Reviews at Home – Movie
Forbidden Planet (1956)
by Kevin Conner
IMDB Entry and source image credit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049223/
image copyright held by its respective owners
The “Forbidden Planet” is often referenced by all sci-fi junkies in a group of a half-dozen films and media that amount to what can only be considered as a biblical origin of modern motion picture based science fiction. When people hear its name, they either tune out or reminisce. Many who tune out have typically never seen it. Those who don’t like it typically do not like “thinker” science fiction. Of all of the other names people may drop (“The Day the Earth Stood Still”, “Metropolis”, “Flash Gordon”, “The Time Machine”, “War of the Worlds”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, etc…), this movie is considered the primary father of all that has come after. This is because at least one major element of all major science fiction that has followed can find an origin in this movie: The TARDIS command module design; Major equipment inspired visuals of Star Wars; Star Trek and Doctor Who style scripting and topical discussion; etc… Not only did this movie borrow from previous creators (such as H.G. Wells and Isaac Asimov), but it showed the world how to combine these elements into a masterpiece of a production. At the end of the day, very few science fiction movies cannot find something of their origin presented in this show. Once this movie hit the screens, serious science fiction would never be the same, as it was one of the earliest big budget productions that helped change the way audiences world wide thought of science fiction.
Now you know the importance of this movie in all which have followed, how does this movie fare? Pretty well, actually. Those who see this movie will often lump it in with an “oh it’s a pretty good episode of (Star Trek/Stargate SG-1/Doctor Who/Insert serious sci-fi name here)” kind of sentiment. If this movie were done today, people may feel like it was a good movie, but should have a bit more strength to the impact. But, this was one of the first times anyone had done it. It was traveling largely uncharted territory in the movie theaters. Yes, far more impactful stories had been written, but very few had been attempted on this scale in the movie picture medium. The Library of Congress agrees, as it has been accepted into the National Film Registry for its cultural significance in 2013. Unfortunately, neither Leslie Nielsen nor Anne Francis lived to see that day. I sometimes wonder if the Library of Congress forgot it wasn’t in the registry until after the actors passed away, and the movie was heavily pushed in popular media.
As far as an adaptation of “The Tempest” goes, my only guess as to why they did that was because it kinda resembled the play and William Shakespeare’s name is still one of the biggest name draws for legitimate theater. Because there are only some references, I must consider the attribution as part of an attempt to legitimize Science Fiction in the movies. It worked. I don’t know how I would’ve handled it differently so I can’t take off any production points for that.
The other aspects of production are very solid. The costuming is similar to our armed forces, while appearing “futuristic” without being too “futuristic”. The set design looks like a military set and alien world – for 1956. The special effects have been so iconic you will begin to recognize them as “Easter Eggs” in countless media – Robby the Robot (sometimes Robbie), the Krell Engine Room, The Krell Control Room, the Monster of the ID – all of these things appear and disappear in countless media, giving a smile to the faces of those who have seen this movie and think of it fondly.
The plot is simple. The United Planets Cruiser C-57D is exploring the cosmos and has been sent to Altair IV to check things out. That’s when they discover the two lone survivors, and robot companion, of a doomed expedition. They are encouraged to leave by Doctor Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), primarily out of protection he has for his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis), and fear that the ancient Krell machine would be discovered and exploited for violence by humanity. This becomes difficult, as a monster appears. This monster is invisible in all but few circumstances, and it was responsible for wiping out the rest of the expedition. Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) isn’t convinced that the doctor and his daughter should remain, and it all but becomes too late to escape when Altaira falls for the first man she has ever seen, outside of her father. All of this happens in the first few minutes of the movie, and the remainder of the plot deals with investigation, exploration, defense and debate.
“Forbidden Planet” is mostly a thinking movie with some action and excitement, and may not be for everyone, but if you enjoy good examples of such episodes from Star Trek or Doctor Who, episodes which make you consider philosophical differences over random explosions, you will most likely enjoy this movie. You may say, “Well, it’s not the best ever,” but to that I ask that you keep in mind this was the first of its kind. It is unique and secured a place in history because of that unique stature. It is the first to set the bar in motion picture portrayal of science fiction. Therefore, I am awarding 4 stars. This movie raised the bar in all aspects for science fiction in movies. I think the only goofy part of the movie falls on the shoulders of the alcoholic cook, who managed to have that “Golly Gee Wiz” attitude no matter how many bottles of whiskey he drank. I can forgive that, it’s less than 5 total minutes of running time, and probably forced upon the production by the producers. It was made in the 1950s, after all, and some leeway must be given. In any other decade, I would subtract 1/2 to 3/4 of a point from the script; but as I said before, this was the first of its kind, so leeway is given. Still, the acting in the supporting cast did stumble a bit, and even with a bit of leeway, I must take off 1/4 of a point for both direction and acting. I can see others taking off a bit more, but not much more.
I hope that if you enjoy science fiction of this strain, if you even enjoy thinking plays (such as Shakespeare, although this movie isn’t exactly Shakespeare), you will place this movie on your watch list. When you do, you must consider the importance this movie had in motion picture history, and watch it with the era in mind. By placing yourself in the seats of a 1950s motion picture audience, I believe you will see the wonder and spectacle that those very audiences consumed in 1956. United Planets Cruiser C-57D: signing out.
Direction: 3 3/4
Acting: 3 3/4*
Overall (rounded up): 4 out of 4*
*Remember, some leeway is given for the era, and the fact this movie forged through untraveled paths, explored the unknown, sowed a seed from which future creations would grow, and boldly go where no science fiction production had gone before! This is leeway I give to all such source productions. Even if leeway wasn’t given to the Script (no leeway: 3 1/4 to 3 1/2) and Acting (no leeway: 3 1/2), the rounded up total would remain 4 out of 4.
Cast and Production Information
Robby the Robot
Harry Harvey Jr.
Based on the play “The Tempest” by:
Based on the screen story “Fatal Planet” by:
Fred M. Wilcox
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (controlled by Loew’s Incorporated)