According to recent news reports J. Michael Straczynski is writing a remake of the ‘Fifties classic Forbidden Planet, which will be produced by Joel Silver . . .

For most genre fans J. Michael Straczynski is of course the brain behind the popular cult 1990s TV show Babylon 5. He of course also penned several comics including a mixed run on the Spider-man title (he penned that notorious “it was all a dream” storyline that freaked fans a while back). His most recent screenplay has been for the new “directed by Clint Eastwood” movie, The Changeling.

Joel Silver is a Hollywood producer best known for his 1980s action movies such as the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard franchises. As of late Silver has collaborated with the Wachowski brothers on the ill-fated Speed Racer (he produced the Matrix movies for them). Silver is also the producer who wanted writer Kevin Smith to change Superman’s costume and have him fight ice bears and have a robot sidekick so that he can sell more toys. Thanks to Silver’s vacillation attempts to revive the Superman franchise languished in development hell for more than a decade, squandering millions of dollars in the process before Superman Returns was finally made in 2006. So the odds of Forbidden Planet being remade may (fortunately) be much smaller than one would hope . . .

Anyway, the teaming of the Straczynski (a writer with more literary aspirations as witnessed by the philosophical themes in the grandiose Babylon 5) with the “let’s sell more toys and character integrity be damned” caricature of a Hollywood producer will probably be a match made in Hell.

The joke is of course that when one thinks about it, Forbidden Planet has already been remade several times, namely as Event Horizon (in 1997) and Solaris (in 1972 and 2002). Of course Forbidden Planet itself is a remake of sorts. It borrows heavily from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and throws in a lot of Freudianism into the mix for good measure too. Released in 1956 Forbidden Planet was a rarity: a science fiction movie with a big budget and state-of-the-art effects (back then most Hollywood science fiction were mostly relegated to cheap B-movies). It was also a rarity in another sense – it features a young Leslie Nielsen (Naked Gun, Superhero Movie, etc.) in a straight role as a spaceship captain, but that is the topic for another article altogether . . .

"Enough already with all these remakes!"

Forbidden Planet proved to be hugely influential. Despite making the iconographic Robbie the Robot design a part of popular culture consciousness (Robbie got his own movie later on as well as a cameo in Joe Dante’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action amongst others), the story practically provided the template for countless Star Trek episodes in the years that followed. The plot involves a spaceship crew being sent to investigate what happened to a colony of scientists on a distant planet. The crewmembers are confronted by a mystery: the scientists have all disappeared, and the only people left on the planet are one of the scientists, Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter (Anne Francis in a famously skimpy swimsuit at one point).

Oh, and there’s the robot. And some inscrutable technology left behind by an ancient alien race known as the Krell, and an invisible giant monster attacking the crew members. See what we mean that it might as well be a Star Trek episode? Except it isn’t. It predates the original Trek series by almost a decade and besides has so much hidden Freudianism subtext that you can write a book on it. PLOT SPOILERS! No prizes for guessing that the invisible monster attacking the crewmembers are in fact generated by the advanced alien technology, which is unknowingly telepathically controlled by the overprotective Dr. Morbius who wants to “protect” his sexually naïve daughter from the newly arrived (male) interlopers. END SPOILERS!

Today Forbidden Planet is of course completely outdated with its very ‘Fifties vision of what technology might be like one day (spaceships like flying saucers! golf carts traveling at high speeds!). However that is exactly where part of the movie’s charm lies: its very retro and quintessentially 1950s vibe. Any attempt to update it to a more generic “modern” post-Alien look will just be pointless. In fact a Forbidden Planet remake will be pretty pointless in any case. Despite its somewhat sluggish pace it is still quite an enjoyable flick today. Also, one is sure that the horror element of the story will probably be amped in any modern remake, and what we really don’t need at this stage is yet another “crewmembers menaced by alien on alien planet” movie right now. Not that we think that Straczynski will deliver a substandard screenplay, but we’re sure that Silver would want to amp the property’s more commercial elements to the detriment of its more intelligent leanings.

There are loads of great unfilmed science novels out there. If Silver really wants to make a cool science fiction / action movie, then how about acquiring the rights for Paul McAuley’s 2007 novel Cowboy Angels? That one has “action blockbuster” written all over it. It is a tough-as-nails Bourne Ultimatum-style actioner in which so-called “Turing gates" allow one version of America calling itself “the Real” to export its own vision of truth, justice and the American way to other alternate reality versions of America. It kicks off when an ex-CIA operative is sent to investigate why his former partner gone renegade is killing off all the different versions of a woman mathematician in all the other alternate universes. Now doesn’t that sound like a movie you’d want to see? Put Bruce Willis in it and you've got a hit, but enough already with all these remakes!



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