Monday, 12 October 2015

Looking in on Classics: Part One - Tempestuous Planet

William Shakespeare invented Star Trek via one of history's best Science fiction films, and for our first Classic film night we watched the point where the Bard and Chekov met.

I was caught on the train last week with nothing to do.  For once I didn't have 'homework' and I'd left my book at home.  It was desperate, so I watched an Adam Sandler film.  Don't worry this blog is absolutely not going to be about Pixels, but rather, what my wife and I watching it led to.
Being totally unpretentious, unlike myself, Rose was quite happy to while away an hour, chuckling at the few funny parts and happy just to be entertained during a boring commute.  Whereas I, watching an ageing, expanding Sandler deadpan his way through a film which has one good idea and wastes talent like Sean Bean, Brian Cox and Michelle Monaghan unforgivably, hated myself a little bit.

I know I willingly consume more than my fair share of what many people would call utter rubbish, but I couldn't help but think that there are so many truly good films out there... if we could gain at the very least distraction from this one, wouldn't we get so much more out of making an effort to see some of the greats?

And so 'Classic Film Night' was born.  Convincing Rose that I wasn't just going to make her watch Hammer (as wonderful as that would be) we drew up simple guidelines.
The time period was to be anything before the 1990s and the chooser was to select a film which the other person hadn't seen before.
Being the one with the at-home film collection I got to go first, and knew exactly what I was going to dust off.  I couldn't remember a time that I hadn't loved 1956's Forbidden Planet - but how was it going to hold up almost sixty years after it was made?

What surprises me first of all is that on some primal level I'm still scared of the famous Monster from the Id.  What you can't see and have to imagine is always more frightening than what you are shown applies, except we glimpse enough of the embodiment of Morbius's dark side for Rose to correctly point out that it looks somewhat like the Warner Bros cartoon Tasmanian Devil.  Although the electric fence scene is literally the stuff of childhood nightmares, but it's the climax, when the audience and the characters realise that no amount of metal doors and barriers are going to keep it out which really does it for me.  

There is no where in the world to run to when the monster is your own primal and destructive impulses, actualised and powered by the entire world itself.   Even more than this, it's the sound design, the unsettling electronic score and sound effects - particularly the howling of the Krell generators and the roaring of the unstoppable beast itself.

While living in Britain we hugely enjoyed a musical called Return to the Forbidden Planet.  This took Shakespeare's The Tempest, widely acknowledged as the direct inspiration for Forbidden Planet, and then recombined it with the film itself, adding barnstorming hits from the 50s and 60s to produce a fantastic night's entertainment. 

This prepared Rose slightly for what to expect, but at times I feared the pacing of the film might lose her.  This definitely dates Forbidden Planet, as does some of the attempts at comedy relief and the extremely uncomfortable scenes involving one of the Space Cruiser crewmen attempting to take advantage of Altaira, a teenager who has never seen a man other than her own father before.  Walter Pidgeon seems to struggle with any scene requiring a display of emotion, although the implied inappropriate feelings he might have for his own daughter give his character more weight than is obvious on screen.

Nice trick, Doctor Morbius, but why are you thinking about your daughter in a minidress?

But on the plus side the immortal Robbie the Robot continues to earn his cult status and the production's ground-breaking effects and production design still turns heads even today.  But for me, the revelation was Anne Francis. 

The stars of  Forbidden Planet

I know it's tragic but I have to acknowledge that when I first saw this film I would have barely noticed her, whereas now it's difficult for me to look anywhere else.  Rose's observation that Altaira had 'sturdy thighs' alerted me to the fact that we were watching this DVD on the wrong aspect ratio, and Ms Francis' lithe figure was restored at the touch of a button.  My ageing lechery aside, she gives a genuinely good performance, working with very little and wearing about the same to give Altaira depth and conviction.  Francis went on to enjoy a very long award nominated career, and it's not difficult to see why.

The verdict for our first Classic film night was positive, Rose deciding that she enjoyed this return to the Forbidden Planet, the combination of Robby, costume design and storyline earning a pass. 
Next week is her choice, a Franco Zefferelli film which inspired her as a youngster: Brother Son, Sister Moon.

These few paragraphs are worth clicking on and reading,
written by someone who was a kid in 1956 when this film was released.

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