Science Fiction Film & Television

Cybernetic soundscapes

Resynthesizing the “electronic tonalities” of Forbidden Planet (1956)

Science Fiction Film & Television (2022), 15, (1), 41–60.

Abstract

Forbidden Planet (1956) was a technically and stylistically pioneering product of the boom in Hollywood sf filmmaking during the 1950s. The film is notable for its explicit invocation of Freudian psychological concepts, undergoing its own surge of popularity in US culture during this era. Equally it has been remarked upon for its distinctive soundtrack composition, drawing on contemporary sound art. Together with its influence on the later development of the genre, these features have provided fertile ground for a deep critical interpretation and analysis for such a seemingly straightforward picture. I will reference interviews conducted with sound artists Louis and Bebe Barron in popular journals during their lifetime and connect this study of their process and their work with a new textual reading of the film. My intention is to lay out a more complex interrelationship between the film’s audio-visual composition and its plot and character dynamics. Situated within the context of contemporary intellectual developments, this reading then locates Forbidden Planet as a particularly revealing site for the consideration of the ambitions and complexities of the Hollywood sf film at a significant point in the process of its generic codification and definition.

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Author details

Williamson, James