Forbidden Planet (1956)
Based loosely on William Shakespeare’s the Tempest, Forbidden Planet, released in 1956, marked a leap in the presentation of Sci-Fi on the silver screen. Yes there had been movies, which tried to do “serious” sci-fi but none had the scope or ambition of Forbidden Planet, and most lingered in relative obscurity, condemned under the title, B-movies. Forbidden planet was different. The first real attempt by a major Hollywood studio to make an A-movie in the sci-fi genre, it was a serious project to bring onto the screen the sort of sci-fi that filled the pages of the classic sci-fi pulp magazines like Astounding and Wonder Stories. For many a 1950s teenage sci-fier it became the Star Wars of its day, the sort of sci-fi you weren’t embarrassed to take your girlfriend to in the drive-in. And it remains to this day just that sort of grownup sci-fi that SF fans can present to the uniniated with the words that this is one of science-fiction’s classic movies, its Maltese Falcon or Citizen Kane.
As such the film was to influence a generation of sci-fi movie and TV makers to come. While some of the other characters were already well established in the sci-fi movie canon (Morbius, the mad scientist – Dr. Zarkov, anyone – Altaira, the knuckle-biting man-needing female (you ever notice women no longer bite their knuckles in movies when confronted by strange monsters or glowing things in the dark. Ah, the 1950s…), others were new. Adams is the quintessential proto-Kirk (Kirking it before Kirk!), his sidekicks establishing the team templates that virtually every Star Trek manifestation would follow: the science-officer, the medical officer, the engineer, the nerdy one, the ladies man, the – well you get it, the cinematic daddies of Bones, Spock, Scotty, et al.
While today the special effects may seem somewhat ropey (and the use of a borrowed team of Walt Disney animators to “draw” the monster and some of the other effects is, um, awkward…) they still can impress. The spaceships look like spaceships, the interior sets have a proper futuristic feel to them (though today we’d probably view them as retro-futuristic), the skies and deserts of Alatiar are properly impressive (David Lynch’s Dune style!), the vast underground Krell computer is surprisingly effective, with odd, Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers style fizzling things, and flashing things, and whooshing things, making all sorts of weird noises and movements on the screen. But it works! Even Robby the Robot, some poor stagehand in a super heavy metal and plastic costume, looks half-way convincing – if you ignore the wobbly, side-to-side walk. Above all it’s the movie’s score that impresses, wonderfully eerie, odd and evocative, with not-quiet-right sounds, all metallic and atonal. Its echoes can be heard from Alien to the War of the Worlds.
The cast are wonderful. Nielson as a leading man is a revelation for those of us raised on a steady diet of Naked Gun, Police Squad, and the odd appearances in Due South. He can do serious, and plays it straight throughout the movie, acting every bit the officer in command, albeit with a cheeky-chappy grin at times. The great Walter Pidgeon, very much a proper actors’ actor, brings a real status and gravitas to the role of Dr. Morbius, displaying a character torn between an arrogant lust for knowledge, and almost Freudian love for his daughter. Anne Francis on the other hand does little more than provide the obligatory bit of eye-candy, all white teeth, short skirts and pointy 50s-style boobs – and non the worse for it!
The movies visuals in the 50th Anniversary edition released in 2006, and patiently remastered and touched up by MGMs restoration team, are absolutely glorious, with Hi-Def available, and DD 5.1 sound, and this is really the only way to watch the film to appreciate it for everything it’s got.
But above all Forbidden Planet is fun. It’s a 1950s sci-fi monster movie in space for Chrissakes! With Leslie Nielson playing the leading man, a blonde blue-eyed chick sporting legs that go to heaven and back under a mini-skirt before mini-skirts were invented, with a HUGE invisible monster that tears people apart, and a cool underground alien city – and Robby the Robbie being all robotty!
If you’re a thinking sci-fi fanboy or -girl with an appreciation for science-fiction’s heritage and past, then Forbidden Planet is THE must-see movie.