Forbidden Planet, 1956 – Movie Review
Posted by LiveFor on February 13, 2010
Director: Fred M Wilcox
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Warren Stevens, Jack Kelly, Robby the Robot
Reviewed by pjowens75
When it comes to FORBIDDEN PLANET, most science fiction enthusiasts bow their heads in reverence. It is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of early science fiction movies. Even John Clute, in his Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says it “remains one of the few masterpieces of sf cinema.” Most fans are aware that it is, loosely speaking, an updated version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and that it introduced Robby, the Robot, who actually went on to star in his own film, The Invisible Boy, and became the model for sci-fi robots for years to come. But what does all of that mean, in English, and is it even worth watching today?
FORBIDDEN PLANET begins with a starship crew’s arrival on planet Altaira to rescue the inhabitants of a colony that has been out of communication for years. After initially being warned to leave the planet alone, the crew (led by Leslie Nielsen, with Warren Stevens and Jack Kelly as ship’s doctor and first mate, respectively) lands to discover Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter, Alta (Anne Francis), as the sole surviving colonists. However, it seems that the two don’t want to be rescued at all. In fact, with the assistance of their faithful servant/robot, Robby, they have fashioned themselves quite the little paradise, and have no desire to be “rescued” from anything. But after a little investigating, Commander Adams (Nielsen) discovers that the rest of the original colonists were all killed by an invisible monster who is now attacking the crew of the starship. To make things worse, the monster seems to be a physical manifestation of Dr. Morbius’s “id” and is a result of his tapping into an unlimited power source left behind by an extinct, but incredibly advanced civilization, the knowledge of which he feels is not ready to be revealed to the rest of humanity.
Okay, let’s all stop for a second and catch our breath. That’s all pretty ambitious for a typical 1950s sci-fi flick. Fortunately, FORBIDDEN PLANET is NOT your typical sci-fi film. Instead of focusing on the monster, as would most 50s fare, writers Irving Block (story) and Cyril Hume (screenplay) have crafted a remarkably intelligent script that focuses more on the internal conflicts of Dr. Morbius as he deals with his guilt over the deaths of the other colonists, and his concerns about the well-being of his maturing daughter. Walter Pidgeon handles all of this quite well, with his usual furrowed brow and occasional raised eyebrow as he watches his daughter’s first contacts with young males of her species. Anne Francis has perhaps the most difficult role as the blossoming young woman who, since she was born after the other colonists had died, has known no other human being other than her father. In what has since become a staple of science fiction TV series (just how many young girls did Capt. James T. Kirk teach how to “kiss” correctly?), Alta enthusiastically approaches the new experience of “men” as eagerly as the all male crew approaches the first female they’ve seen in over a year. And while I usually have a problem with Anne Francis’s porcelain makeup and good looks, they work quite well here. And although I was a fan of Leslie Nielsen long before his career revival as a comic in Airplane! And The Naked Gun, I couldn’t help but imagine him ending an exchange with Morbius with “And don’t call me Shirley.”
Director Fred McLeod Wilcox, whose best known films to this point were Lassie Come Home and The Secret Garden, does a very good job of keeping the pace moving and not getting bogged down in the intellectual dialogues at the center of the story. With the exception of the crews’ spaceship (which looks exactly as you would imagine a 1950’s “flying saucer” to look like), the sets, matte paintings (especially those used in the interior of the alien technology), and special effects all hold up amazingly well, even by today’s standards, and don’t look “dated”. Most amazing, to me, was the unique “score” by composers Bebe and Louis Berron, which is entirely made up of “electronic tonalities” and is quite effectively used to set the mood and highlight the action throughout the film.
So to me, at least, FORBIDDEN PLANET is one of those few remarkable 50s science fiction films that is just as effective if watched today as it was 50 years ago. There are a few laughable moments, both intentional (the ship’s cook (Earl Holliman) conning Robby into replenishing his supply of whiskey) and not (the commander’s constant use of the loud speaker aboard ship when the entire crew of 18 is gathered around him), but overall it holds up quite nicely and is well deserving of its rank in the hierarchy of science fiction movies. Check it out…it’s worth it.