Films Inspired by The Tempest
Shakespeare’s forth and final romance play The Tempest is a story rich with magical characters. The main character Prospero and his daughter Miranda have been living on a primitive island for some time. The play is infused with illusion and magic. Prospero has become a King on the island and is in control of Ariel, an airy spirit and Caliban a monster. When a ship wreaks on the island, caused by the tempest, who was raised by Ariel by Prospero’s order, the action begins. This is only a short description of the play which has many other nuances that can only be experienced by reading it or seeing it performed on stage. Because of the action, romance and magical characters Shakespeare wrote in this play, it is no surprise that some movie versions have been completely based on, or loosely based on it. The two films that are going to be discussed in this paper are the 1956 Science fiction film Forbidden Planet that has become a cult classic, and the 1991 film Prospero’s Books.
The first film, Forbidden Planet is set in the 23rd century. The film is set on a planet where the only two inhabitants are Dr. Morbius and his daughter Altaira. He created a robot named Robby to be their servant and to replicate food and drink for them. The movie starts when a spaceship led by commander Adams is sent to the planet to check, and see if there are any survivors from a ship that was sent to the planet 20 years earlier. Morbius warns the captain not to land on the planet that there was danger that he could not protect them from. The captain has his orders and lands anyway, but the ship is damaged when they land. They land and are greeted by the Robot Robby, who takes them to Morbius. After meeting Morbius and his daughter Altaira the captain informs them they can’t leave until the ship is finished. That night the ship is broken into and a part is damaged, the next night a member of the ship is killed. Morbius tells them it is happening again and they have to leave.
He then takes the captain and an officer and shows them all the things he has discovered about the former inhabitants of the planet. He has been using some of their technology that was left behind and instruments that supposedly make your IQ higher. Morbius says they must not use the IQ boosters that he is the only one strong enough to use it. That night the crewmen set a trap and realize when the monster tries to attack that it is invisible. When the monster hits the trap it is seen as a red electromagnetic being that can’t be destroyed, many men are killed. Altaira goes running to her father and describes to him a dream she is had that describes the attack. The captain figures that there is some connection to Morbius and he goes to try and discover it. His crewman manages to get into the lab and hook up to the IQ booster, he lives long enough to tell the captain that the monster is Morbius’s id his other self that is the monster and that it can’t be controlled. When Altaira confesses her love for the captain and says she is going to leave with him, the monster comes after them and Morbius realizes finally that the monster is him and sets the self destruct and tells them to go. When the ship is far enough away, the planet blows up.
Even though the movie is really a totally different version of the play the main characters are represented. Morbius is Prospero, Altaira is Miranda, Robby is Ariel, the monster of the id is Caliban and the captain is Ferdinand. This movie although a different concept stays true to the original play. Father and daughter on the planet alone, young man comes in and the daughter falls in love, the robot and the monster do the bidding of their master, and finally the father makes a great sacrifice for his daughter. I enjoyed this movie even though I am not a big classic science fiction movie buff. Some of the special effects were ridiculous but it was filmed in 1956. I did like the spin on the classic play. I also think that people who are not interested in Shakespeare would not even realize they were watching a movie that was based on one of his plays.
The second film Prospero’s Books took a different approach. The play is a product of Prospero’s mind. He is the author and the main character of the play which is performed before our eyes. His powers over all the inhabitants of the island are ruled by his books and the mirror images that are produced through Prospero. He sees everything as a mirror image, and it takes a lot of strength to conjure these images. Some of the mirror images or thoughts are not all his. Ariel and Caliban have images of their own but you finally realize that are all created by Prospero’s imagination or are a part of his self. The movie does follow the play but by taking us in and out of Prospero’s thoughts and mirror images, imagination and reality. The movie visuals were very strange to me but gave the quality that is needed for mirror images or alternate realities. In one part of the movie when Prospero throws his books in the water, Caliban saves two, the audience sees that they are volumes of Shakespeare’s plays. I thought that was a cool way to incorporate Shakespeare.
This movie although entertaining was a little confusing. The mirror images and alternate realities were a bit over the top but affective in the film, but to get the effect the director wanted that it needed to be done that way. The other characters were lost a little more in this version, because it was so based on Prospero, but that is the way it is written.
Through viewing these two movies and researching this topic, I have found that Shakespeare can be interpreted and performed many different ways. The concepts and characters of his plays can be filmed to exactly portray them the way he did, or different versions can be loosely based, but still get the same points across. A lot of the topics that Shakespeare wrote about many years ago carry out through society today and because of that people will continue to use his plays to create movies and other stories. The Tempest dealt with magic, but in both interpretations of these movies the magic or monsters were in the mind of the main character. In Forbidden Planet it was the id or other self, and in Prospero’s Books it was the mirror images and his imagination that created them. After watching these was Shakespeare tying to say that this magic is just in the minds? Do we create alternate realities and other selves that carry out things that we would not normally do? These two films did affect the interpretation of the play for me. The characters of Ariel and Caliban became more about Prospero and his selfishness and control over everything. The other things he would not do in front of his daughter or others were much easier when someone else or something was doing it for him. In the end he does redeem himself but it takes a long time to get to that point. His daughter is happy in the end but he was selfish keeping her locked up in another world all that time.
These two films would be good for anyone who wanted to get another perspective of Shakespeare but keep to the main points of his play. Forbidden Planet is more fun and campy, but for people who have read the play they will understand and compare it to the play. Prospero’s Books is a little harder to watch but if you like movies about other realities you would probably prefer it.
