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In the 50's sci-fi was still in its early life, and most of what had
been done was based on the idea of aliens visiting earth, rather than
humans visiting other planets, which means that you don't really expect
a sci-fi movie from this era featuring space travel and set on another
planet to stack up particularly well in the modern era. But "Forbidden
Planet" pulls it off superbly. It does not seem old or dated even
almost 60 years after it was made. It has an interesting story, a great
cast, good use of humour, and features only limited use of what has by
now become sci-fi staple (futuristic weapons and monsters) and no space
battles - proving that such things aren't really necessary. It's also
clear after watching this that while Gene Roddenberry may have created
"Star Trek" he borrowed rather heavily from "Forbidden Planet" as he
did so, and a number of "Star Trek" episodes seem to have their origins
in various aspects of the plot of this movie.
The story features Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Morbius, the only survivor of the crew of an earth ship that landed on Altaire IV many years before. Leslie Nielsen (who would later be considered for the role of Captain Kirk in "Star Trek" before losing out to William Shatner) played J.J. Adams - the commander of a ship sent from earth to investigate what's happened. The story is mysterious from the beginning. Morbius explains that some "deadly force" killed everyone else (he doesn't explain what the force was, and as the movie comes to its climax it becomes clear that he didn't know.) He and his wife (who later died) were the only ones "immune" to whatever had killed the others, and they had a daughter (played by the very beautiful Anne Francis.) She and Morbius are now alone on the world. Morbius has discovered that the world was once inhabited by a very advanced race of beings called the Krell, and he devotes his life to learning about them. Morbius is a mysterious character who would much rather be left alone than rescued. The great thing about this is that while he is mysterious (and therefore suspicious) he's not a stereotypical "bad guy." One of the things I loved about this was that there were, in fact, no real bad guys. Morbius turns out to be responsible for what's happening, but it's out of his control. It's a great story.
The sets are very well constructed. They're very futuristic even by today's standards. In fact, they put to shame the very mundane-looking bridge on the first "Star Trek" pilot "The Cage." The creature who's finally introduced near the end is a very imaginative creature and quite scary. I feared that Anne Francis was being used merely as window dressing, and while she does spend a lot of time in short skirts and bare feet, being taught how to hug and kiss by the crew of the rescue ship, in the end she's rather central to the story, as her father becomes increasingly jealous of her growing relationship with the newcomers. Perhaps the greatest addition to the film was "Robby the Robot." He seems to be something of a forerunner to the robot later found on "Lost in Space." He's got a great personality, he's friendly and helpful and even has a sense of humour.
It's perhaps a bit slow off the start, but frankly, this is better than any sci-fi that has been put out in recent decades.
"Forbidden Planet" is often acclaimed as the best science fiction film
of the 1950s and with good reason. While I wouldn't say its my absolute
favorite from the era (that'd be "The Incredible Shrinking Man" because
of its emotional resonance), its still a great film all these years
later. There's plenty of "gee-whiz" style thrills involving Robby the
Robot and the invisible monster along with a surprising dedication to
legitimate science. The film shows a large degree of intelligence and
attempts to approach its fantastic story realistically. Sure, the set
design is kitschy and there are plenty of more dated aspects to the
production, but this was a massive leap forward from the space-opera
antics of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.
On a technical scale, the film is quite accomplished. The direction by Fred M. Wilcox isn't anything to write home about, but he knows how to keep the material moving at a good pace and really ups the tension towards the end. The acting all around is adequate. Leslie Nielson, best known to my generation for his comedic roles in "The Naked Gun" series, often surprises people that he was originally a dramatic actor. Hes a bit wooden but does a decent job overall. Anne Francis is quite good as the naive and lovely space maiden, and Walter Pidgeon lends a great amount of class to the proceedings. His performance is terrific. Again, "Forbidden Planet" manages to be a classic and a really good film because of the intelligent screenplay. (9/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Leslie Nielsen is the commander of a space ship with a crew of 18 men
in the year 2200. His mission: Land on the planet of Altair and rescue
any survivors of a 20-year-old crashed earlier expedition. The crew
lands and finds only two survivors, Walter Pidgeon and his daughter,
Pidgeon is concerned for their safety and does everything he can to persuade them to leave, while he and his daughter remain behind in their satisfying and comfortable seclusion. He describes the horrible deaths of the earlier mission, the crew torn limb from limb by an unidentifiable source.
At their insistence, Pidgeon takes Nielsen and the others on a tour of the planet, which was dominated by the super-intelligent Krell civilization until they died out a few million years ago, leaving behind a treasure trove of technology and a self-maintaining energy plant of infinite power.
