Two things this week made me think about the how people in the past looked at the future, particularly regarding space exploration. The first was a movie, and the second was an article on Brickset.com’s site about certain space LEGO kits from the past.
The movie, Forbidden Planet, is one of my favorite movies. It was my favorite movie when I first watched it at the age of 12, and has been since. My appreciation of this movie is so high and obvious, my wife gifted me with the DVD anniversary edition of the movie many years ago. We watched it again last night.
It had been a long time since I last watched the show, and I must admit before watching it last night, I was afraid I wouldn’t like it as much as I had before. Thankfully, my appreciation of the story and special effects in the movie have not diminished, but grown. There are some issues, such as the men’s treatment of the female character, Altaira, but on the whole, it’s story still holds up.
I won’t get into the story itself, which is fun and thought-provoking. I just don’t think my description actually will ever be able to do Forbidden Planet’s storyline any kind of justice. I will say the story involves a ship’s captain (any “Airplane!” and “Naked Gun” aficionados might appreciate him), a mysterious professor, an awesome robot, an alien planet, a beautiful woman, and a deadly monster. You could read summaries about the movie on various sites, but most won’t give readers an accurate “feel” of the story either.
I do urge you to watch it–the movie’s special effects, art, costumes, and models come together as an interesting snapshot of the future of space and technology in the 1950’s.
While the special effects are “quaint” by the standards of today’s blockbusters, they were probably top of the line back in the 1950’s (I don’t know for sure, I wasn’t there). The panoramas of the planet, the blaster fire, and the ship, are, instead of mind-blowing, now quite “pretty” per my wife. There is an art involved in the effects, because there were artists involved with the effects back then–apparently drawing them on the celluloid world frame by frame.
But what I like most of all, aside from the story, are the structures. The professor’s home and office are an homage to “mid-century modern” in the architecture, the furnishings, and the decorations. That was what the future would be like, according to certain folks in the 1950’s, and you can seem some glimpses of this future in certain neighborhoods in built during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s in the United States.
The captain’s ship and appearances of technology are all part of a recipe to make a child excited about exploring the galaxy. The saucer-shape of the starship, stasis beams used during hyperdrive activity, blasters, and glass globes and equipment whose purpose aren’t quite defined, but just look “futurey” are part of the inspiration. Then there are passenger cars able to go hundreds of miles an hour and the ability for building whatever is required, using molecular technology. The future was exciting story of possibility to kids, and a few adults.
I think Walt Disney and his architects agreed with this and maybe took some elements in the movie as their inspiration for their parks. For anyone who has ever wandered Disneyland’s and Disney World’s old “Tomorrowland”(before significant teardowns and restructuring), and EPCOT Center, there were elements used in the parks that are quite similar to the structures and technology used in Forbidden Planet. I don’t think it was a case of ripping off the movie, but more of a consensus of what the future in 1950’s America was going to be.
Because I am a fan of the design and architecture of “mid-century modern,” it’s a future I certainly wouldn’t hesitate moving towards.
The other vision involves all the fun ways LEGO tried to bring their vision of space, particularly NASA’s space vehicles, to children. Brickset.com does a great job in this post going through the different kits LEGO brought out. Again, as a child, I would have been ecstatic to build my own Saturn rocket on a launch pad, not matter how janky it looked. The imagination filled in whatever shortcomings reality had.
The beauty about the LEGO kits are that kids could deviate and build slightly different versions of space vehicles and probes. It didn’t matter, so long as the child remained inspired and excited enough to continue their exploration of our history and possible future for going out in the Universe.
Whether from LEGO or from MGM, each different vision served different markets and came from different companies. But b0th contain very optimistic messages about man’s place in the galaxy. Sure, these are toys and science fiction movies we’re talking about. However, they both encompass visions that fascinate and maybe motivate a few of us. It’s definitely fun just to go back, even if only for a few hours, and explore the universe according to the 1950’s.
If you have access to Amazon, Forbidden Planet is there for you, if you’re interested. I search Netflix with no success. Or go to one of your local DVD dumping grounds–they will likely have a copy available.