Film Review: Forbidden Planet (1956)

SYNOPSIS:
“An expedition is sent from Earth to Altair in the constellation of Aquilae (some seventeen light years from Earth) to discover what happened to a colony of settlers on its fourth planet, Altair IV. What they discover is how and why an alien race of geniuses destroyed itself overnight while leaving their technology intact at some point in the distant, distant past.” (courtesy IMDB)

REVIEW:
“Another one of them worlds. No beer, no women, no pool parlours. Nothing to do but throw rocks at tin cans, and we gotta bring our own cans.” So laments Cookie (Earl Holliman), chief cook and comic relief of the United Planets Cruiser C57D. Under the leadership of Commander J.J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen), he and his sex-starved crew are approaching the lonely red planet known as Altair IV. They’ve been cooped up in their ship for close on two years, on a quest to investigate what’s become of the Bellerophon mission, launched some twenty years prior. A radio message from the earlier mission’s sole survivor firmly warns not to land the ship, but this only increases the Commander’s determination for answers.

Disregarding the message, they land and are quickly greeted by a courteous robot named Robby. He shuttles the disbelieving upper ranks across the barren terrain of Altair IV to the technologically advanced home of grumpy philologist Morbius (Walter Pidgeon). Cordially offering the officers lunch, he explains that the other members of the Bellerophon party succumbed to an incomprehensible force in the first year of their arrival.

But further discussion is abruptly interrupted when Morbius’ mini-skirted eighteen-year-old daughter Altair (Anne Francis) appears, to the crew’s obvious delight. Having never laid eyes on a young man before, let alone the handpicked ready-for-action specimens of the C57D, naive Altair is soon trading kisses with crew members, in particular confirmed space-wolf Jerry (Jack Kelly). Fully aware of the, ahem, stiff competition he faces from the Commander, Jerry warns Altair away from Adams by somewhat unfairly claiming his notoriety across seven planetary systems. But romantic interludes are forced to take a back seat when, as Morbius predicted, the mysterious force is back, and crew and equipment are being savaged with terrifying ferocity.

In terms of intelligence, imagination and production values, Fred Wilcox‘s grandly produced science fiction classic still towers head-and-shoulders above most of its genre peers. While Forbidden Planet (1956) could hardly be called a sophisticated reworking of William Shakespeare‘s The Tempest, it’s funky blend of Oedipal and Freudian themes elevate it far above the usual radioactive monsters and alien invasion fare that studios commonly defined as science fiction movies in the fifties. Sure, its characters might be as stereotypical as any Hollywood submarine picture from the era and its pace occasionally lumpy, but Forbidden Planet’s irresistibly retro-futuristic art direction, winning sense of humour, and dated but remarkable special effects guarantee Forbidden Planet rocks where it counts.

The barely-seen Id monster, tearing its way through a force-field, is still an impressive piece of animation. It’s no wonder, as MGM studios wanted the very best for their only science fiction effort of the fifties and, in a rare act of studio cooperation, hired a team of Disney animators to touch-up several sequences including the Id monster, the C57D landing, and when Robby short-circuits.

The cavernous subterranean machinery of the long-dead Krell race is gloriously and spectacularly realised. “Gentlemen…” says Morbius with a dramatic pause, “…prepare your minds for a new scale of physical scientific values.” The C57D crew gaze in awe (as do we) as they ride the monorail through a massive complex of tunnels dwarfed by centuries-old reactors, or amble gob-smacked along walkways spanning ventilation shafts that disappear into infinity.

Louis Barron and Bebe Barron contributed the film’s distinctive and eerie electronic soundtrack, a bold choice for a very conservative studio known for its musicals, and one that aids tremendously in establishing the otherworldly atmosphere of Altair IV. The Barrons chose to call their soundtrack Electronic Tonalities, rather than equating it to any sort of musical score. In all honesty, MGM had no idea what they had, and not only copyrighted the tonalities, but also the very tubes and transistors used in their production.

The DVD I watched boasts both Fullscreen and Widescreen ratios and, apart from a few scratchy moments between reel changes, the print looks mighty fine. I’m very familiar with Forbidden Planet, but while re-watching it recently I couldn’t help but feel I was viewing a long-lost pilot episode of Star Trek – the militaristic crew dynamics, a trio of investigating officers, a script concerning man’s intelligence and place in the universe – it becomes quite obvious what Gene Roddenberry was trying to emulate with television’s Star Trek. Hmmm, you know of course, both Leslie Nielsen and William ‘The Shat’ Shatner went on to have extensive careers in comedy, too. Try not to think of that while watching Forbidden Planet, okay? Pretend I didn’t say anything.

It’s vitally important that you join me for the next edition of Horror News, because an old gypsy woman told me that unless you read all my reviews, the entire world will be destroyed. Normally I’m highly skeptical of such claims, but she was just so certain, I feel we’d best not take the risk. So enjoy your week, and remember, the survival of the entire world depends on you. Toodles!

Forbidden Planet (1956)

This entry was posted in Film Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Also, if you like following updates on industry Horror News..
Make sure to subscribe to our RSS Feed!

About Nigel Honeybone

Wee Willie"Nigel Honeybone's debut was as Hamlet's dead father, portraying him as a tall posh skeleton. This triumph was followed in Richard III, as the remains of a young prince which he interpreted as a tall posh skeleton. He began attracting starring roles. Henry VIII was scaled down to suit Honeybone's very personalised view of this famous king. Honeybone suggested that perhaps he really was quite skeletal, quite tall, and quite posh. MacBeth, Shylock and Othello followed, all played as tall, skeletal and posh, respectively. Considering his reputation for playing tall English skeletons, many believed that the real Honeybone inside to be something very different, like a squat hunchback perhaps. Interestingly enough, Honeybone did once play a squat hunchback, but it was as a tall posh skeleton. But he was propelled into the film world when, in Psycho (1960), he wore women's clothing for the very first time. The seed of an idea was planted and, after working with director Ed Wood for five years, he realised the unlimited possibilities of tall posh skeletons who dressed in women's clothing. He went on to wear women's clothing in thirteen major motion pictures, including the Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Star Wars (1977), heartbreaking as the remains of Aunt Beru. With the onslaught of special effects came the demise of real actors in these sorts of roles. After modeling for CGI skeletons in Total Recall (1990) and Toys (1992), the only possible step forward for a tall posh skeleton was television, imparting his knowledge and expertise of the arts. As well as writing for the world's best genre news website HORROR NEWS, Nigel Honeybone is currently signed to star in a new series for television presenting the finest examples of B-grade horror. THE SCHLOCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is seen on Friday nights at 10.30pm on TVS Television Sydney, and where ever good Youtube downloads are available." (Fantales candy wrapper circa 2007)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>