Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Roles that Time Forgot: Commander John J. Adams

Yesterday the great comic actor Leslie Nielsen died from complications from a bout of pneumonia. While Nielsen was mainly famous for his excellent comedic performances in Airplane and the Naked Gun movies, many do not know that he was a well respected dramatic actor at the beginning of his career. One of his first feature film roles was that of Commander John J. Adams in the film Forbidden Planet, a 1955 Sci-Fi film chronicling a group of military astronauts as they travel to the planet Altair to search for survivors of an exploratory mission twenty years earlier.

Forbidden Planet is famous for being the first film to have a score entirely composed of electrical instruments and components. Louis and Babe Barron created most of the score using the electrical instrument the theremin, which is played by moving your hands closer and further from two electrical antennae. It is actually a very interesting instrument to watch being played, so if you are intrigued just search for it on youtube and prepare to be amazed. The score is worlds away from anything I had ever seen before in a film, and it is a very enlightening to watch a film that shies away from using pop songs or a full orchestra to drive the emotion of the scenes. The electrical bleeps and bloops create a feeling of emptiness, which helps build tension on a planet where it seems life does not exist.

The film is worth seeing for the score alone, but it also has an excellent performance from the aforementioned Nielsen as the Commander J.J. Adams. The film only has a few main characters, which means a lot of screen time for Nielsen and he does an admirable job portraying a space captain trying to mention order amongst a crew of genetically superior males alone on a foreign planet, while also trying to solve the mystery of the monster terrorizing them. It is a little weird watching the man who played Frank Drebin act seriously at the beginning of the film, but once you accept that Leslie Nielsen isn't going to have any great one-liners, it becomes far easier to enjoy this Sci-Fi classic.

So put Forbidden Planet on the top of your Netflix queue, and celebrate Leslie Nielsen's life and enjoy one of the premier films that helped jump-start the popularity of the Sci-Fi genre.

PS: It is also the debut performance of Robby the Robot, so if you hate Sci-Fi, at least enjoy a badass robot.

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