Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet has always been my favorite science fiction movie since I first saw it as a child at the theaters and on television. I was captivated by the story, which is what was meant to happen by filmmakers who took some liberties with the original book by Irving Block and Allen Adler, a fact I didn't know until I found the book earlier this week.

I am no stranger to the way Hollywood changes books to fit the Hollywood version of happily ever after when there is no happy and sometimes no ever after. Very seldom does Hollywood stick to the script, except in the case of Cecil B. DeMille, and that is mostly because he remade his blockbusters at least three times and used the same script each time. The problem is that even DeMille changed the script to fit his vision of what the book should look like; I know that because I actually read Ben Hur:A Tale of the Christ, for instance, by Lew Wallace, who also wrote several other historical novels. That is a story for another time.

Although director, Fred M. Wilcox, stuck pretty closely to the book's dialogue and story, he softened Edward Morbius and left out the dialogue that covers the real reason why Morbius was such a danger to mankind and the universe and chose to die with the planet. Morbius committed the ultimate sin; he wanted to create life.

Do you remember the scene at the Gateway -- it was called the Teacher in the movie? Morbius at down at the machine with the probes touching his head and he "sculpted" a figure of Altaira, his daughter. Morbius said the figure was alive because Altaira was alive in his memory from moment to moment. Big lie! And what about Alta's friends? How did they get to Altair IV and remain exactly the same for 2000 centuries (that is 200,000 years in Earth time when math is applied)? Would not animals brought from Earth to Altair IV have adapted to their new world with protective coloring and attributes? Wouldn't they also have been destroyed in the night and day that destroyed the Krell? And yet there are monkeys (one of five different species, all males), two female deer obviously in their first year of life, and a Bengal tiger roaming the planet far from any other herds or visible life, and they just happened into Morbius's compound. Funny how the men from Earth spaceship C-57-D never glimpse any movement or signs of herds or life of any kind on Altaira IV when they arrived.

Also missing from the movie is Major Ostrow, the doctor, dissecting a titi monkey Captain J. J. Adams just happened to back over when they were trying to uncover Morbius's secret meetings with the Krell still alive and kicking on the planet. The rest of the monkeys were also absent, but that may be due to having to deal with five monkeys on the set. They weren't really needed since the point of the monkeys in the first place was deleted from the script.

Are you beginning to get what is missing? What Hollywood thought too shocking for the American family in 1956 to grasp and see splashed across the scene in Disney's best special effects?

The real reason for the Krell's demise in the book is hinted at in several ways on the screen, and the annihilation of an entire species becomes more of a punishment for usurping the Universe's -- or God's -- power. It is the same power that Dr. Morbius usurps and why he wants to hold onto the planet without Earth involvement. He has gone beyond Earth's power and he wants to keep it that way.

Major Ostrow dies in the movie after using the Krell Gateway to expand his mind, but in the book he does not do so rashly. He is detailed, at his own request, to watch over Morbius and Alta, while the captain makes the ship ready to rocket back to Earth with Morbius and Alta in tow -- even if they have to be tied and gagged. Doc takes the opportunity to expand his own mind slowly and safely over the course of the night while Morbius is in the hands of psychotropic medication that keeps him awake -- mostly because Morbius is afraid to sleep -- and blissfully drugged. Short bursts from the Gateway give Doc what Morbius missed when he was first exposed and lay in a coma for a night and a day -- knowledge. What Morbius has spent 20 years trying to achieve Doc gets in his safe short bursts of Gateway use. Doc understands what really destroyed the Krell and what is at the heart of the Force that has torn apart some of the ship's men. At least Hollywood left that part alone and got most of it right.

It was Morbius's souped up Id that was sneaking out when he was asleep to tear the ship's men limb from limb and sabotaging their ability to contact Earth. That monster of the unconscious mind no longer ruled by social convention or reason and fueled by the unlimited power of the Krell furnaces is determined to keep Earth from knowing what Morbius has done and wishes to continue doing -- create life.

There it is, the reason behind Morbius's furtive actions and his warning to stay away from the planet or be destroyed by the Force. (This is a different Force from the Force that a Jedi uses, although it could be a taste of what perverted Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, but that's another story altogether and happened much, much later.)

Alta's friends are Morbius's attempt to create life, life that when dissected could not live. The vital organs are missing and what is left between what organs are part of the animal's makeup is a kind of stringy gelatinous mass like bloody stuffing. Remember, Morbius is not a biologist for a philologist, a scientist of words and languages. He has probably the most basic knowledge about how life is put together and thus he fills in the blanks in his knowledge with the bloody stuffing. It is unlikely that the animals even eat and certainly couldn't procreate since that would take a more profound understanding of biology than Morbius possesses.

In the book, Alta tells Captain Adams that her friends just appeared one day when she was a child and had been there ever since. Animals that do not age or procreate or kill for food or grow old and die, but what a life is the absence of true life. Life means growth and change and inevitably death. Morbius hasn't gotten that right yet.

The book is a good one and I recommend it for fans of the movie and for fans of science fiction.

While I enjoy the movie still, I find myself looking for clues in what Hollywood decided should be on the screen for what was central to the book. Morbius confronts his monster at the end and Doc does die, but Doc dies of exhaustion and not from a single blast of using the Gateway. Doc was much smarter than that. Morbius is alive and still on his feet at the end of the book. He sets the self-destruct sequence and choose to go down with the planet while Captain Adams and what remains of his crew fly away with Robby the robot and Alta, thus destroying the might and power of the Krell and their drive to create life that killed them -- and Morbius -- in the end.

While the idea of creating life without a god's sanction might have been anathema to the mind in 1956, it is all too familiar in the 21st century where life can be -- and has been -- created in a test tube and the technique for cloning and growing human cells in Petri dishes and test tubes. Modern scientists regularly create life from retroviruses and lethal strains of bacteria to used as weapons to cloned sheep and very like humans as well as growing skin for burn victims. I wonder how far we are from creating a furnace powered by the heart of this planet that will fuel the dreams and nightmares of our collective Ids and Egos and end our race in a night and a day. Moreover, I wonder if that is what happened to Atlantis. Did Atlantean scientists tap too deep into the Earth's core to fuel their experiments with creating life and awaken the volcano on their island to their destruction? Who knows? Not all such scientific imaginings are the realm of fiction.


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