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Geological Time Termination of a SciFi Biosphere:
An Alternative View of The Forbidden Planet

Richard Brook Cathcart
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At the University of Illinois' Electronic Visualization Laboratory in Chicago, a small room-size installation called "The CAVE" currently exists (since 1992) to allow experimentation with Virtual Realities where participants need not wear special clothing to endure an interactive VR experience. After 2005, maybe people will have the opportunity to hook up to and enter a networked VR Solar System: "In order for society to survive in this environment, people will have to become more moral". Later, during the 21st century, humans may earn the ability to practice alchemy.

During 1965, Ivan Edward Sutherland (b. 1938) adamantly defined "The Ultimate Display" as a "room within which the computer can control the existence of matter". An auto-creation machine, a deadly product of social telesis of just that kind destroyed the Krell civilization in an Earthlike planet, Altair IV, in the 1956 USA-made movie Forbidden Planet! What follows is a unique, non-standard iconological interpretation of that popular film's meaning, as finally scripted on 17 March 1955 by Cyril Hume (1900-66).

Jay P. Telotte (b. 1949), in Replications: A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film (1995), devoted his Chapter Five to an enlargement of the standard interpretation Telotte first promoted in 1989. Telotte's viewpoint on Forbidden Planet is okay although, strangely, he does consistently misspell "Krell" as "Krel", which is evidence that he's probably never read Hume's typescript used by the film's director and actors-actresses. It is my thought that Cyril Hume was unaware of, or deliberately concealed, the effective religious, scientific, and artistic symbolism in his script and, therefore, he did not defeat himself. The script might deserve to be called the most perfect example of an Alien ecology ever written for it entails nothing less than an example of an instantaneous subtractive "terraformation"!

Hume's exotically reflexive Krell were a hyper-rational, scientifically objective, technologically manipulative non-Christian alien species, driven by a libido sciendi, with the misfortune to invent and use a machine that automatically enabled all their thoughts to instantly materialize. Their machine was not a generator of VR nor was it a deus ex machina. After losing their affection for Altair IV's familiar biosphere – a global Nature destroyed means that it was impossible for the Krell to have self-knowledge – and at the apex of their scientific prowess, the super-intelligent Krell linked their superluminal direct-creation machine to an unimaginably large centralized electricity-generating power source, which had replaced most of Altair IV's core. The power source is 9,200 thermonuclear reactors, occupying 6,880 km3, which made available ~1031 W to the very last living Krell individual. (In comparison, our Sun generates 3.82 × 1026 W.)

In the insolence of their impressive technological success the corrupted Krell tried to usurp the power of God; since Krell technology had imprinted everything in Altair IV, there nothing is wholly holy. The Bible identifies Satan as "the god of this system of things" in 2 Corinthians 4:4. As God prevented the Tower of Babel's rebels from signing their artwork, so He treated the Krell to an even worse experience – the total unpleasant and extinctive experience stemming from the effectual, merciless ministrations of a magnificently compliant, almost totally robotized terrestrial-type planet. Forbidden Planet's thoughtful screenwriter "cast" Altair IV as his symbol for global Nature/God; and, it became a "forbidden planet" (i.e., a place off-limits for Earthlings as well as all other sentient beings with souls) because it has suffered a Krell-induced inquisition!

Technologists often elaborate that science's future breakthroughs lie within a currently forbidden zone, a realm beyond our extant ability to extrapolate; indeed, technologists are forever analyzing and planning ventures into their respective profession's forbidden zone.During the last awful mass-murder/mass-suicide moment of their species' existence, the deltoid Krell knew they had unwittingly exterminated themselves when these two machines magnified their unconscious animal impulses – that is, the irrational welled up and came to dominate their rational minds. At the same moment, their expertise also neutralized Satan via an unexpected technological fix: if the Krell no longer exist, then they never can ever be "tempted". In other words, after accidentally inventing a new evolutionary experience (auto-extinction), the doomed Krell, without any assistance from hyper-real estate agents, spent the final agonized < 0.7 s moment of their short species' long species life-time in a Krellian Id-ruled Altair IV global village, instead of a Greek-style city-state society consisting of whole, normal Krell persons. Savvy, but unsaved, they then knew, soul-sickeningly, that they'd succumbed to Satan's bait. Operating in tandem, the Krell's brainstorming invention, part of which is palpable and part of which is invisible – if it's invisible, then it cannot be envisioned – duplicates the "Human Vaporizer" of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four (1949) and "The Machine", which also dissolves persons, supplied by Yevgeny Zamyatin in We (1920).

