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07 February 2005

"Yes, Morbius. A simple blaster."

Behold the most holy and sacred of all space ray blaster pistols: the Simple Blaster carried by the crew of United Planets cruiser C-57D of "Forbidden Planet." Above, in a few minutes, the rear view, the part you see while you are vaporizing a hostile Saperstein's Lesser Znrq, because I am too incompetent at this time to include it in this post.

Is it possible you have never seen this film? What's wrong with you? It's an old movie, granted, a geezerflick, but it has both Sound and Color and Amazing FX. In fact the producers weren't satisfied with their own Hyperspace flying saucer, Simple Blaster,

Robby the Robot

and a score of other astonishing wowie-gee effects, so they hired Walt Disney Studios to build them a wireless perimeter fence of 33 gazillion volts and amps being violated by a horrible nightmarish invisible giant mutant violent homicidal indestructable alien monster, and Walt whipped up a dandy, a real pip, very so not Mickey Mouse, the anti-Littlest Mermaid. (Actually the Disney Studios already had a proud, long tradition of inducing lifelong traumatic horror in millions of small children, so this was right up their alley.)

They also hired a screenwriter, although the buzz is that the screenwriter filched the plot lock, stock and barrel from one of William Shakespeare's plays. Vleeptron Pizza Slice to first posted correct comment about which play.

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for correct answer to this: On which famous human being, and his famous story, is Klaatu, the alien visitor in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," modeled?

What is the scariest monster in the Milky Way? What is the scariest monster in Dwingeloo 1 or Dwingeloo 2? What is the scariest monster there ever could possibly be anywhere? That's the monster in "Forbidden Planet."

The American Film Institute cogitated long, hard and expensively on a recent List of 100 All-Time Greatest Movies, and somewhere in the list, a little below "Battleship Potemkin" and "Modern Times," is "Flash Gordon," starring the Olympic swimming champion Buster Crabbe. It has no color, and, if you listen carefully to the dialogue and try to follow the plot, it has no dialogue, and they saved a lot of money on expensive screenwriters also. Why bother? The Target Audience was 11- and 12-year-old boys sitting in a dark movie theater in 1936 on Saturday morning, watching the latest (of 12) episode, at the end of each one Flash plunging or baking or being disemboweled to certain doom. For this you don't need Dalton Trumbo.

But are 12-year-old boys not men and brothers? Are they not human beings with dirty simple little souls and feelings worthy of a little notice and acknowledgement? The human soul cannot live on Ibsen plays or "Out of Africa" with Meryl Streep alone. Some of us appreciate flying saucers, amazing robots, laser death ray blaster guns, and Saperstein's Lesser Znrq. And the American Film Institute acknowledged and validated that by sticking "Flash Gordon" on the list.

"Forbidden Planet" is Altair-IV. Flash Gordon and Dale Arden travel to Mongo, which is ruled with a cruel and iron fist by the Emperor Ming the Merciless XXIII, as nasty a despot and tyrant as you're ever likely to meet. While on vacation,
Mom and Dad are abducted in their station wagon to Planet Spengo, which is ruled over by the special tyrant, Todd Spengo, who has a scheme to destroy Earth, after forcing Mom (Teri Garr) to marry him.

As we here on Earth witness the slow but inexorable extinction of the autocratic tyrant and despot -- as a historic model of governance, that used to be the only game in town (cf. "Gilgamesh" et al) -- the 12-year-old boy in half of us can take comfort in all the hundreds of sentient-inhabited planets which we know with certainty to be scattered throughout the Melkweg (cf. Sagan and Schlovskii, "Intelligent Life in the Universe") and the Dwingeloo Galaxies. Some may be ruled by parliamentary democracies and councils resembling the European Union in Brussels, or by Krypton's Science Council.

But surely others, surely many planets are still firmly in the grip of some dude who says things like, "Wash her and bring her to my chamber." It is our responsibility, as possessors of the Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring, and as members of the Blue Blaze Irregulars, to find these tyrants wherever they dwell and thwart their evil designs and introduce more representative and progressive models of government to these far-off planets.

There still are a few Earth guys who rule sovereign nations with utterly no parliamentary restraints, have the weirdest hobbies, and when they say, "Off with his head," off goes his head, with no lengthy appeals process or protesters carrying large signs on the sidewalk in front of the palace.

Until 1917, the Tsar was one of those guys, and his was no rinky-dink little tropical island -- this was All The Russias, from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. When the Tsar oped his mouth and spake that he wanted something, this was called a Ukase, and everybody hopped to it instantly.

One morning around 1810 Tsar Nicholas I was reviewing the young officers of his Imperial Troops. As he passed from resplendent young officer to uniformly resplendent young officer, an aide would say, "Lieutenant Grobinov," "Lieutenant Varvov," etc. Then the aide said "Lieutenant ..." and suddenly somebody sneezed, the sound of which in Russian is KIJE!

"Ah," spake the Tsar, "Lieutenant Kije!"

He spake it, so that was a Ukase. All the Tsar's horrified generals and marshals quickly had to invent a Lietenant Sneeze, and for years afterwards, whenever the Tsar inquired, they would regale him for hours with the latest amazing and heroic exploits of Lieutenant A-Choo! At one point, Lieutenant Kije chased Napoleon Bonaparte around a tent with his sword, but Bonaparte finally managed to get away.

(My mother told me that during my great-uncle's service as a Doughboy in France during World War I, he reached Berlin and chased Kaiser Wilhelm around a tree three or four times, but the Kaiser also got away.)

You can read about the wonderful military career of Lieutenant Kije, I guess, but it's much better to go to the symphony orchestra and hear it the way Prokofiev composed it (actually, for a movie, if you can find it). It's wonderful music, and early on, the entire orchestra sneezes -- a sound like no other in classical music.

Do little girls like this Space Adventure crapola too? Their gender certainly figures Large in this genre of cinema (Princess Leia, e.g.). Please post your Comments.


Blogger ben said...

google says forbidden planet was based on 'the tempest'

Blogger ben said...

i've read the tempest and-- i think-- seen the movie, but I'm not sure I can remember either too well at the moment.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Ben wins the Pizza Slice -- Forbidden Planet is indeed a pretty blunt theft from "The Tempest."

BUT ... quite a bit more in many respects -- this was one very damned clever piece of respectful plagiarism.

Rent FP and it will be very plain very quick who Prospero is, who Miranda is, who Ariel is ... and who Caliban is.


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