Don't Remake Forbidden Planet

Science fiction was a hot film category back in the 1950s, yielding a slew of bad movies (Ed Wood's Plan Nine from Outer Space stands alone as the worst of all time) and a handful of well-done stories of substance. In the case of classics like The Thing, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Invasion of the Body Snatchers they have all been remade at least once. None of the remakes is as good as the original, although the second Body Snatchers (with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy) was decent. Younger audiences may disagree even if they have seen the originals. How can BW compete with CGI?

As good as those films were, towering above them was Forbidden Planet (1956), in color with state of the art effects for its time. Moreover it features a cerebral script, with substance and humor. The story is loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. Not knowing that does not detract from the film.

There have been rumors of remakes. James Cameron was supposed to work on this but he's been tied up with Avatar sequels for some time. What I fear is a CGI blowout that overwhelms the story (a good example of this is War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise). Something like J. J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot gets away with this because the story and the characters are prominent and control the narrative, the substance, rather than being dominated by special effects. In Forbidden Planet, the ancient race of the Krell, destroyed by their own almost infinite power, two thousand centuries before, are more mysterious and beguiling by not being shown. CGI would be all over them.

There are a few things today's audience would have to get past, but remember, the film is almost 60 years old and must be viewed in the context of the period in which it was made.

After announcing that we achieved the level of technology required for interstellar space travel, a somber narrator says at the beginning: "And so at last, mankind began the conquest and colonization of deep space." So humankind's ("mankind" here) mission is to conquer and colonize? In the 1950s it was viewed this way. Star Trek changes this and proclaims exploration and non-interference as their mission statement, although human foibles could get in the way sometimes. But in Avatar, the conquerors are the bad guys and the lesson is abundantly clear.

The human crew has no diversity whatsoever: sex, race, species, all homogeneously white and young. Some of the mid-20th century wisecracking seems out of place, but it wouldn't to audiences of that time. The captain is called "skipper." The cook (for comic relief) complains, "Another one of them new worlds. No beer, no women, no pool parlors, nothing. Nothing to do but throw rocks at tin cans, and we gotta bring our own cans." Beer? Pool parlors? And of course you'd want women hanging around pool parlors.

After the captain and his two senior officers are treated to lunch, Dr. Morbius explains how Robby the Robot prepares all the food and "even manufactures the raw materials." The medical officer comments, "I thought Robby had managed some feminine touches. I take it Mrs. Morbius isn't at home today." And a household disintegrator beam is "every housewife's dream."

Objectification of the lone female character Altaira/Miranda (Anne Francis -- dolled up like Marilyn Monroe) is only offensive if we take it out of historical context. One of the officers tries to take advantage, but she doesn't understand the purpose of kissing, so he says, "you givin' me the treatment?", in the vernacular of a 1950s pool hall. The captain complains that her clothes are too provocative and blames her. Apparently back then the default position was that it was always the woman's fault.

One final observation: the story, especially centering around the three main crew members, seems like a prototype for the original Star Trek. Some fact-checking websites confirm this with some of Gene Roddenberry's correspondence. The parallels are as fairly obvious as are the differences. Finally, the only remake I would trust would be one that used Star Trek characters.