Welcome to the second part of the History of Science Fiction in Film. Today I’ll be going further into discussing how the media started to shift, and the medium of Science Fiction became more real, more pronounced and even greater in it’s scope and scale.
To begin today, I’d like to discuss a fantastic Science Fiction classic…Forbidden Planet with music composed and created by Louis Barron and his wife Bebe Barron.
The score was completely comprised of different circuits that were programmed with various sounds to create the unique sound of Forbidden Planet. This film was inovative for it’s brilliance of bringing Shakesphere to life onto the silver screen, but in place of that ideal, science fiction of the greatest caliber was brought to the front. With the Tempest, which Forbidden Planet is based upon, it’s story is one of love, betrayal, heartache and the efforts of letting go. In Forbidden Planet, Leslie Nelson plays a Starship Captain on a mission to find a scientist and the crew of explorers on a distant planet.
Does this sound familiar? Yes, I know what you are thinking. Forbidden Planet was a precursor to the ever popular Star Trek TV series airing in 1966. This film predated it by ten years. Gene Roddenberry was known to get some of his inspiration from this very film. There was animation that was involved, special camera work, and the robot that was built for the movie, Robbie the Robot, became a celebrity overnight.
People were captivated by this film. You can understand why when you see it for the first time. I often recommend this film to many people for the scope and scale of what lies underground in the movie, not on the surface.
Let’s move onto the next film in our documented history of Science Fiction in Film.
The 1950’s were exposed to several films that pitted giant monsters, aliens, and bugs against the human race, as well as their own experimentation with people and other things. It Came From Beneath the Sea, Beast at 20,000 Fathoms, Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Fly, It!, and so many more they are too numerous to mention. Many of these films stood out for playing with the camera, working with green screen for the first time, working with models that were more complex and other factors that went into creating these various monster worlds. One piece of cinema that stands out amongst these are the Japanese created films in the Godzilla series. This was ground breaking for the Japanese film industry and it took the USA by storm.
The score was composed by Akira Ifukube and it was a step ahead of model creation and man in a monster suit. It made people feel like these giant monsters actually existed. The realms of Science Fiction were pushed forward once again by these various films that grew into a fantastic franchise that can be still enjoyed to this day. If anyone has not seen the original Gojira (Godzilla) from 1954, I highly recommend it.
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” Thus quoted H.P. Lovecraft, who was not an optimist for the future. He was terrified by the idea of going to the stars and he expressed his feelings through the written word. He would have been terrified by the brilliance of Stanley Kubrick’s production of 2001 A Space Odyssey originally adapted from Arthur C. Clarke.
2001 challenged what man is capable of, even when it’s set in 1999. Still having the international space station built within the last ten years changes the emotion behind this film. Also having Alex North do the score would have changed the iconic feel of the film, even though it’s a great score. 2001 pushed the boundaries of mankind to reach the stars, to gain access to places beyond our imagination, and it gave us our first killer A.I. in space. Hal 9000 was true evil, thinking for himself, proving his superior intelligence to the human race that built him. It took the crew time to disable his program. This is what helps Science Fiction reach forward, even though it came out in 1968, which was after Star Trek. I urge all Science Fiction fans to either read the book by Arthur C. Clarke or watch Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece come to life.
I’d like to rewind just a bit to 1966 with the arrival of Star Trek on public television. A television show reaching science fiction fans everywhere. It brought up questions of race, nationality, humanity, morality, and the ever greater question of what really is out there in space. To quote Captain James Kirk, “To Boldly Go, Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Gene Roddenberry created the series and it ran for three seasons. What began with that series spawned so many shows about science fiction, and these all made it into sindication for public television and the ratings for the show grew because of the deep issues that it dealt with. There was even the first interacial kiss that was shown on screen. This may have been shocking, but many felt it right to be included in the tv show.
The interactions with the crew of the Enterprise exploded on screen with people in the audience questioning things they never thought of before. It spawned Star Trek fans, and reached bold new audiences that wanted something new in their lives. It truly was a step forward for the world of Science Fiction.
What I’d like to discuss next is Fantastic Voyage from 1966. It seems like I’m stuck in the 1960’s here. So I’m not the only one to feel like those years actually had great meaning for the world of Science Fiction. Anyway, I digress. Fantastic Voyage was essentially about a team of scientist that entered a ship, but this ship was shrunk to enter the human body. To repair something they couldn’t repair in the real world. The adventures inside the human body really pushed the boundaries of stretching mankind’s imagination for what exist inside the body and not just outside. There are actually dangers to us that exist even inside ourselves. White Blood Cells and things that can attack other non-familiar bodies and could potentially destroy such things.
The score for Fantastic Voyage kind of reminds you of the film sounds for Forbidden Planet, but the score was composed by Leonard Rosenman. This film also expressed ideas of should we invade the human body with a crew of people to fix an object inside or repair an organ. What happens when one of those humans dies at the hands of the human body defending itself? These and other questions are answered in this film.
One last film I’d like to discuss in Part II is Planet of the Apes from 1968. Jerry Goldsmith really brought out a unique score. He made the music primal and organic in nature to give us the brutal world of apes and men fighting against each other for supremacy. It was based on Pierre Boulle’s book by the same name. The film begins with a group of astronauts in space and Charlton Heston is our key protaganist in this brutal, otherworldly adventure. He goes to sleep and three of the four crew members survive and land on an “alien” world, where ape enslaves man to their cruel pleasure and experimentation. There is so much to this world, that we don’t fully see the scope of it.
This is the point that the earlier film Forbidden Planet had an easter egg inside this movie. As Charlton Heston is escaping the Apes, he runs up a circular stairway and what should the audience see, but just the exact mold of the creature from Forbidden Planet. If you don’t know what I’m talking about see Forbidden Planet first, then Planet of the Apes. You’ll see if for sure. Next time we’ll examine more of the innovative creations of Science Fiction in film history and see how much we can learn even as the era’s of mankind change through the 20th century and beyond.
Until Part III, Happy Listening!