No Krell survived to write a book flourishing an attractively grand title like The End of History. A single psychically-wounded Krell survivor using the Lazarusian technology, after all, might cause an instant return of the Krell populace, as imagined by the last survivor alone - perhaps an ugly exhumation creation, but certainly not resurrected creatures. The last moment of Altair IV's geological time, the Krell's sadly unique Psychozoic Era, terminated in a schizo-second saturated with nihilistic delusion. Previous to the time of their violent unanticipated deaths, Krell thinkers had not painstakingly contemplated their end in a broad way – another guess needed to be included in their eschatology.

Sigmund Freud's invention, the Id, was that part of the human psyche that contains the life and death instincts. Freud (1856-1939) visualized the Id as the main source of psychic energy over which the Ego gains control in order to organize the human individual's personality. Sociology commonly assumes that an idealized human noosystem – currently there are ~190 such UNO-recognized ecosystem-states in our world – is a concert of shared human consciousness; logically, any ideal human noosystem is also a concert of shared unconsciousness! Sinning in Forbidden Planet's Krell cyberspace – the spiritism counseled against in Deuteronomy 10:10-12, Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 21:8 – was fatal: "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." (James 1:14-15).

Standard movie lore documents, such as those references already end-noted, always characterize Cyril Hume's final shooting script as merely an unpretentious rehash of William Shakespeare's very last play, The Tempest, and unfailingly refer to the movie's hideous, gargantuan Id-monster as equivalent to Shakespeare's great character Caliban. For Shakespeare (1564-1616), however, Caliban was a composite character fashioned to represent the primitive, variously-shaded peoples of Earth – to Europeans extraordinary skin pigmentation – resident in hard-to-get-to far-distant lands only then recently discovered, as these unfamiliar strangers had by then been incompletely described by European travelers' tales and corporate or government intelligence reports. On-screen, the Id-monster's "skin" is multi-hued (green, red, yellow, purple et cetera). The Authorized or King James (1611) version of the Bible is most commonly cited simply as "1611 Bible". The Tempest (1611) introduced at Act IV, Scene 1 our still-pregnant phrase of post-1874 philosophical debate (nature and nurture), which epitomizes the concept of separate influences on the individual organism arising from heredity and environment.

Perfected future immersion VR may induce unhealthy desires in our minds that could give physical existence to unwise acts and sin, causing our existing Earth-biosphere and future terraformed planets (Mars, Venus) to become negatively impacted planet-places. The primary feature of human sin is that it is directed against God (Romans 8:7). Forbidden Planet ought to be apprehended as an impressive mene-tekel warning: our self-created near-term future VR must be used selectively so that unhealthy appetites are not promoted in Homo sapiens (Daniel 5:25-28). The Krell sought a quickly realizable Golden Age – a delusion of obsessive infantile wishing. Krell dreamers, living vigorous normal lives (a la the ancient Greek ideal) excised of gruesomely destructive Id tantalizations, might have recreated an Altair IV biosphere with diverse species, restoring their planet to what it was before their civilization's technology and art attained total domination. But, instead, their massive towering civilization – the pride of the skyscraper – a tottering Utopia of the seemingly socially adjusted which knowingly opened the trap-door to the destructive unbuffered horror of mass public hallucinations – was, in fact, always an abyss of Krell species-degrading misery. Located outside the pale of Christian civilization, the Krell were self-trained barbarians.

