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April 19th, 2009


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11:42 pm - Rewatching old SF films - magic space-virgin powers & other oddities
Tonight, teaotter, amberite, xtricks, waterfire741, and I watched the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet, both because I'd not seen it before, several of them had never seen it. In addition to being curious as to what it would look like after not having seen it for around 30 years, since it was clearly a major inspiration for the original Star Trek, and we're planning on running a Star Trek RPG campaign soon, it seemed like it might be worth seeing. It was fascinating – the film was far higher budge than I remembered, and the degree to which it influenced the details of original Star Trek is quite impressive. It's also interesting at how obviously and extensively influenced by the US Navy the ship is - something that is considerably less true in Star Trek. It's also interesting to watch again something that was so obviously the origin of many media SF cliches.

However, it was also not without incredibly serious problems, the lesser one is the impressive lack of emotion from all of the characters and how flat and stereotypical they were. The more serious problem was the fact that the only female character was exceptionally offensive – starting with the fact that her stereotype is "the girl" (and is the only woman in the entire film), and before she kisses several of the spacecraft crew she has (as amberite so perfectly put it) "magic space-virgin powers", where she can tame dangerous wild animals by her presence – something she loses within minutes of kissing someone for the first time. In short, the degree of sexism was impressive even for the era. Original Star Trek is pretty dubious by modern standards wrt sexism, but is worlds better than this film. It did have a number of good ideas though, and so I was quite intrigued to learn that J. Michael Straczynski is going to be doing some sort of remake of the film, in addition to finding out that it's one of his favorite films, I was especially pleased to read "His vision for the film will not be retro, because when the original was made it was meant to be futuristic.", there's little that I dislike more than deliberately retro remakes of older SF, and I'd dear love to see what a modern reinterpretation of this SF reinterpretation of The Tempest would look like.

On a related note, a couple of weeks ago, teaotter, amberite, xtricks, and I rewatched (also for the first time in many years the 1973 Gene Roddenberry film, Genesis II. Much of the original Star Trek holds up to modern rewatching surprisingly well , and we rewatched Roddenberry's 1974 effort, The Questor Tapes, and found it at least fun. In contrast, I remember loving Genesis II when I watched it at age 13. Now, many years, and much cultural progress later, it's laughably bad in so many ways. I still love the un-ironic idealism of much of Roddenberry's work, and in fact much of 1970s media, but this film was nothing more or less than bad. There's much to like about Pax – the society of multi-cultural progressive pacifists, but dear gods that film was a mess wrt everything from gender to bad acting and worse dialog.
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From:heavenscalyx
Date:April 20th, 2009 01:52 pm (UTC)
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Oh, LORD, I remember Genesis II. I also remember Planet Earth, which was essentially identical, except that it plugged Diana Muldaur in for Mariette Hartley. Two navels! Major gender issues! Oh, Great Bird of the Galaxy, you sure had gender issues...
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From:heron61
Date:April 20th, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
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You do know that Forbidden Planet is The Tempest, right?

Yep.

I cannot get over Leslie Nielsen in a dramatic role. Every time I watch that movie, I expect pratfalls and then nothing happens.

Indeed, and oddly he works as well as everyone else in the cast.
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From:heron61
Date:April 20th, 2009 07:32 pm (UTC)
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I haven't read The Tempest in quite a long time, but IIRC, it was actually slightly less sexist that that film.
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From:athenian_abroad
Date:April 20th, 2009 02:36 pm (UTC)
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...she has [...] "magic space-virgin powers", where she can tame dangerous wild animals by her presence – something she loses within minutes of kissing someone for the first time.

Those aren't magic space-virgin powers, those are obedient daughter powers. Remember, all of the creatures on the planet are merely reflections of Morbius's unconscious. As long as Altaira remains docile and obedient, the local fauna will do her no harm. But once she begins to demonstrate independence, even defiance, Morbius's rage becomes increasingly manifest in both the behavior of the animals and the unseen creature. Outwardly, Morbius keeps this inside the bounds of ordinary civilized behavior -- he simply plays out the traditional role of the disapproving daddy. But there's a part of him that just wants to murder his daughter. Unfortunately, that's the part that the Krell machinery can "hear."

This is a very Freudian film (unsurprisingly for 1956); the famous line, after all, is "Monsters, John! Monsters from the Id!" The uncivilized unconscious, the unacknowledged sexual possessiveness of the father...yep, it's all about the Freud.

It's worth noting that, while the Morbius-conjured creatures do "punish" Altaira for showing interest in men who are not her father, in the overall moral geography of the film this isn't portrayed as a good thing. Morbius himself acknowledges that what he's "doing" is monstrous, though he is powerless to stop it.

As for the fact that there's only one woman in the film, I'll just mention that the U.S. Navy only admitted women to service on submarines (the type of vessel most operationally similar to a spaceship) last year, or more than fifty years after the film was made. (Of course, women were serving on actual spaceships before that!)
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From:rjgrady
Date:April 21st, 2009 04:22 am (UTC)
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Setting aside the fact that ship was obviously manned by men, which was the cultural assumption in the era that film was made... it was not a film about magic space-virgin powers. It was a film about the extent to which intelligent beings are the mercy of their animal natures. Specifically with regard to the female character it demonstrates how men control and desire women, and fear the loss of their affection. While it's not a feminist film, it's not a sexist film, either, as I would define it; it's a film critical of chauvinism. The father's attempt to control his daughter fails. The crew members' willingness to exploit her naivete fails to capture her affection. The captain's aloofness and judmgentalism backfires completely and causes the young woman to become ashamed and angry. The woman's sense of security proves to be an baseless illusion created by her father to gain her admiration, and is quickly lost when she defies his designs.

I find it an interesting film to rewatch precisely because it is so damning of masculine agency, technological advancement of might without consideration to its practical consequences, and our overt claims about our motivations. From a post-humanist perspective, I think it's an interesting fable about transcending scarcity without transcending psychological limitations.
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From:heron61
Date:April 21st, 2009 05:03 am (UTC)
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I don't buy that. Alta's role in the plot was largely as a McGuffin & could have just as easily been replaced with any other object of value. The bit with her ability to make wild animals peaceful seemed largely to be her being a naive wild thing who ceased being a naive wild thing when she became the possession of a man, and thus she instantly lost her wilderness powers.
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From:rjgrady
Date:April 21st, 2009 05:14 am (UTC)
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She thought she had a way with the animals, but in reality, the animals were obeying the will of her father. She had no powers to lose. The entire planet was something of a dollhouse.

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