Thursday, 24 March 2016

Forbidden Planet (1956)

"Sorry, Miss. I was giving myself an oil job."

Wow. After all the '50s sci-fi B movies I've seen so recently this is a revelation. It's a fiercely intelligent updating of The Tempest that looks superb and actually makes you think. This isn't what I was expecting at all. I was so surprised that it took me embarrassingly long to work out which one was Leslie Nielsen.

Every aspect of the design is sheer class, right down to the lettering in the opening titles, and this film defines the look of American TV science fiction for years to come or, in the case of Lost in Space, gets shamelessly ripped off. It's also worth mentioning how, in 1956, it was still quite unusual for films to depict humans exploring other planets.

But even more extraordinary is the soundtrack, which is brilliant and adds so much to the atmosphere. The sound effects are outstanding and the music- an eerie, alienating, theremin-infused score that evokes Stockhausen and other contemporary composers- is incredible.

The plot is, of course, basically The Tempest with a bit of Freud thrown in, but the way it's told is riveting, based as it is on characters with actual traits and personalities, a rarity in '50s sci-fi.

Yes, I know it's the planet of the matte paintings, there's some misogyny directed at Alta, the crew are all disturbingly white, and I rolled my eyes a bit at the characters boasting about their IQ's, but there's not much to complain about in this extraordinary film. I can't believe I waited so long to see it.

(As a Doctor Who fan it's clear to me just how influential this story has been. It clearly inspired all of Planet of Evil, right down to the costumes, and it's now obvious where the invisible beasts attacking the perimeter came from in Face of Evil.)

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