Can anyone imagine a probable event-process other than a horrible real species auto-extinction should Homo sapiens and/or Machina sapiens science, technologies and art ever build a Sutherlandesque mind-reading direct material-creation machine? Arthur C. Clarke (b. 1917), in The City and the Stars (1956), did imagine a far-future anthropocentric Earth-biosphere cooperating with Aliens on the construction of a disembodied intelligence; Clarke's pure mentality was to search for "a true picture of the Universe" unencumbered by actual physical limitations. "The CAVE" can impart a contradictory experience, a feeling of simultaneously being enclosed in a claustrophobic capsule and wandering unbounded space – such visual places are termed Gansfeld spaces (from the German for complete or homogeneous visible field); other than these two unpleasant reactions, normal persons ordinarily tend not to be otherwise stimulated. But, Sutherland's post-CAVE machine would be excitingly simulative and very, very stimulative! Of the ~30 newly professionalized terraformers theorizing today, is there one member of that learned group of would-be planetary industrialists that will renounce forever using such a tricky wish-granting, auto-cathartic gizmo?

Before its aerial portion, made of "adamantine" steel, crumbled from decay during an unrecorded post-Krell geological time period of global erosion of 5 × 106 years, Altair IV had the appearance of James Graham Ballard's englobing shell-city 3 × 106 years in our species' future. [John Heaver Fremlin (1913-95) actually gave substance to Ballard's subsequent published concept when he described on 29 October 1964 his nightmarish prognostication of 1016-18 Earthlings warehoused in a future 4.427 × 109 km3 crust-enveloping building, a monumental ultra-computer regulated epidermis covering our planet at a distance determined by its crust's highest elevation.] Its film-depicted surface is really a kind of exposed mezzanine (posing as a surficial geological stratum) weathered and eroded so much that it has the appearance of a Mediterranean climate type landform zone (like those of Southern California); when Earthlings first arrive, they do not yet understand they are treading on 50% of the Krell's planetary infrastructure situated halfway between a fiery [thermonuclear] Hell inside the planet and a Heaven that even a radical Green would love! During 1956, Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959) offered "The Chicago; Mile High Building", a tripod-shaped structure with a taproot foundation deeply penetrating below grade, nuclear-powered elevators and heliports at various floor levels. J. G. Ballard's fantastic building could not be any higher than ~0.01 Earth diameter (i.e., < 127 km). Depending upon the mix of construction materials used, if it were even slightly higher its mass would allow basal pressure alone to induce Earth-crust materials melting, thereby destroying his building's foundational stability. With almost the same mass as Venus, Altair-IV’s former superficial sub-aerial splendors could have towered ~121 km into its greenish sky. When United Planets Cruiser C-57-D initially approaches Altair IV – the fourth planet distant from the star Altair – a huge relief map-like visual is projected filling the color-rich Cinemascope theater screen, which clearly show aquamarine-shaded seas, brownish continents with Sahara-like plains and rugged mountains. In this particular segment of the film the C-57-D's captain announces to his crewmen – later, these fellows rediscover the female sex is present on this unique world of only two people (father and daughter) – that Altair-IV's "oxygen content [is] 4.7 richer than Earth standard, gravity only point 897." The partial pressure of atmospheric oxygen during Earth's geological time has been constrained by the cycling of carbon and sulfur to the ocean and this constraint has been a negative feedback mechanism for maintaining levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide gas at biologically permissible levels. Phytotron experiments demonstrate that green plants can grow in atmospheres approaching 40% oxygen. However, in the actual Earth-biosphere, plant existence is limited by uncontrolled fire; it is impossible to sustain flame at an O2 mixing ration of ~17% and at its present-day mixing ratio (~21%) fire is a real limit tending to make improbable the existence of dense plant growth. "Even with persistently wet climate, it seems unlikely that O2 >30% would be compatible with dense vegetation." Therefore, Cyril Hume's odd thought, mouthed by his fictitious spacecraft Captain, J. J. Adams, is uninformed techno-babble! [The Captain's name is interesting from a literary standpoint: mentioned first at Genesis 2:19, "Adam" was the name of the first human and the Adam's Apple", a projection in the front part of the male's neck caused by the thyroid cartilage, is supposed to symbolize the Apple from the Garden of Eden.] Finally, Altair IV is blasted into rubble via a terrific, cinematically spectacular, human-caused explosion in order to safely remove its lurking dangers – those two damned linked machines – from Homo sapiens' immediate grasp. Done on the instruction of Edward Morbius, the fatherly philologist survivor from the "Ballerophon" spaceship destroyed by previous Forbidden Planet Id-monster incarnations, the name Morbius seems to convey a meaning – morbidity – in addition to mere association with August Ferdinand Mobius (1790-1868). Since Altair IV's gravity is not quite 90% of Earth's, the explosion of the Krell's former core power source must have yielded, minimally, the equivalent of ~1016 MT when it was detonated; in other words, it could not have created a new star, as was portrayed in the film! Possibly, this is another instance of Hume's techno-babble.

