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Forbidden Plastic: Part 1

Polar Lights models the C-57D from FORBIDDEN PLANET

By Jeff Bond     September 06, 2001


An interior shot of the C-57D model
© 2001 Polar Lights/Playing Mantis
Since its inception a few years ago when it released styrene recasts of some of Aurora Plastic's most popular model kits of the 1960s, Tom Lowe's company Playing Mantis (and its cheekily-named model kit arm, Polar Lights) has thrilled baby-boomers by essentially becoming an Aurora for the New Millennium.

The lion's share of the most-desired Aurora kits (such as the Lost in Space Robot and Cyclops, monster kits like The Creature From the Black Lagoon and The Bride of Frankenstein, and oddball subjects like The Addams' Family House and King Kong's Flivver) have already been released by Polar Lights, and the company made history when it became the first to release an injection-molded model of the famous Jupiter 2 spacecraft from Lost in Space. After producing original subjects like The Wolfman, The Three Stooges and The Headless Horseman from Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, Lowe and company were ready to tackle a new spacecraft model.


"A lot of science fiction subjects like the Jupiter 2, Robby the Robot, the Lost in Space Robot and the LIS Cyclops did pretty well for us, so we knew science fiction works," Lowe says. "At one of the brainstorming sessions we were wanting to do another spaceship and someone mentioned the C-57D."


That series of letters and numbers might not mean much to the uninitiated, but to fans of 1950s sci-fi in general and the MGM movie Forbidden Planet in particular, the C-57D is legendary. It's the disc-shaped starship that brings Commander J.J. Adams (Leslie Neilsen) and his crew to Altair IV, where they discover Professor Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) and Robby the Robot.


The C-57D is not only a kind of granddaddy to the Jupiter 2; it's also a major influence on the U.S.S. Enterprise of the original Star Trek. Lost in Space fans will notice the similarity of the disk-shaped vessel (with its three retractable landing legs, central astrogator dome and rotating, illuminated lower power generator) to the Jupiter 2, while Trekkers will note the ship's quasi-military command structure and transporter-pad-like "stasis tubes" as a prototype of Captain Kirk's paramilitary starship.



MGM designer and draftsman Robert Kinoshita

A publicity shot of the C-57D model

worked on both Forbidden Planet and Lost in Space and is credited with designing the robots from the 1950s movie and the 1960s Irwin Allen TV series, but Forbidden Planet expert and filmmaker Bill Malone says the design similarities between the two weren't necessarily all the work of Kinoshita.


"Forbidden Planet was an odd movie because it really had a weak director, but the technical people at MGM were first rate," Malone says. "People also think all sorts of things were done for the first time in Forbidden Planet, but if you look back you see the stasis tubes in This Island Earth, and even though you don't get a close-up look at the spaceship in Invaders From Mars, if you study it you'll see it looks very much like the C-57D."


Malone traces many of the seminal design elements in the film to special effects expert Irving Block, who concocted Forbidden Planet's storyline, based on William Shakespeare's The Tempest.


"Irving Block was a special effects guy and when he submitted the script he came up with a lot of sketches and design ideas that found their way into the movie," Malone says. "He had a very distinctive style. If you look at the original designs for Robby and some of the other things in the movie it wasn't much different from the old tin can robots you would see in the serials. Block really came up with a lot of those ideas." Block's design and special effects work on another 1950s sci-fi opus, Kronos (1957) reveals elements of both Robby the Robot and the C-57D in a blocky, cube-shaped giant robot from outer space that arrives on Earth to devour its energy.



Malone, [IMG3L]who owns many original props and miniatures from Forbidden Planet, including one of the C-57D models, the original Robby and his ground car, and numerous set pieces from the Krell labs and the C-57D interiors, also credits famed production illustrator Mentor Heubner (who has worked on films like Bram Stoker's Dracula, Blade Runner, Dune, The Time Machine, North by Northwest and John Carpenter's The Thing) for much of the film's look. "Mentor Huebner was a great production illustrator and he contributed a lot to the movie. He did the matte paintings of the C-57D you see in the night shots."


While several garage kits of the C-57D (ranging in size from 10 to 20 inches in diameter) have been manufactured over the years, a legitimate kit of the spacecraft has never been produced until now. And at a staggering 28" in diameter, the new Polar Lights kit is not only the largest model ever produced of the C-57D, it's practically one of the largest styrene model kits EVER produced.


Even Polar Lights president Tom Lowe says he was dumbstruck by the size of the completed kit. "I was under the impression when the design team was doing it that it was going to be slightly larger than the Jupiter 2," Lowe says (the Polar Lights Jupiter 2 kit is 12" in diameter). "But when it came out it was 28"... I kind of lost touch regarding size and some of the guys downstairs made it that big. I probably would have made it smaller, but as the old saying goes, size is everything. It's definitely a monster kit."

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