Books and Movies Reviews

THE USE OF BAD ENGINEERING IN METROPOLIS THE INVISIBLE RAY & FORBIDDEN PLANET

In today’s technological universe, most science fiction films and
texts, being “the only literature capable of exploring the macro-history of
our species. . . in a cosmic context” (Franklin, Internet), are structured
on hard science and research and contain machines or other devices which
are quite recognizable in form and shape to the general viewing audience.
But this has not always been the case, for in a number of science fiction
films produced in the early days of Hollywood and well into the late
1950’s, the portrayal of mechanical devices, such as robots, weapons,
communications instruments and navigational aids, not to mention certain
theories or ideas concerning radiation and power sources, were based on
pure speculation and hypothesis with a grain of engineering ingenuity added
for good measure. Some of these devices and ideas were well ahead of their
time, but most were either ill-conceived or based on pseudo-science, being
unscientific in nature. Three films stand out as prime examples of the
application of “bad engineering”â€"Metropolis (1926), directed by Fritz
Lang; The Invisible Ray (1936), directed by Lambert Hillyer, and Forbidden
Planet (1956), directed by Fred MacLeod Wilcox.
According to Erica Hawkins, Metropolis is a showcase for Lang’s
visual prowess and relies upon “innovative visual imagery that was well
ahead of its time,” which is highlighted by the film’s scenario of “a robot-
like society controlled by an evil super-industrialist” (Internet, 2004).
In essence, Metropolis, set in the year 2026, relates the tale of a future
supercity where the workers spend a zombie-like existence working
underneath the city, running the machines that keep it alive and that allow
the elite city masters to frolic in reckless abandon. These tyrannical
industrialists also live in absolute splendor, while the workers live

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