There are a few more film versions of The Tempest, and after watching these two I plan to watch them all, if they can be found. It was very rewarding watching a movie and comparing it to the original version of the play and knowing what to compare. These two movies although completely different gave me a different look at Shakespeare’s world.
Bevington, D. The Necessary Shakespeare. Pearson. 2009.
Vaughan, Virginia Mason, and Alden T. Vaughan. Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s “The
Tempest.” New York: Hall, 1998.
Forbidden Planet. Dir. Fred M. Wilcox. Perf. Leslie Nielson, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis. MGM, 1956. DVD
Prospero’s Books. Dir. Peter Greenaway. Perf. Sir John Gielgud. UK. 1991. DVD
Forbidden Planet (1956) is really The Tempest by Shakespeare
My friend recently told me that the movie Forbidden Planet (1956), the science fiction monster movie, ripped off Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. All I could say is: huh? what? I couldn’t believe this comparison, not just because they are two different genres, but one is a classical stage play and the other is…well, it’s science fiction with a big robot. Then I thought about it. I can’t deny the similarities. Forbidden Planet is The Tempest!
What is The Tempest?
The Tempest is one of the last plays Shakespeare wrote in his life and contains elements like magic, revenge, and classical romance. The main character is Prospero, who has been stranded on an island with his daughter, Miranda. He is also a powerful sorcerer and sends a massive storm against his brother Antonio, hoping to sink his ship and get revenge for being exiled.
He strands the crew, consisting of Alonso, Ferdinand, and Antonio on the island, then summons his servant Ariel to help him watch them. His other servant is named Caliban, who tries to betray Prospero, attacking him. Meanwhile, Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love and decide to get married, but Prospero wants his daughter to have nothing to do with Ferdinand. Caliban joins up with two other men from the shipwreck to plot against Prospero, but Prospero stops him. Ultimately, Prospero forgives his enemies, even Caliban for being stupid. He lets his daughter marry Ferdinand and helps everyone off the island.
Excuse this superficial summary for one of the greatest classical plays ever, but if you know Forbidden Planet, I think you’ll agree that there are similarities.
To begin with, I would have to say that the planet Altair IV is like Prospero’s island, and it is a place where Dr. Edward Morbius lives in isolation with his daughter. Whether by choice or not is probably debatable, but Morbius is alone with Altaira, just like Prospero and Miranda. It’s exactly the same setup.
Prospero controls magic and summons a storm to attack a ship at sea. Morbius doesn’t exactly “summon” the monster, but his unconscious self does, and it attacks the spacecraft and the visiting men. Just like Prospero has mastered magic, Morbius seems to have mastered technology. Or at least he says he has. The use of technology in Forbidden Planet represents the magic Prospero uses in The Tempest, albeit with less success.
One of the visitors is John Adams, played by a young Leslie Nielsen. I enjoy Nielsen in this movie, but it is not the most emotional performance. Of course, he is Ferdinand and he falls in love with Miranda, represented by Altaira, played by Anne Francis. She later falls in love with Adams and the two end up together at the end of the movie.
This movie is the first appearance of Robby the Robot, who inspired other science fiction robots in movies and television, most notably The Robot in Lost in Space. He is Ariel, a spirit of air summoned by Prospero to be his servant. Robby is helpful like Ariel and tries to obey his master’s commands. Ariel is a spirit of the air, merely a cloud wavering in the wind. The first appearance of Robby is as he drives up to the spaceshift in a cloud of dust, an obvious parallel.
Being native to the wild island, Caliban represents The Monster, and both are untamed forces. Prospero tries to control him, but he cannot. At the end, Caliban refuses to serve Prospero and plots his death, attacking him for his cruelty, just like The Monster of the Id. Both the Monster and Caliban are natural forces, bent on destruction, but both encounter resistance. Prospero succeeds in using magic against Caliban, but Morbius doesn’t succeed in using technology against The Monster.
The movie and the play teach two different lessons, which is where the main difference lies. Morbius may say that he has total control over technology, but he does not. In fact, he cannot do much to help the spaceship crew when his daughter asks for him to intervene, because he sees that his technology has gotten way out of control. The movie teaches that if humans want to control technology, they better control themselves first. The ending of The Tempest gives us the opposite lesson, building a harmony between nature and magic, and between all the characters. The Tempest has a happy ending, but Forbidden Planet ends with the destruction of Altair IV and Morbius.
I hope that wasn’t too boring, because I can see now that Forbidden Planet is The Tempest. I’m not sure if this was done on purpose or not, but I’ll just assume it was for the purposes of my piece of mind. In any case, Forbidden Planet is a great movie. It has good effects for an early movie like this one, especially the animations done by Joshua Meador, who worked for Disney. The matte paintings are just perfect and the world looks beautiful. The saucer coming down to land at the beginning just looks awesome, come on, you have to admit that. Check out the picture at the top of the page to see for yourself.
There aren’t many flaws or things lacking in the effects department, cause they went all-out to make it look as good as possible. This movie cost around 1 million dollars to make. Even the monster looks like you might imagine a realistic electric demon to be. I like this movie even more now that it has been stamped with some Shakespeare pedigree, but even if that doesn’t interest you, it is still a good science fiction adventure, filled with great visuals.
Are these the same thing?
The planet Altair IV
Robby the Robot
Leslie Nielsen as John Adams
Nature and Magic