Science fiction, double feature

On Saturday, the Paramount showed an excellent double-bill, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet Both very entertaining and worthwhile movies. I had never seen The Day The Earth Stood Still at all, and hadn’t seen Forbidden Planet on the big screen, so this was a treat.

The program started off with a campy Batman serial episode from (I’m guessing) the late 40s. Shooting probably took only slightly longer than the finished product, on a budget that was probably scraped up by robbing schoolkids of their lunch-money. Hilarious.

The Day The Earth Stood Still gives form to a fear that many people had and still have, that this planet is irredeemably fucked up, and can only be saved by a benevolent alien who will force/help us to straighten up and fly right. Once upon a time, we called this kind of thing Christianity, and the Christian metaphors in the movie are barely concealed: Klaatu goes undercover as “Mr Carpenter,” dies, and rises again. At the time the movie was made (1951), the world was divided into Manichean camps, and the threat of total nuclear annihilation was itself a bit science-fictiony–the USA and USSR were nowhere the point of mutually assured destruction then. These days, that threat seems more remote, we’ve had more time to get used to that fear, and the world is vastly more complex.

Forbidden Planet deals with more universal weaknesses–hubris and the unbridled id, the hubris of forgetting the frailty that the id represents. From a technical standpoint, it is interesting how far advanced over The Day The Earth Stood Still it was–made five years later, we get the addition of color, Panavision, elaborate sets, props, matte effects, and pretty good (for the time) animated effects. Not to mention Ann Francis’ shapely gams. The movie was also an obvious inspiration for Star Trek, in terms of the look, setting, and plot elements and themes for the pilot and first episode. It was a surprisingly academic movie–there was some effort to get scientific references right, and a lot of polysyllabic words, like “instrumentality” and “philologist.”

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