The nubile Anne Francis thinks that Nielson is "beautiful" -- O, brave new world! -- and they get it on behind Pidgeon's back. But creepy things begin to happen. The space ship's equipment is mysteriously destroyed, and later the crew chief is torn limb from lib. And then the space ship's defensive ring of destructor beams is breached by a monstrous, invisible presence, barely outlined in the force field.
Cutting a long story short, the monster is a product of Pidgeon's "id." So what is the id? Basically, aside from its being a clumsy translation of Freud's "das Es," it's the seat of our unconscious animal impulses. The brain has three components, so to speak, each built upon the other. The lowest and oldest part is the brain stem, which controls things like breathing and heartbeat. The next developmental component is the midbrain, which does a lot of things with memory, lust, and rage. The newest part of the brain is the cortex, all that gray matter you see if you lift off the top of the skull, and that's where "thinking" and "planning" take place. The problem is that all three parts of the brain are always working. That's why we don't stop breathing when we fall asleep. And that's why we can damp down, but never entirely rid ourselves, of the impulse to mate and to kill. We're constantly at war with these dangerous, uncivilized impulses, playing Whack a Mole with them. Freud didn't pin his "id" to the midbrain or any other structure. (Nobody ever has.) But that's what's at work here alright. Walter Pidgeon may be a highly civilized and upright human being but his unconscious is generating this murderous monster, without his knowing about it, by harnessing the power of the Krell's huge power plant.
If that's Freud's contribution to the plot, Shakespeare's contribution is taken roughly from his last play, "The Tempest." The play is full of conniving humans, sprites, and monsters, and somebody's virginal daughter, but there's nothing quite like the hideous half-formed creature that the Disney special effects people gave us in "Forbidden Planet." It's really spooky.
The special effects here represented the cutting edge of technology in its day. It's all quite studio bound, of course. None of the shrubbery looks alive. It all looks like dried weeds. And the interior of Pidgeon's house, as someone described it, looks like it could be the living room of Frank Sinatra's apartment in a Las Vegas hotel. But the overall impact of the production design and effects is overwhelming.
And the plot is intelligent too, not a cobbled-together rehash of "monster movies" or anything else. If some of the scientific explanations sound like schizophrenic word salad, well, it's understandable. How can you describe with any accuracy the dynamics of a technology that does not yet exist? If we could describe it precisely, we could build it, and it would exist. That's what one information theorist, Brillouin, called "the principle of fundamental surprise." I had a little trouble with the 100-percent electronic score. It's supposed to range from the ominous and dramatic to the romantic and euphonious, but I found it pretty much scary all the time. I found the weapons a little disappointing too. Three types are shown. The crew carry sidearms called "simple blasters." Then, while defending the ship against the monster, they fire rifle-shaped weapons at it. And then there are the "batteries" of presumably high-powered electronic cannons. But they all shoot out the same intermittent stream of blue lights! And all at a leisurely speed too, as if in no particular hurry to reach their targets. By 2200, I want to see great BIG batteries of cannons shooting out BIG powerful balls of speedy red something-or-others -- and blowing the landscape to pieces, melting the solid rock. These are minor irritations, though.
Not all that much acting is required. Walter Pidgeon probably comes off best because he has the most complex role. Anne Francis looks pale and scrumptious as Shakespeare's Miranda. She's so innocent and naive, at least until Leslie Nielsen initiates her into the less theoretical aspects of biology, that her attractiveness acquires an almost hebephile tint. She causes a lot of snickering among the 18 men of the crew. There is a lot of snickering in this movie. And all the men have the same haircut and they comb their hair like Lennie Brisco on "Law and Order." And -- come to think of it -- I don't know why the tiger, who has always been Anne Francis' pet, turns suddenly and inexplicably into a snarling predator who attacks her. I suppose Pidgeon's id is somehow responsible but don't know how or why.
Anyway, this is a science fiction icon with a good plot, decent acting, and fine effects. The question it raises about our unconscious desire for savagery is very relevant. It will probably be relevant in 2200, too, if we make it that far. The Krell thought they had the problem licked -- and look what happened to them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't really consider what I have to mention here as a spoiler, but
to be on the safe side, I have checked the box.
I remember seeing a short article in Popular Mechanics magazine when I was a kid, about how MGM had built a robot for an upcoming Science Fiction movie called Forbidden Planet, which was to be released the following year. To the best of my recollection, the article said it had been built for the cost of $10,000 dollars, and included a black and white photo of Robby. I have seen the documentary which says it was more like $30,000, but that was a half century ago, so I'm probably mistaken about that amount.
I have watched this movie so many times, that I couldn't help noticing two little cute "goofs" if you will: In the scene where Earl Holliman asks if Robby is male or female, and then turns his back and walks toward the rest of the crew in the background, he accidentally kicks a rock on the ground. The sound causes Warren Stevens to turn his head slightly toward the rear, and then quickly back again, so as not to spoil the take. In another scene where he is being disciplined by Commander Adams for getting drunk with Robby he says: "Besides, why'd that 'Robert' argue me into drinking all that whiskey in the first place?"
