Thursday 1 March 2012


Time for another CAPTAIN'S BLOG, but, before we get back onto the Star Trek here, let's take a look at it's immediate ancestor.

Forbidden Planet was released in 1956, a full decade before Star Trek was aired, yet there are so many similarities. Gene Roddenberry cited the film as one of his inspirations for the series. Forbidden Planet was a groundbreaking science fiction film, and its story of a manned starship travelling deep into the Galaxy, on a military mission to an alien world is a clear precursor to the missions of the USS Enterprise and its Starfleet crew. It's easy enough to imagine that the voyages of the United Planets Cruiser C-57-D predated those of the more advanced USS Enterprise in the fictional world as well as the real. A line can be drawn from Commander J.J. Adams to Captain Christopher Pike to Captain James T. Kirk. It's easy enough to imagine a party of redshirts beaming down to Altair IV, only to be ripped apart by the Monster from the Id. So why not give it the CAPTAIN'S BLOG treatment?

The Mission: Journey to Altair IV to search for survivors of the lost Bellerophon expedition; adapt The Tempest while there.

Planets visited: Altair IV: a habitable planet with an oxygen rich atmosphere and a slightly lower gravity than the Earth. It has two moons. Once home to the Krell, an advanced civilisation, the only higher life left are surprisingly ordinary-looking animals such as tigers and deer. The Altair system, aka Alpha Aquilae, is a main-sequence star system located 16.7 light years from Earth.

Alien Life Forms: The Krell were a highly developed species that evolved a million years beyond what humanity has achieved. What they looked like is unknown, but judging from their wide, triangular doors, they were large and non-humanoid. Their brains were vastly more sophisticated than a human’s; a human genius would rate as a low-grade moron in their society. Their children played with toys that are more complex than any human-made device. They became extinct 200,000 years ago in mysterious circumstances.

The Monster from the Id is an entity of great power and savagery, with seemingly variable size and mass and limitless reserves of energy that allow it to renew itself in the face of attack. Completely invisible to human eyes and ordinary detection methods, it becomes visible when exposed to dangerous energies, such as blasters and forcefields. It manifests as a huge, bellowing beast, but it’s physiology is evolutionarily impossible. When invisible, it still leaves footprints.

The truth becomes clear; the Monster is the manifestation of Morbius’s own subconscious base urges, made physical by the Krell technology. It is this breakthrough that heralded the destruction of the Krell.

Future technology: The United Planets Cruiser C-57-D is a classic flying saucer, capable of landing on planetary surfaces. It contains a great deal of advanced technological equipment, such as inertial dampener fields for holding crew safe during acceleration and deceleration. The ship is capable of superluminal speeds, but it takes over a year to reach Altair. The crew have ready access to forcefields and blasters, but more complex or heavy-duty equipment requires special construction. The ship’s engineer is called a ‘quantum mechanic!’

The Krell left behind such devices as the ‘plastic educator,’ a device for mental exercise that can permanently double the mental capacity of a human brain - but almost always proves fatal. Only Morbius survives its use. It is linked the Krell’s Great Machine, a vast network of chambers filled with technology that dwarfs anything known to mankind. The Great Machine has almost limitless reserves of power. The Machine and the plastic educator together allowed the Krell to advance their own minds, but at the cost of releasing the buried, savage parts of their psyches.

Robbie the Robot was created by Morbius using knowledge and intelligence gained through the use of the plastic educator. A sophisticated robot of roughly humanoid, he has a distinct personality. Though servile, he has a fundamental routine that prevents him from harming rational, living beings. He is capable analysing chemical constituents of matter and replicating them in great quantity. Robbie is much more fun than Morbius or most of the members of the space crew.

Future history: In the late 21st century, mankind finally reached the surface of the Moon (they certainly underestimated us on that one). Conquest and colonisation of the planets followed, and, by the early 23rd century, exploration of other star systems such as the Bellerophon expedition were taking place. Twenty years after contact with the Bellerophon was lost, the UPC C-57-D was launched. The only survivors are Morbius, a noted philologist, and his daughter, Altera. This would all fit reasonably happily into the universe created for the original Star Trek, although not its sequels.

Don’t call me Shirley: Commander John J. Adams heads the mission, and is played by the late, legendary Leslie Nielson. We think of him as a comedy actor today, but he was a well-regarded straight actor in the Fifties and Sixties. J.J. Adams is forthright, intelligent although not brilliant, friendly with his men but ready to use military discipline when required. He resists Altera’s charms for longer than his men, clearly trying to behave responsibly, although he gives in eventually. He’s reluctant, but willing, to kill Morbius if it will save the lives of his crew.

Naïve space babe: Altera was a baby when her mother was killed - the last fatality of the original Bellerophon expedition. She has grown up with only her father Morbius, Robbie the Robot, and local animals for company. Naïve and trusting, she allows herself to be taken advantage of by the crew; although she initially dislikes Commander Adams, she eventually falls for him and decides to return to Earth. She loses her virginal ability to befriend animals after she gets to know the crewmen. At the end of all this, she’s seen her father killed and the only world she’s ever known destroyed.

Sex in Space: Altera may be virginal and naïve, but she certainly doesn’t put up much of a fight when it comes to the men. All the crewmen can think about after a year in space is getting drunk, laid or both. Lt. Jerry Farman is the first to ‘educate’ Altera in the ways of the world, showing her how to kiss. As far as is said, it never goes beyond this; whatever they gets up to, it sounds like the whole crew’s had a go by the end of the film. If we’re going to be rampantly sexist about it, Anne Francis is gorgeous, although it’s a shame when Cmdr Adams makes her cover up her legs. Morbius looks at her in a way that doesn’t seem entirely paternal, which is very creepy.

Trivia Facts: Leslie Neilson and Anne Francis died within a few weeks of each other; 28th November 2010 and 2nd January 2011 respectively.

Space Bilge: Cookie, the ship’s cook, is a borderline alcoholic with severe discipline issues and possibly behavioural problems. It’s staggering that he was allowed on the voyage, no matter how good his stews might be.

The ‘electronic tonalities’ that comprise the film’s soundtrack are ghastly. Full marks for experimentation, guys, but does the future have to sound so bad?

Verdict: Inarguably a classic. While there’s the odd flaw, as noted above, there really is very little that can be criticised in this film. Everything that happens has been well thought out and happens in accordance of furthering the plot, with the slow revelation of the true nature of the planet. While it is hard to forgive the shameless sexism of the story, you have to bear in mind the time it was made and the Shakespearean source material. It is a groundbreaking piece in science fiction film: before this, no movie had been set entirely on an alien planet, nor had human crewmen travelled to the stars in spacecraft of their own device. Leslie Nielson, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Warren Stevens and Jack Kelly are all excellent in their roles. Robbie the Robot, of course, became the real star, appearing in numerous movies and TV shows in the years after, the design eventually being adapted as the robot in Lost in Space. Hugely influential, this is a must-see movie for sci-fi fans.

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