Forbidden Planet directed by Fred M. Wilcox Review by Doug Gogerty
Forbidden Planet is one of the iconic science fiction movies of the 1950's. An earth ship is sent on a mission to determine what had happened to a previous expedition to the Planet Altair. As they approach the planet, the ship receives a warning to not get any closer. The ship's commander ignores the warning and lands upon the forbidden planet. Shortly after landing, they are greeted by Robbie the Robot. The robot takes a few members of the ship's crew to meet one of the survivors, Dr. Morbius. Dr. Morbius explains how a terrible monster killed the previous mission's crew. This monster will also kill the newly arrived crew members if they do not leave. Before going back to their ship, the three men who had traveled for a long time in space meet Dr. Morbius's beautiful young daughter Altaira. They are instantly smitten. Eventually, the monster attacks and kills some of the crew. The invisible monster is impervious to the weapons of the newly arrived space travelers. How can they survive?
The plot of this movie is supposedly based upon Shakespeare's The Tempest. I will take their word for it, as I have never seen or read this play. Nevertheless, the story is one of the big strengths of this movie. For a major portion of the movie you are wondering if Dr. Morbius is hiding something. Is the monster story real? Walter Pigeon as Dr. Edward Morbius does a good job keeping you wondering what his motives are. Of course, the movie stars Robbie the Robot who is also an icon. In fact, the robot from the TV Series Lost in Space was based upon Robbie. He is frightening and formidable. As a special effect, he was well executed with only a few disappointing moments.
The sets were also inspired. While they had some of the 1950's future look to them, they did not go too far. The mat paintings were nicely done and you are transported to a different time and place. Some of the "inner workings" of the previous inhabitants' labs, etc. are slightly over the top, but it can be excused. The director was attempting to give the place a grand scale without building a grand scale set. It is only noticeable by comparing them to today's CGI standards. Some of the flaws of the special effects are noticeable, and not just in that they pale in comparison to today's CGI effects. In fact, in one scene Dr. Morbius's daughter Altaira is supposed to be standing next to a tiger. When the hind quarter of the tiger disappears, it becomes clear that the tiger has been super imposed onto the scene. If you are coming onto this film for the first time, these things can be disappointing.
Also, when the movie strays from the main plot, it bogs down. A brief love triangle develops between Altaira, one crew member, and the commander. While understandable, it doesn't quite work right. There are things that could have made it more believable, but they had rules that prevented them from going where they needed to; though, a few open mouth kisses would not have solved the entire problem. One of the problems is that the commander was played by Leslie Nielson. Yes, THAT Leslie Nielson. It is hard to take someone seriously when you have seen him in so many unserious roles. I just did not find him convincing as a leading man. In the part of commander he was quite good, but in the love interest part he was mostly unconvincing.
Anne Francis played Dr. Morbius's daughter Altaira. For a good portion of the movie, I was trying to place where I had seen her before. By using the internet I discovered that she has been on dozens of TV shows, such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to more recent shows like The Drew Carey Show and Without a Trace. She was on Dallas and Hardcastle and McCormick and even Fantasy Island—three times. Thus, her name might not be familiar, but her face sure is. Unfortunately, I found her completely unconvincing. She could not pull off the innocent sex kitten. They wanted a Marilyn Monroe type, but they missed in my opinion. It is not that she was not attractive, but the chemistry between her and Leslie Nielson was non-existent. Thus, the sub-plot did not work for me.
Earl Holliman, another 70's TV mainstay, played the cook. His only function was to provide some comic relief. Clearly, that is all he was allowed to do. His scenes seemed tacked on and they worked hard to work them into the plot. I watched this movie with fresh eyes. I had watched it as a kid, but I only remembered Robbie the Robot. I really liked it in my youth, but this time I saw all the flaws clearly. Some of them are forgivable and understandable. Overall, I still enjoyed the movie. It deserves the praises that it gets. It is a step above the rest of the 1950's science fiction movies. The main plot is interesting and keeps you guessing. The subplot bogs it down, but not too much. It is an overall enjoyable movie.
Doug Gogerty is a writer and Senior Technical Specialist living in Minnesota. He runs a storytelling blog, Around the Campfire, and is a moderator on the ARWZ Writing Forum.