It is things like this that make this movie even more lovable over time. It will always be what I consider to be a masterpiece, and my all time Sci Fi favorite.
Forbidden Planet is a groundbreaking film that became the blueprint for a million sci-fi movies. A team of astronauts go to investigate a planet, strange things are afoot. What I liked about Forbidden Planet though, it didn't settle into exactly what sort of film it was until a good way through it. About halfway through, I was wondering what was going on, the whole film seemed to just be pure sci-fi, the astronauts being led around a strange planet being told about the previous inhabitants taking up a large bulk, until quite a high brow mystery/horror concept is thrown into the mix, (very effectively, I might add). The film is very ambitious for the mid fifties, in terms of it's special effects and high brow subject matter (though thankfully, explains it all to those who might not understand), for this reason, it is a triumph, and definitely worth a watch 50 years later.
This movie stands out as one of the few really good movies from this
era that are sci-fi. Most of the movies from this time spent very
little time in thinking out the characters, technology, and the special
effects. In watching the film I am fully convinced that the producers
actually sat down and thought out how they would communicate and how
they would get from one place to another. As I mentioned, the
characters are believable. In this film the hero and the woman he loves
are not just the only plot line, there is a fairly complex system of
plot and sub-plot which keeps the movie from becoming nothing more than
a excuse to show skin. The people really do seem to believe that they
are were they are supposed to be and doing their job seriously.
The special effects are up in the same category as those done on War of The Worlds. When I first saw it I was amazed at how they portrayed each of the pivotal points about the ship and the threat which moves the story along. See this movie and be amazed.
My recommendation is too buy it on DVD for format reasons and durability.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Forbidden Planet is one of the great Sci Fi movies of all time. The
test of a movie is whether or not you enjoyed it; and I enjoyed
Forbidden Planet quite a bit. It's hard to explain the attraction. The
space ship looks like a pair of dinner plates, the special effects are
usually fairly cheesy (except when the ID Monster is attacked in the
force field - very cool) and the action sequences are well lame.
All that being said the movie does have several great things working for it. Robby the Robot - very very cool. Anne Francis as Altaira (even Ally McBeal didn't have shorter skirts). Walter Pigeon as Morbius (maybe the best of the mad scientists). Most of all it has was all great science fiction needs - the big idea. The idea that no matter our technology we are still human with darkness at the heart of our soul.
Space travel, alien civilizations, monsters have all been done to death, even in 1956 but put them all together the sum is much more than it's parts.
BTW Anne Francis doesn't look at all like her Marilyn Monroe knockoff on Gilligan's Island 10 years later. In Forbidden Planet she is stunningly attractive and I can't figure out why she didn't have a more successful career. That being said if I was to be marooned on Altair 4 I really couldn't chose between Anne Francis and Robbie the Robot. Both would be very nice. Very very nice.
If you get a chance see it in a theater. It's not the same on TV.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First of all, this is the best science fiction movie ever made. Only Aliens comes close. I feel that the best and most interesting part of the movie was the description Dr. Morbius gave of the Krell race, particularly regarding how many shafts there were, their size, and the machines that self-survived to make the inner workings of the planet continue for centuries. The scariest part was when the red monster (alive only because of Morbius' thoughts) came down the valley to the electro-field and killed one of the crew members. That thing was terrifying, and the special effects were WAY ahead of their time. An absolutely terrific movie!
I first saw this one when it was initially released. I was in college
at the time, and was a heavy reader of science fiction. I liked the
film when I first saw it, and like it to this day. I even got a
widescreen DVD of it.
There have been many comments about the story's relationship to Shakespeare's The Tempest, so I won't beat that to death. I have heard that the "electronic tonalities" by Louis and Bebe Barron were developed to sidestep the need for Union musicians, but I've not been able to verify it.
The film was set far enough in the future so that it could be a true science fiction film. Unlike many of the more serious films of the time, the characters didn't spend a lot of time explaining phenomena to each other, which is a good touch: someone with a laser pointer today doesn't stop to explain the mechanics of lasing to an associate when making a presentation, in today's context.
IMHO, this is not the greatest film of its genre, though it's a good one. Certainly one worth viewing multiple times.
The 1956 movie, "Forbidden Planet", was the first science fiction film
produced for $1 million by a major studio, MGM. The film excels in many
aspects, particularly its exceptionally intelligent story. Its flaws
are minor. The film is based on a story/screen treatment, "Fatal
Planet", by special effects expert, Irving Block and his writing
partner, Allen Adler. The screenplay was written by Cyril Hume;
directed by Fred Wilcox. Filmed in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor.
