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My Favorite Martians: The Krell

August 26th, 2009

The Krell can’t even be bothered to show up for their role in the classic 1956 film Forbidden Planet. However, as they destroyed themselves in a single night of madness more than 200,000 years ago, I suppose they can be excused. Lacking point-and-shoot technology, the Krell left no depictions of themselves, though their general shape is suggested by their characteristic doorways: wide, upside-down diamonds. While the Krell have vanished from the galactic scene, something of them remains…

Forbidden Planet was a remarkable movie for its time. It was a big-budget, “A” picture from MGM during a period when nearly all science-fiction flicks were cheap potboilers. It boasted state-of-the-art special effects and was scored with unique “electronic tonalities” by Louis and Bebe Barron. (In some cases, the score doubled as otherworldly sound effects.) It had a thoughtful script that was allegedly inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, though honestly the resemblence is superficial at best.

And when I was growing up, it was my absolute favorite film, bar none. At least until ’77, when Star Wars changed everything.

In the early 23rd century, the Earth saucer C-57D arrives at planet Altair IV to check on the progress of the colonists who set up shop two decades earlier. All they find is a lone scientist and his beautiful, virginal, miniskirted daughter, who want nothing more from these spacemen than for them to fire retrorockets.

Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon, who’s terrific in this) has himself a sweet set-up. Both his home and his robotic manservant Robby (yes, that Robby) sport technology far in advance of human science. His immediate surroundings are a paradise inhabited by flora and fauna from Earth, brought to Altair IV not by the colonists, but by the original inhabitants. And with the rest of the colonists mysteriously ripped limb from limb by an unseen force, he’s got all the time in the world to continue his language studies.

Commander J.J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen; yes, that Leslie Nielsen) isn’t going anywhere. In part, that’s because he wants to find out what happened to the other settlers, but mostly it’s because he’s fascinated by young Altaira (Anne Francis; boom-chick-a-wa-wa), who has never known a man other than her father–make of that what you will–and, well, did I mention the miniskirts?

Meanwhile, the invisible beast returns to menace the saucer men, leaving clawed footprints unlike any creature known to science.

The reason that a simple professor of languages could build a machine like Robby soon becomes clear. Morbius discovered the last remaining works of the Krell, including a vast, underground complex, 20 miles on each side, still humming away with power after 2,000 centuries. The doctor deciphered their writings and used their lab tech to boost his intelligence to genius levels. But even Morbius doesn’t know what the great machine is for.

Late that evening, the invisible monster strikes again, this time illuminated by the laser fence set up around the C-57D. And soon, the truth about it is revealed.

You see, the Krell had completed their greatest achievement, a machine meant to do away with all other machines. It allowed them to create and manipulate matter in any form, for any purpose. They had, as one might say, Fucked With God’s Domain. And God wasn’t having any of it, no sir. For the Krell had forgotten about their own baser natures, locked deep within their subconscious minds. Once they went to sleep, their Monsters from the Id went on a genocidal rampage.

And now, 200,000 years later, Morbius’ dreams of selfishness and jealousy have activated the alien device and manifested themselves as a giant, angry gumdrop. Desperate to hold onto his daughter–again, you’re not reading too much into that–his unstoppable creation burns its way through several feet of nigh-indestructible Krell metal to kill Commander Adams and Altaira herself.

In the end, Morbius attempts to renounce his murderous monster, but the effort (somehow) kills him. As he heads toward his final peace, he pushes a conveniently-located self-destruct mechanism that will annihilate Altair IV in a matter of hours, giving the saucer crew enough time to clear the blast area.

Leslie Nielsen gets the final word: “Alta, about a million years from now the human race will have crawled up to where the Krell stood in their great moment of triumph and tragedy. And your father’s name will shine again like a beacon in the galaxy. It’s true, it will remind us that we are, after all, not God.”

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