Forbidden Planet Review

Forbidden Planet

It’s the 1950s and we already have our first colour film in this “10 Decades” marathon. Forbidden Planet has been on my mental “to watch” list for many, many years, the design of Robby the Robot being just one of many things from this film that has been referenced or parodied in countless shows, movies and games I’ve experienced over the years. Turns out, after all this unintentional waiting, that the film is just a really good sci-fi story even now. Amazing effects for the time, a talented cast, and an interesting central plot, it’s only a slow middle that really hurts this otherwise gem of a film. Let’s take a closer look!

Synopsis:

In the 23rd century, starship C-57D reaches the distant world Altair IV to determine the fate of an Earth expedition sent there 20 years earlier. Dr. Edward Morbius, one of the expedition’s scientists, unsuccessfully tries to persuade the relief ship not to land, saying he cannot guarantee their safety…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

Forbidden Planet 3

Commander Adams wonders whether he should trust the man with the goatee dressed all in black…

Commander John J. Adams (Leslie Nielson) – Commander Adams is in charge of the C-57D and its mission to meet up with the expedition team on Altair IV. He is relaxed among his crew, but strict when he needs to be…

Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) – Morbius has spent nearly two decades on Altair IV, and he has seen all of his fellow crew get killed by a mysterious monster that, for reasons unknown to himself, spared him and his wife. He now lives alone with his daughter, and wishes only to further explore the ruins of a lost civilization.

Altaira Morbius (Anne Francis) – Alta, as she’s nicknamed, has only really known her father, her mother dying when she was young and there being no-one else on the planet. So when a ship full of men arrives, she finds herself intrigued, and possible excited…

Lt. “Doc” Ostrow (Warren Stevens) – “Doc” is a close friend of Commander Adams as well as a subordinate, and as the ship’s Doctor, a key member of the crew, especially when people start getting hurt, or killed…

Lt. Jerry Farman (Jack Kelly) – Jerry is a bit of a joker, and given he’s spent over a year on a ship with only men for company, he’s a little taken aback by the sudden appearance of a woman on the planet, let alone the invisible monster slaughtering people…

Robby the Robot (Marvin Miller) – Robby is a super-intelligent robot that can perform many tasks, from driving a fast buggy car, to duplicating any food or drink or even shooting a laser gun. The only thing he is unable to do is harm a human being…

The Invisible Monster – A mysterious and invisible monster that tore the expedition crew to shreds shortly after they landed, leaving only Morbius and his wife. After the C-57D lands, it begins to attack again…

Plus more!

The Good:

Forbidden Planet 1

The creature lashes out at the laser fence.

For a film made in the 1950s it has a surprisingly interesting story. Beyond the initial set up of a group of men arriving to check on a lost expedition team, it turns out that the sole survivor of the team, Dr. Morbius (who I can’t help but think of the classic Doctor Who baddie, even though this obviously came first!) has been investigating that old chestnut of a lost alien civilization (known as the Krell) that has left behind a bunch of hard-to-understand advanced technology. Towards the end of the story it turns out the invisible creature that wiped out the rest of the expedition team and was making its way through the lander crew was actually a creature created by Morbius’ subconscious mind, unbeknownst to him, after he had used a piece of Krell machinery. This is why he and his wife were the only ones spared in the original crew, and why the monster hadn’t reappeared in the two decades in between… which does make you wonder how he didn’t come to this conclusion, but I guess the idea of the “Id monster” is a bit far-fetched, especially for someone with a rational mind.

In the end, as the monster is breaking through the unbreakable Krell doors, Morbius accepts the facts that he is subconsciously the reason why this creature exists and stops it at the cost of his life. The planet gets detonated while the remaining crew, Alta and Robby the Robot watch on from space. It’s a fine ending.

Robby the Robot isn’t just a really impressive suit, he is good comic relief and unusually doesn’t actually end up breaking his programming and killing anyone! Now there’s a rarity. In fact I loved that when the Id Monster began attacking Morbius’ house to get to the Commander, Robby couldn’t shoot the creature because it was technically part of a human. The creature, by the way, has some really great effects. It’s invisible, but when it’s trying to break through a laser fence that the crew had erected, it has this great outline effect as it got shocked. It’s technically just animation layered on top of film, but it looked so good!

As for the other human characters, they’re alright. They serve their purpose, but don’t really break free of the basic character bios they have. Commander Adams is the brave, unwavering leader, “Doc” is a the intelligent character who can explain things in a simpler manor, Alta is the naïve girl who our lead character falls for, and Jerry is the “joker” of the group, and hopelessly tries to get in bed with Alta much to the amusement of the audience. There is also a comedy cook who gets Robby to duplicate his alcohol and gets drunk, and the rest of the crew are just paid to wear a uniform and either get killed or look sad when someone else is killed.

Basically, at just over an hour and a half, it tells a really good sci-fi story, with great effects for the time. I have to also say it was weird seeing a young Leslie Nielson, though at least that helped in taking the character seriously. If he’d looked like Nielson from Airplane or Naked Gun I wouldn’t have been able to take anything he said as anything other than surely a set up for a gag (and don’t call me Shirley).

The Bad:

Forbidden Planet 2

Is there a more classic looking sci-fi screenshot than this?

The only really “bad” thing is a chunk of story in the middle where it’s literally just Morbius showing Commander Adams and “Doc” around the Krell ruins, going from one “amazing machine” to another, slowly explaining and showing what they do. It goes on forever, and while it does set up the Id Monster’s backstory well, and gives us a good place for the final showdown, it could have done with a serious trim.

Overall Thoughts:

Forbidden Planet 4

Ah, okay, I guess there is a more classic sci-fi screenshot…

Forbidden Planet is a great slice of science fiction, with a fun central idea and some really great special effects for the time. It may slow down for a “look at the marvels of the future!” style scene, but it doesn’t effect a really fun start, some good action in the middle, and a really fun ending. Highly recommended, and no wonder so many sci-fi writers have cited it as an inspiration, I can see how this film would spark a lot of imagination back then… or even now, really. Great stuff.

4 Star Watch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s