"Forbidden Planet" boasts of great technical achievements in special
effects,set and art design for that time period: Art Lonergan's sets of
the spaceship, Morbius' home and the Krell laboratory were lavish,
massive and stunning. The planet Altair IV's strange but beautiful
atmosphere was achieved via a 10,000 ft cyclorama painting. The 6'11"
Robby The Robot was a superb effects design, as was the "Id Monster",
created by Disney Animator, Joshua Meador. The eerie, all-electronic
score by Louis and Bebe Barron, was a first, originally planned to be
only a special effects subpart of Harry Partch's traditional score.
Under the patronage of avant garde' composer, John Cage, the Barrons
created a score more experimental than compositional: modeled on
emotional reactions of human nervous systems through cybernetics. The
story, set in 2257 CE, involves Commander Adams and crew travelling
from Earth to Altair IV, some 17 light years away, to investigate the
whereabouts of an Earth expedition sent there 20 years earlier. They
find only Dr. Morbius, his daughter and their trusty robot, Robby.
Morbius tells Adams that the Belleraphon crew died at the hands of a
mysterious invisible monster. Morbius tries to discourage the
investigation, but to no avail; matters worsen when Adams and Altaira
become romantically involved. Suddenly, various members of Adams' crew
are mysteriously killed; it turns out that Morbius, having gained great
knowledge and power via technology of the Krell - a super-advanced
civilization who once inhabited Altair IV - is once again
subconsciously creating via telekinetic materialization, the very
monster he claimed to have killed the Earth colony. In the end, Morbius
is destroyed along with his Id Monster, while Adams, Altaira and
remaining crew return safely to Earth as Altair IV blows up via a
thermo-nuclear detonation device. FP's story,loosely based on
Shakespeare's "The Tempest", features Walter Pigeon(Dr.Morbius)as
similar to Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan; Anne Francis(Altaira) as
his beautiful daughter like Prospero's daughter, Miranda; Morbius'
Robby The Robot similar to Prospero's dutiful servant, the spirit
Ariel; Leslie Neilson(Commander Adams) analogous to Ferdinand, Prince
of Naples; and Morbius' subconscious "Id Monster" paralleling Caliban,
the Witch Child. Comparative Analysis: Similarities between "FP"
characters and those of "The Tempest": Morbius and Prospero both live
in remote locations, the first on a planet, latter on an island. Both
have sheltered daughters who have had little human contact and are to
be romantically involved with suitors from afar. Both men have acquired
great power and knowledge, Morbius via advanced alien technology and
Prospero by magic. Both have non-human faithful servants, Morbius has
Robby while Prospero has the airy spirit, Ariel. Commander Adams is the
suitor of Altaira and Ferdinand,Price of Naples is suitor of Miranda,
both men have honorable titles. Altaira and Miranda are similar young
women who have been raised solely by their fathers for many years and
know little of the world. Morbius' "Monster of the Id" and Caliban, the
Witch Child, are analogous insofar as they are evil, elemental, bestial
entities. Both are called "monsters" in respective dialogue.
Differences - Morbius is fatally flawed, while Prospero is not.
Morbius' possessiveness of both daughter and Krellian knowledge proves
to be his undoing. OTOH, Prospero uses his knowledge and power to
punish and discipline in a constructive way to benefit of all,
including his enemies. Morbius' "Id monster" and Caliban are different
in that former is an internally projected-outward materialization,
while latter is a true entity unto himself. Prospero always has Caliban
under control, even to the end, while this is not the case with
Morbius. It is interesting to note that in "The Tempest", Ariel
oscillates between visibility and invisibility, while in "FP" , it is
the "Id Monster". (The Id, a Freudian conception, denotes an
instinctual part of the psyche seeking constant gratification,
regardless of the consequences to others; e.g., Caliban attempting to
rape Miranda, in spite of previous kindness from her and her father.)
The film and play end differently due to character differences in
Morbius and Prospero: "Forbidden Planet" on a bittersweet note, and
"The Tempest" on one of a fairy tale.
Concluding Comments: Dr. Morbius called the Krell, "A mighty and noble race", yet they vanished thousands of years earlier, leaving one to presume that they had psyches similar to Earthians, and like Morbius to come, succumbed to powerful subconscious "Id Monsters", i.e., the dark sides of themselves. Seen thusly, "Forbidden Planet" is a cautionary tale about various civilizations and individuals limited capacities to control immense power. "Forbidden Planet" always seems to inspire awe and wonder,as well as intelligent discussion and rightfully deserves a place alongside other enduring sci-fi classics as "Metropolis", "War of the Worlds" and "2001: A Space Odyssey".
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