Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Forebidden Planet and the Monster Within

Every subsequent sci-fi movie and TV show is indebted to Forbidden Planet”—Charles Mathews, OSCAR A to Z

It’s Halloween today, and I thought that a post of about Forbidden Planet would be most appropriate. Thanks to our relatives in Australia who gave me this DVD as a Christmas gift last year, the family and I recently watched this delightful and entertaining 1956 classic that, in some ways, jump-started SF movies and TV. The tag line for the film runs like this:

among Altair-4’s many wonders, none is greater or more deadly than the human mind

Here’s what the blurb on the back of the DVD says:

Forbidden Planet is the granddaddy of tomorrow, a pioneering work whose ideas and style would be reverse-engineered into many cinematic space voyages to come…Featuring sets of extraordinary scale and the first all-electronic musical soundscape in film history, Forbidden Planet is in a movie orbit all its own.

This classic film features performances by a very young Leslie Nielsen (commander of the spacecruiser that visits the planet), Walter Pidgeon (Dr. Morbius), and Anne Francis (Morbius’s willful daughter); however, I must say that they are all upstaged by Robby, the selfless “Michelin-tire man” robot with a slot-machine for a face. His delightfully understated performance and gentleman’s voice delighted my SF senses.

While the sets are decidedly artificial (particularly by our current standards), their imagination and innovation and entertainment value is more than charming and provides a “Greek-like” simplicity that allows the story to emerge and the audience to focus on the thematic elements.

To briefly summarize, Nielson lands his ship, despite radio warnings not to by Dr. Morbius, on the green-skied Forbidden Planet to investigate a colony that was left there some twenty years prior. What they find is an eccentric and mysterious scientist and his naïve but willful daughter with strange habits—the rest of the colony they are told had perished by some unknown terror unleashed by the planet, leaving the scientist and his daughter singularly immune to its force. When a member of the crew succumbs to a grissly death by an unknown force, suspicions are aroused. This is a great premise for intrigue and initiates one of science fiction’s most popular tropes: humankind in the face of an unknown danger. How we react to it (with fear, anger, or hope), how we interact with one another (cooperatively or greedily) and who prevails (monster or humanity…or otherwise?) is the stuff of classic science fiction.

So, what does this movie and this post have to do with Halloween, you may very well ask? Well, you'll see my connection...First some history...

Halloween is all about kids dressed as ghouls, goblins or the latest superhero, running the dark streets door to door and asking for candy; family and friends getting together for a little brew and a chance to talk with neighbours.

Wikipedia describes the origins of Halloween this way: “The term Halloween (and its alternative rendering Hallowe'en) is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the eve of "All Hallows' Day" also which is now known as All Saints' Day. Some modern Halloween traditions developed out of older pagan traditions, especially surrounding the Irish holiday Samhain, a day associated both with the harvest and otherworldly spirits…Many European cultural traditions, in particular Celtic cultures, hold that Halloween is one of the liminal times of the year when spirits can make contact with the physical world, and when magic is most potent (according to, for example, Catalan mythology about witches and Scottish and Irish tales of the Sídhe).”

Halloween was perceived as the night during which the division between the world of the living and the otherworld was blurred so spirits of the dead and inhabitants from the underworld were able to walk free on the earth. It was believed necessary to dress as a spirit or otherworldly creature when venturing outdoors to blend in, and this is where dressing in such a manner for Halloween comes from. This gradually evolved into trick-or-treating because children would knock on their neighbours' doors, in order to gather fruit, nuts, and sweets for the Halloween festival. Salt was once sprinkled in the hair of the children to protect against evil spirits.

Halloween is very popular in Ireland and is known in Irish as Oíche Shamhna, literally "Samhain Night". Pre-Christian Celts had an autumn festival, "End of Summer", a pastoral and agricultural "fire festival" or feast, when the dead revisited the mortal world, and large communal bonfires were lit to ward off evil spirits.

On Halloween night in present-day Ireland (and certainly in North America), adults and children dress up as creatures from the underworld (e.g., ghosts, ghouls, zombies, witches and goblins), light bonfires (which are now illegal for safety reasons), and enjoy spectacular fireworks displays, even though they are usually illegal too. In North America the “Halloween Party” has become the long awaited big party of the season, where some adults spend copious amounts of money on exquisite costumes and weeks to prepare.

Who among us doesn’t harbour some monster snugly hiding within, just raring to escape the confines of our good consciences for one night of wild and dark revelry?...Go ahead. Liberate it...Savour the freedom for just one night…As Darth Sidius would say… “let the dark side of the force coarse through your veins…” Ah, but take care…you may have to finally face it. Your Id. So what “monster” are YOU going as tonight? guessed it...that's Sammy, my cat, in the safety glasses and showing off to his friend, Benny, again.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

This was the ideal Halloween post, that tells us so much about the history of the occasion, and also cludes a classic SF tale. Excellent!

sfgirl said...

LOL! Glad you liked it, Jean-Luc! We had our own bonfire here, in the back yard of our house by the canal, along with "happy" hot chocolate! Yes, I was happy too! :)