Directed by Fred M. Wilcox
Produced by Nicholas Nayfack
Starring, Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis
Release date(s) April 1, 1956
Running time 98 minutes
Reviewed by Ed McKeown
Forbidden Planet, directed by Fred M. Wilcox, stars Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, and Anne Francis. The characters and its setting have been compared to those in Shakespeare's The Tempest,and its plot contains certain similarities though I think that the analogy gets a bit over played.
In the 23rd century as small-saucer shaped cruiser with a crew of twenty packed in its 171 foot circular hull is sent to find out what happened to a 20 year earlier expedition to Altair IV. This is not the age of Star Trek where the voyage of sixteen light years takes about a year and half. Hyperwave transmission is possible but requires huge installations or the cannibalization of most of the ship's equipment. So you are on your own out here.
On arrival on Altair, Commander Adams learns that there are two survivors from the previous expedition, Dr. Morbius and his brilliant if unconventional daughter Altaira . All the others were killed by some unknown "planetary force" that destroyed them and the ship, leaving Morbius and his wife, who later died, presumably giving birth to their daughter. The pair lives in luxury guarded and waited on by Robbie, a robot who surpasses all Earth technology.
Morbius is an intriguing mix of paternal and arrogant, egotists and actor, genial host and guardian of a terrible secret the true ramifications of which, he either does not know, or will not face. Walter Pidgeon's portrayal of this nuanced megalomaniac is the film's highlight.
Ann Francis lends a cheerful and innocent sexuality to the piece that prevents the 1950's sexuality (with the boys getting all hot and bothered over her in what seems like juvenile displays) from being too tedious. They are young men and she is the only girl within 16 light years after all.
But is if the character of the Forbidden Planet itself that dominates the little humans scurrying about its face. Deep, vast and ancient are the ruins of the Krell a mighty race of beings long extinct. Above ground their ruins have disappeared but under the ground in self-maintained splendor are the halls and machines of the Krell. One hundred airshafts that are 20 mile cubes lined with machinery so huge as to beggar the imagination, cool the Great Krell Machine as it murmurs to itself of its unknown purpose.
Morbius reveals that his intelligence was tripled by a near lethal encounter with a Krell teaching machine in one of their labs, over which he build his house. Morbius has power enough to rule but he plans a benevolent dictatorship, sitting guard over his hoard like a dragon and dispensing the ?safe' parts to earth when he deems it practical. Nor is he minded to be dictated to by the young captain of the C-57D. Morbius is further disturbed by his daughters awakening sexuality which fastens on Adams.
The situation is heading for explosion. One night the ship is broken into by an unseen creature and equipment sabotaged. The next night first blood is drawn, the planetary force has awoken and somehow passes the guards to murder the chief engineer, played by Richard Anderson of later Six Million Dollar man fame.
The C57D is a warship and deploys crew and weapons for a surface slugfest, erecting an energy barrier. The attack is not long in common. Despite heavy long range fire from the ship's batteries something closes in on them. When finally it hits the barrier the invisible enemy is seen, a bestial outline in the disintegrator beams like a child's nightmare.
Despite the fantastic power poured into warding it off it kills several before disappearing.
Now there is no choice left but to flee. Adams and Ostrow go to pick up Morbius and Altaira. Initially they are forestalled by Robby.
There the film climaxes when Ostrow takes the same brain boost that Morbius did. Before dying he reveals that Morbius failed to understand that the great machine was to give each Krell total control over matter by mere thought. But the Krell, who had long outgrown their aggressive past gave no thought to their own long-buried and disregarded subconscious, the Id. The Krell perished in a night of horror as every being's secret fears and rages were armed and let loose.
There is only one being whose unconscious mind is powerful enough to use the great machine, Dr Morbius. The doctor has no control over the monster he has given birth to. "Kill me," he screams, "kill me. My evil self is at that door and I have no power to stop it." But driven by a father's love he faces his evil self and denies it power. The shock of confronting the monster tears his mind asunder and Morbius falls dying. Before he passes he tells Adams to throw a lever that he himself must have created and placed there in a moment of sanity. The Krell furnaces are in an overload that cannot be stopped. They must flee as the world will explode in 24 hours taking this uncontainable danger from humanities path. Altaira, Robby and the surviving crew watch as Altair IV explodes in unimaginable violence.
Forbidden Planet is for me the archetypical and definitive "Planet Story" in which a group of adventurers face peril on an alien planet from mysterious and ancient sources. It was one of my major inspirations in my own work, Was Once A Hero. This movie sets the standard for visual imagery of the future that was not in my opinion exceeded until the first Star Wars movie raised the bar with a less imaginative plot. I am especially fond of the landing sequence of the space cruiser C-57D ( a rather unimaginative name in a movie otherwise bursting with creativity.)
The movie is drenched in color (other than of the crew which is all white and male) and gives a sense of alieness superior to any other SF movie prior to Avatar. This is good as the performances of this movie are adequate but not stellar. Some of it is the times, in the 1950's the range of emotionality allowed a male action hero was pretty sparse. The acting style of Leslie Nielson as Commander J.J. Adams is Spartan at best. Dr Ostrow his surgeon has a more mature outlook on the world, something actually developed far better in the 1956 book (issued in 1967) by W. J Stuart. The number 2 is a randy "space wolf" Jerry Farman who makes you wish for the restraint of a Mr. Spock
This is a movie of many firsts. Forbidden Planet was set entirely on another planet in deep space, away from the Earth. Forbidden Planet
features the groundbreaking use of an all-electronic musical score, the eerie sound of which is the films signature. Robbie the Robot was really the first portrayal of an artificial intelligence personality making him more than just a walking tin can. Though not explicitly stated, Robbie appears governed by the same programming laws of Asimov's robots.
There are disappointments. Earl Holliman hated his part as the comic relief in the form of the boozing cookie, a hangover WWII stereotype. Some things were better thought out in the book, such as the earth-type animals seen on Altair. Morbius claimed the Krell brought them back. In the book they were mere simulacrums activated by Morbius' mind. The courtship between Adams and Altaira starts in a rather juvenile fashion which is more easy to accept with her, as he is the first man she has seen but really has to do with 1950's sensibilities, quickly though it moves into deeper and more interesting channels.
Yet these are quibbles. Forbidden planets scales the heights of imagination and the depths of the human psyche. I think it holds its own with any contemporary movie, if one can deal with the one gender, one race crew. The movies remain a microcosm of our times and sometimes hold our faults up to the future. One should remember that even eleven years later, when another saucer-shaped spacecraft took off to face her perils, that though she bore men and women of every race and even an alien as an officer, this was regarded as radical and ground-breaking. But in many ways when Enterprise moved out, she followed a trail already blazed by her smaller slower sister, the C57D.
Forbidden Planet Ultimate Collector's Edition at Amazon.com