Forbidden Planet (1956)
-Review by Nic Brown-
Science fiction films come in all shapes and sizes but they all have one thing in common; they can trace their roots back to the 1956 classic “Forbidden Planet”. At the time this film was released, there was no Star Trek, no Battlestar Galactica, and George Lucas was living “American Graffiti” not making “Star Wars”. MGM studios released the film with the simple tag line “Amazing.” And that is precisely what “Forbidden Planet” was and still is.
Technically speaking, the film was pioneering in many aspects. The special effects were cutting edge and used a combination of animation, models and traditional painted back drops to create a whole new world as a back drop for the story. The film also makes extensive use of the Theramin. You may not know what a Theramin is, but you’ve heard it before; it’s the electronic device that the Beach Boys used to make the unique sound in Good Vibrations. All the music and a good number of the sound effects from the film came from the Theramin which created a futuristic sound and quite a bit of controversy. The Musicians’ union declared that a Theramin was not a musical instrument and raised such a fuss that in the credits to the film you won’t see “music by” instead you see the sound credited as “tonalities by”.
The technical wizardry of the film only serves to enhance the best feature: the story. “Forbidden Planet” follows a 22nd century starship crew lead by Commander John J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen in a serious role that seems odd to those who know him as a comedic actor from the last 30 years). The crew is sent to the planet Altair IV to investigate the disappearance of the Belarofon, a colony ship sent to the world 20 years before. They find that only Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) have survived. Morbius warns the crew to leave because the planet has what he describes as an elemental force that killed all of the original colonists.
Commander Adams is unsure how to proceed as it becomes quickly apparent that Morbius and his daughter have no intention of leaving the planet. Morbius has discovered the remains of an ultra advanced society called the Krell. The Krell evolved physically and technologically to the point of no longer needing physical tools and then suddenly, seemingly overnight, they disappeared, leaving behind their automated technological systems. Morbius has spent the past 20 years studying the technology and has only mastered a few of the basics, but those basics are years ahead of Earth’s most advanced thinking at the time. One product of this technology is Robby the Robot. The “cobbled together” assistant to Morbius and Altaira, Robby has become synonymous with the science fiction robot.
The conflict in the story comes from several fronts as the Commander and Morbius have a battle of wills over who should control the technology of the Krell. This tension is further complicated by Altaira, who falls in love with the Commander and finds herself torn between the two men. The sudden and mysterious deaths of crewmen and the destruction of vital ship’s components points to the return of Morbius’s elemental force, and the Commander and crew work to solve the mystery of Altair IV before he and his crew meet the fate of the original colonists.
Although in some ways dated, (the ships cook wears an apron and hat and seems to have stepped right out of “McHale’s Navy”) “Forbidden Planet” is a classic of science fiction. Pushing boundaries of the day with its special effects, the film also makes the viewer think. You join the Commander in trying to discover what is killing his crew and threatening his ship. The answer and the film’s story as a whole are a part of the foundation of good science fiction entertainment and you can see the film’s influence on many of the icon shows and movies that follow. In fact Gene Roddenberry openly credited Forbidden Planet for many of the ideas behind a little television show he started in the 1960’s called Star Trek.
If you haven’t seen “Forbidden Planet” then take the time to see it. If you have seen it, keep your eyes open when you watch later science fiction programs. If you look carefully, you can see that much of the good science fiction of the last 50 years has its roots with this film. “Forbidden Planet” is a must see film for science fiction fans and B-Movie Man hopes you’ll all check it out.