Jay P. Telotte's thesis that Altair IV, a planet-size robot, and the Krell were Siamese twins – a too-powerful robot versus the overly foolish – is innovative. However, the standard iconological interpretation of Forbidden Planet, upon which Telotte based his interesting views, is quite inadequate. It is my intuition that Cyril Hume included far more Christian religious thoughts and beliefs than any published interpretation has, so far, recognized!

*CAVE abbreviates "Cave Automatic Virtual Environment". It is a recursive acronym. It is a room-theater ~3.2 m square and 2.7 m high. High-resolution graphics are projected in stereo onto the walls and floor. A VR participant must wear stereo glasses to properly appreciate the views obtainable therein.


R. Stanley Williams, "Industrial revolutions in the 21st century," Physics World 12: 49-51 (December 1999).

Wil McCarthy, "Ultimate Alchemy," Wired (October 2001), pp. 150-183.

I. Sutherland, "The Ultimate Display," Proceedings of the International Federation of Information Processing Congress 65: 506-508 & 582-583 (1965).

For standard interpretations, see: John Clute and Peter Nichols, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993); Gary K. Wolfe, The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction (1979) and Danny Peary (Ed.), OMNI’s Screen Flight: Screen F Fantasies: The Future According to Science Fiction Cinema (1984).

Leroy W. Dubeck et al., Fantastic Voyages: Learning Science Through Science Fiction Films (1994), pp. 25, 86 & 258-262.

For a relevant contrast in disappearance time, see: Robert B. Banks, "In Which We Reduce, Even Eliminate, the World's Population," pp. 197-200 in Towing Icebergs, Falling Dominoes, and Other Adventures in Applied Mathematics (1998).

Anton Zeilinger, "Quantum Teleportation," Scientific American 282: 50-59 (April 2000).

Wolfgang Metzger, "Optische Untersuchungen am Ganzfeld, II. Zure Phanomenologie es homogenen Gansfelds," Psychologische Forschung 13: 6-29 (1930).

The Greek and Latin word for the hardest imaginable substance, whether applied to a legendary stone or an actual substance such as diamond or steel, was "adamas".

J. G. Ballard, "Build-up," New Worlds 19: 52-70 (January 1957).

J. H. Fremlin, "How many people can the world support?", New Scientist 24: 285-287 (29 October 1964).

Jeff Rovin, Aliens, Robots, and Spaceships (1995) pp. 14-16.

Timothy M. Lenton and A.J. Watson, "Redfield revisited 2: What regulates the oxygen content of the atmosphere?", Global Biogeochemical Cycles 14: 249-268 (March 2000).

In ancient Greek mythology, "Bellerophon" was a victim of slander pitted against the monstrous Chimera, which he successfully slew. The Chimera was a fire-spitting beast with the head of a lion, a body like that of a goat, ended with a tail that was a snake! After many other tests of character and body, Bellerophon completed his natural term of life as a beggar.

Via a proof discovered after his death, A. F. Mobius described his now-famous strip thus: "A paper rectangle that is sufficiently long and narrow is bent and twisted so that its two shorter edges can be glued together in the required manner" - in plain English instead of translation, an object having only one side and one edge formed by a strip connected at the ends with a half twist in the middle. See: F.A. Mobius, "Uber die Bestimmung des Inhaltes eines Polyeders," Berichte uder die Verhandlungen der Kuuniglich Sachsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig 17: 31-68 (1865).