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Before the Return...

by Mo Bhula of John Good Holbrook. JGH 2000

Add One Playwright...
Take On Of His Plays...
Base A Science Fiction Movie On It...
Add Some Genuine Rock'n'Roll...

Read on!

When you're done click the link at the bottom to move on!

It's a fundamental law of logic that before a "return" there must have been a first time around. In Return To The Forbidden Planet, it isn't Captain Tempest and co who are doing the returning, but we, the viewers, who are returning to a story first written nearly 400 years agao, via a film made 43 years ago and music that has remained popular for nearly 5 decades. Here then is the lowdown on the various steps that have allowed us to "return" to the Forbidden Planet.

One of the hot new films of 1999 was Shakespeare In Love, a fictionalised account of the great bard's infatuation with an aspiring Elizabethan actress, in a time when both the word and the job of "actress" did not exist (female roles were played by young boys). This, naturally, leads to a hilarious situation when someone gets the chance to shout, incredulously, "that woman, she's a... woman!". Responses are expected to be polarised, from those that think its just a light-hearted what-if, to those who exclaim "How dare they take such liberties with the worlds most famous writer!".
Many people may therefore be surprised to learn that everything portrayed in the film, or almost anything else you care to make up about the worlds most famous writer, could have been true. For the truth is that very few concrete facts are known about Shakespeare. We assume a good deal, and can build up a plausible picture of the man from the clues we have, but in fact his existence is less well documented than that of most of his theatrical contemories. We know that he was baptised, and presumably born, in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, but his exact date of birth is unknown. His mother was Mary Arden, and his father, John, a successful glover, who first became an alderman and then mayor of Stratford. It is likely that William attended the local grammar school - where he would have been taught Latin literature and Roman history - but our next solid information about him is that, in 1582, at the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, and that less than 6 months later Anne gave birth to a daughter, Suzanna. In 1585 the couple had twins, Judith and Hamnet, but the latter, Shakespeare's only son, died at the age of 11.
There are several unsubstantiated legends purpoting to be about Shakespeare's early life. One claims that as a young man in Stratford, he was caught poaching on a local estate. Ever industrious with his words, the budding playwright composed an insulting rebuke about the landowner concerned and left it on the man's gate before fleeing to London to make his fortune... and how!
For the 7 years following 1585, we know almost nothing of Shakespeare's life, but at some point, we assume, he must have gone to London, and become an actor and playwright. Certainly, by 1592, he had made enough of a name for himself to invite jealousy, since a less successful rival, Robert Greene, referred to him as an "upstart crow". By 1594 Shakespeare had bought a share in a newly-formed acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, with which he wrote all of his plays. Later, when James I succeeded Queen Elizabeth to the throne, the company changed its name to the King's Men, indicating great Royal favour.
The name's Shakespeare, William Shakespeare!
The scarcity of information about Shakespeare's existence and the wealth he managed to accumulate despite working in a notoriously underpaid profession, have led to a good deal of speculation about exactly what he did during his working life. Perhaps the most attractive theory claims that he might have been a government spy alongside his friend and contemporary, Christopher Marlowe (M for short?). If true, this would probably not have involved the Elizabethan equivalent of fast cars with ejector seats, dalliances with beautiful Russian agents or quills which served as homing devices, communictors or tiny lasers. Instead the more mundane task of Shakespeare the spy would have been to eavesdrop on the conversations of notables and likely dissidents that patronised his performances, with the aim of uncovering any nasty plots. This would certainly account for some of the mystery, and would also explain the steady Royal favour enjoyed by the King's Men.
Back in Stratford, Shakespeare applied, on his father's behalf, for a coat of arms, which was awarded in 1596; and a year later he followed this up with an investment in malt, Stratford's chief industry. All of this suggests that he was a man of means, a businessman, who was preparing for a gentlemanly life in his home town, although in reality he continued to work in London for many more years as a seemingly impoverished playwright, before finally retiring to his home town. Again, this has led to much speculation that either the William Shakespeare, playwright, of London and the William Shakespeare, businessman of Stratford were different people, or that he kept the two aspects of his life separate. He died on 23 April 1616.

