From the video box: A dutiful robot named Robby speaks 188 languages. An underground lair provides astonishing evidence of a populace a million years more advanced than Earthlings. There are many wonders on Altair-4, but none is greater or more deadly than the human mind.
Forbidden Planet is the granddaddy of tomorrow, a pioneering work whose ideas and style would be reverse-engineered into many cinematic space voyages to come. Leslie Nielsen portrays the commander who brings his space cruiser crew to the green-skied Altair-4 world that’s home to Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), his daughter (Anne Francis), the remarkable Robby, and to a mysterious terror. (1956, color)
Mark says: Not many people would disagree that Forbidden Planet is one of the best sci-fi films that came from the 1950s. Produced by a major studio (MGM) and laden with stunning visuals and effects, Forbidden Planet is a true sci-fi classic.
But it’s not just the production values and special effects that give Forbidden Planet its classic status. The storyline and concepts are equally intriguing, giving this movie much more dimension than similar sci-fi pictures of the time. Here’s a terribly over-simplified synopsis:
Spacecruiser C-57-D, under the command of Commander John J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen), is sent on a mission to the planet Altair-4 to investigate the destiny of the Bellerphon, a fully manned craft that landed on Altair-4 twenty years previous but has not been heard from since. They discover the only survivor of the Bellerphon is Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who is suspiciously anxious for the rescue party to return to Earth without him.
Morbius explains that the crew of the Bellerphon, after making the decision to return to Earth, were “literally torn limb from limb” by an invisible force. Only Morbius and his wife seemed to be immune to the force. The Bellerphon itself was vaporized while trying to leave the planet (Morbius and his wife, fascinated with the new world, were not aboard the ship.)
Within the year, Morbius’s wife died of natural causes, but not before giving birth to a beautiful daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis). Morbius, Altaira, and a fantastic robot called Robby have been the only inhabitants of the planet since. They have never again been bothered by the destructive force.
Commander Adams needs further instructions from home base regarding Dr. Morbius. Unfortunately, building a communication device powerful enough to reach Earth takes several days, even with the help of the super-strong Robby. Meanwhile, an invisible beast enters the ship and kills Chief Engineer Quinn (Richard Anderson, who you might recognize as Oscar Goldman from the Six Million Dollar Man tv series).
The death of Quinn is strikingly similar to deaths described by Dr. Morbius concerning the crew of the Bellerphon. Commander Adams decides that it is time to confront Morbius and find out exactly what he knows about the planet Altair-4.
Dr. Morbius relates the history of the Krell, an ancient race “a million years more advanced” than Earthlings that once inhabited the planet. The Krell were a benevolent people evolved to a point of unsurpassed intellectual ability. Morbius was able to ascertain this through surviving Krell documents and machinery. Inexplicably, the Krell vanished overnight while on the verge of their greatest intellectual achievement, a society completely devoid of “instrumentation.”
Morbius also relates how his intellectual capacity has been doubled by using one of the Krell machines. The machine proved fatal to one of Morbius’s crew mates, and he forbids the commander or any of his crew to use it.
Of course, the extinction of the Krell is directly linked to the events now afflicting the men of Spacecruiser C-57-D. I will not reveal the answer to the mystery here out of respect for the uninitiated.
By this time, several of the crew have taken an amorous notice of Morbius’s daughter, Altaira (sometimes called Alta). In fact, a rivalry develops between Commander Adams and one of his officers, Lt. Jerry Farman, played by Jack Kelly (She Devil, Cult of the Cobra). Altaira eventually chooses Commander Adams as her love interest, and Lt. Farman gracefully bows out before being killed by the “invisible force.”
Anne Francis (who also starred in the title role of the tv series, Honey West) is superb in her portrayal of the alluring, intelligent, yet naive Altaira. She conveys a sense of innocence as well as an aura of sex appeal, and easily competes with the astounding sets and visuals of the film.
Leslie Nielsen (Day of the Animals, Dracula: Dead and Loving It) is competent in the role of Commander John J. Adams. Commander Adams is personable, but can also be authoritative when need be. Warren Stevens, portraying Lt. ‘Doc’ Ostrow, is the commander’s right-hand man and seems to be intellectually superior to him. As Dr. Morbius sarcastically points out, you don’t need brains to lead, “just a loud voice.”
Walter Pidgeon (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) is convincing as the stubborn Dr. Edward Morbius, but at times he seems bored with the part. Dr. Morbius is obviously an important character, but when the movie drags (as it sometimes does) it is primarily during his scenes. I think more editing could have helped the situation.
There is plenty of humor in Forbidden Planet. The crew is playful and even Commander Adams pulls an occasional prank. The casual humor is not distracting, however, certain scenes with the cook (played by Earl Holliman) are almost obnoxious in their attempts to be funny. The sequences involving Holliman and Robby are particularly embarrassing. Robby belching after analyzing the cook’s bourbon seems incredibly out of place for such a serious sci-fi effort.
Bebe and Louis Barron composed the “electronic tonalities” (original music) for Forbidden Planet. The tonalities not only add to a futuristic atmosphere (the story takes place in the 23rd century) but also serve as some of the sound effects. As the video box description states, this was “the first all-electronic musical soundscape in film history.”
By the way, the image posted above is a promotional still from the film featuring Anne Francis and one of her co-stars, Robby the Robot.
Story by Irving Block (War of the Satellites, Kronos) and Allen Adler. Screenplay by Cyril Hume.
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox.
Scene to watch for: The “Monster from the Id” shows its shape and size while crashing through the disintegrator beam in an attempt to attack the ship. (Side note: Every time I watch this segment I’m put in mind of the animated “Judge” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall.)
Line to listen for: “Sorry miss, I was giving myself an oil-job.”
Trivia: Forbidden Planet is loosely based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Bonus: Visit the Anne Francis home page.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ½ out of 5.