster representing the id can be seen in the laser of the commander (Leslie Nielsen), who destroys one of the previously gentle animals who, in the former’s presence, attacks Altaira. Lastly, the mechanical lair filled with the Krell’s machines (and Robbie the Robot) represent the ego, as they are the devices created to control and negotiate in a world of conflict.

Cornea, C. (2007). Science Fiction Films in the 1950s. In Science fiction cinema between fantasy and reality (p. 53-57). New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

This response was written for the Science Fiction Cinema college course I am currently taking. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.

King Kong (1933) - A Response

King Kong (1933) is a hybrid film; while often considered horror, there is much of it that seems like high adventure, with strong elements of science fiction, often coming off more like dark fantasy. Though the film is filled with now-tired clich├ęs and some lifeless performances, the narrative and visual effectiveness keep it enthralling to this day.

The catalyst of the plot, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), is a likeable, but altogether devious figure. He aims to get exactly what he wants (in this case, a smash hit) and gets exactly that. Though he may be the textbook protagonist of the film, he is not the hero - that role is Kong’s. Kong is who we see grow and change throughout the film, starting as a mere symbol of fear, and becoming a character who we pity and respect. It is interesting to note that Denham is never punished for his pettiness, he walks away, mainly unscathed, even closing the movie with a line and a swagger. This ironic role reversal of hero and villain could be seen as merely value blindness of the day (and of filmmakers), or as self-criticism cleverly interwoven into the plot.

Willis O’Brien provides timeless stop-motion special effects, perhaps the most famous element of the film. He is the one who made Kong not just a monster, but a character. While his creatures may not be technically convincing or accurate, they still deliver: they truly are how a child might imagine a dinosaur would be like, and in this way, they tap into a place of fear and excitement that modern CGI seldom can.

There is obvious racial and sexual commentary in the film, especially in the relationship between the actress, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and Kong. Aside from the black/white tension and rape metaphor, there is a theme of men pursuing women - first Denham searching for an actress, then the natives bargaining for Ann as a sacrifice, then Kong fighting desperately to find and keep his pet. These pursuits lead to destruction in one way or another, leading to the classic line “It was beauty killed the beast.”

One of the more curious details is the fact that the indigenous race of Skull Island are said to have built the wall (which functions as a “vortex,” or a barrier that separates reality from fiction) long ago, when they had a higher level of technological advancement. They have since devolved into the savage and superstitious tribe we see in the movie. Cornea explains that “the shock wave caused by Charles Darwin’s revolutionary book … was felt throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and many early films showed a concern with human evolution and the biological sciences” (Cornea, 2007, p. 15). This has interesting connotations for the horror element of the movie, implying that we not only fear attacks from those less evolved than us, both human and beast, but that we also fear our own devolution. Will there come a time when we forget our advancements, when we no longer know how to control the monsters of our past?

Cornea, C. (2007). Introduction: The Formation of the Genre. In Science fiction cinema between fantasy and reality (p. 15). New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

This response was written for the Science Fiction Cinema college course I am currently taking. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.