The Tempest (1611) was probably Shakespeare's last wholly self-written work (his last play Henry VIII may have been a collaboration with John Fletcher). It is also one of his most experimental; it is the nearest thing to a masque, a form fashionable in King James's court, that Shakespeare ever wrote and its encouragement of music and scenic and special effects makes it particularly suitable for modern presentation. The play also contains a host of fascinating characters, such as the treacherous and savage Caliban, the angelic and airy Ariel, the pathetically comic jester Trinculo, the drunken butler Stephano and the beautiful and innocent Miranda, who falls in love with the honest Ferdinand, the first human, apart from her father, she sees. And then there's Prospero, the wise but flawed magician and rightful Duke of Milan who redeems himself (and regains his title) by showing mercy where many would have enjoyed a spot of sweet revenge. Many people have wondered whether Prospero is based upon Shakespeare himself; his farewell speech "Our revels now are ended", sounds uncannily like Shakespeare bidding farewell to the job he had undertaken for many successful years. As mentioned The Tempest was his last sole work.

The 1956 MGM film Forbidden Planet, has to be one of the most cultured of all Science Fiction films. As a rule Sci-fi movies do not exhibit any degree of erudition, tending as they do to focus on (often) erroneous visions of the future, the shock effects of increasingly bizarre creatures and the inclusion of large scale special effects, of varying quality (indeed many modern Sci-fi outings seem to be little more than showcases for the special effects boys of Hollywood).
Of course there are honourable exceptions; Robert Wise's The Day The Earth Stood Still is one; Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is another. And then there's Forbidden Planet, a film that claims to be based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, yet one which seems to start with all the trappings of a second rate Sci-fi flick, the spacey oepning theme, and credits, the tacky looking space ship, and the clean-cut crew and square-jawed captain. Even the poster belies the quality of the fim, featuring as it does a huge and threatening robot carrying the prone form of a lithe and barely clothed young beauty
However, you don't have to stick with it long to realise that the film has something special. There is an entertaining plot; a spaceship from Earth, in need of repair, lands on an unknown world seemingly inhabitated only by the mysterious Dr Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter Altair (Anne Francis), and their incredible servant Robbie The Robot. The immediate sexual attraction between the Captain of the ship, played by a youthful Leslie Nielsen, and the innocent Altair, leads to intense subconscious jealousy on the part of Morbius who can see that he is about to lose a daughter and gain a space fleet officer. Of course, for you and me this would mean little more than a lot of grumbling, grinding of teeth and poisonous stares. But Morbius has been messing about with the inexplicable mind machines of the planet's former inhabitants, the Krell, and this allows his subconscious anger to take on a semi-corporeal form, the creature from the Id, which goes on the rampage killing and destroying. Only the death of Morbius and the destruction of the alien machines can stop the creature.
There is humour in the film, particularly between the chirpy, cheeky ship's cook and the logical but talented Robbie the Robot, and even the special effects turn out to a mixed bag; many are dodgy but the creature from the Id and the huge scale of the Krell's mysterious machines are breathtaking.
The oft-mentioned similarities to The Tempest are limited, but striking, and also clever. Morbius is obviously Prospero, Altair is Miranda, and the Captain, Ferdinand. The Krell technology is Morbius' magic, whilst Caliban can be seen in the twisted creature from his subconscious. Robbie the Robot, though not in ny way airy of ethereal, is Ariel, the magical servant. Amongst his many talents, Robbie has immense strenth and the enviable ability to manufacture anything just by knowing its atomic composition. Amongst his weaknesses is a tendency to break down if given a contradictory set of commands.

Making a musical out of a Shakespeare play is not a new idea. Some of the greatest composers have attempted the task. Witness Verdi's Othello, and Falstaff or Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Perhaps more popular are Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate, based on the Taming Of The Shrew or Bernstein's West Side Story, based on Romeo And Juliet.
With Return To The Forbidden Planet, Bob Carlton not only looked to a Shakespeare play for inspiration, he also looked to the film it spawned. To these he added a good measure of rock'n'roll which is so intrinsically linked to the plot and dialogue, that the show couldn't exist without it. Can you imagine the play without the rock'n'roll numbers? That would surely be the unkindest cut of all!

Okay, now that you sort of know what we are going on about here, click here to move on!

Bosun, fall to it smartly! Prepare the proton shield or else our cause is lost.

Music is "BORN TO BE WILD"