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Forbidden Planet

Commander Adams: "Nice climate you have here. High oxygen content."
Robby the Robot: "I seldom use it myself, sir. It promotes rust."

On the heels of my recently reviewed The Day the Earth Stood Still, I also watched this seminal classic. I had initially seen it forty or so years ago and didn't remember it well at all, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was not disappointed.

Before I summarize why this movie is so good, I’ll get my only negative point out of the way – the depiction of how others in the film perceive Dr. Morbius’s daughter Altaira (Anne Francis). This isn’t a negative towards the actress in any way. She plays the role well, but while fifties sci-fi/monster/horror movies often have women in roles and situations that will rub a modern audience the wrong way, I feel this character is treated worse than usual. Her father tries to be domineering, but she’s independent enough to stand up for herself against his more tyrannical demands. The main issue regarding how she is treated is by the saucer crew. We are informed it’s been a year or more since the all-male crew has even seen a woman, but the initial encounter between the core crew members and Altaira is uncomfortable at times. It never goes into dangerous territory thankfully, but it does go on for a time. There is also her situation with the commander, and how that is handled. It does improve over the course of the film, but it won’t sit well with some, and I can see why. Don’t let this stand in the way of enjoying this otherwise excellent film, but it is a thing that I feel should be brought up.

She is lovely to be sure, but I wish she had slapped a couple people!

With that out of the way, I can focus on the good, which is the vast majority of this movie. The overarching premise is simple and one we sci-fi fans have seen many times; a colony planet (Altair-IV) hasn’t reported in for some time and a ship is dispatched to investigate. In this case, that ship is the cruiser C-57D. It’s a striking ship in its own way. It’s a flying saucer, which is normal for the fifties, but it’s crewed by humans as part of a future Earth space nation, and not aliens, which is unusual and struck me as such immediately.

The time period in which it is set feels more realistic than a lot of older sci-fi tends to do. In fact, it has a greater "hard science" feel than a lot of these movies do. I think that’s part of why the movie has stood the test of time and feels less dated than a lot of other fifties sci-fi films. It isn’t a pure hard science movie by any means, but that realistic grounding makes it a more believable experience, even when it delves into the fantastic.

We quickly find out that the colony still exists but in a much-reduced state. The last surviving original team member, Doctor Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), is not exactly cooperative, although not overtly hostile either. Commander John J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen) is having none of Morbius’ evasiveness however, and takes charge of the situation early on, landing the ship and letting Morbius know that Adams is in charge, and he doesn’t like how Morbius is being so cryptic about the possible danger, or why Morbius is immune to it as he claims.

Things get even more unusual as the crew meets Robby the Robot, a machine that is impossibly advanced, but one which Dr. Morbius admits he has built himself, which makes the new arrivals even more wary and suspicious of the Doctor. In fact, between the Doctor and his lovely but enigmatic daughter, there is a lot of mystery and tension built up, which only grows as the film moves on and the audience experiences some very unusual happenings at the ship’s landing site and inside the saucer itself.

Adams grows increasingly irritated at Morbius’s behavior, but it grows exponentially once he starts losing crew members to… something. Eventually, Morbius relents and gives a tour of what he has found below the surface of the planet. It explains how Morbius has accomplished what he has with just him and his daughter remaining, but not the entire situation. Some of the reasons as to why the rest of the original colonists and some of Adams’ crew are dead are eventually discovered by the commander and key members of his crew, things that not even Morbius believes at first, even when confronted with it directly and imminently. This all coalesces into some tense moments and some impressive special effects for a movie from 1956.

I feel calling it C-57D is a bit bland. Something like Enterprise might be better?

This movie is also more cerebral than many fifties sci-fi films, in fact, I’d argue that it’s more cerebral than many sci-fi films from any era. The fifties are known for an explosion of movies about alien invaders, radioactive monsters, and their ilk, but this film has a deeper meaning than just "radiation is bad" or "we're scared of communism." It makes us consider our subconscious, our own darker thoughts, and how such things could affect sufficiently advanced technology in catastrophic ways. It also demonstrates how a person who isn’t inherently evil or malicious can still have these darker ideas present in the deep recesses of their mind.

An excellent film that combines a great cast, intriguing ideas, a few moments of comic relief (just enough to lighten the mood here and there, without it spoiling the overall experience), and great special effects for a movie of its time. Only some of the situations Altaira is in bring the movie down at all, and even that isn’t enough to harm the overall package. Forbidden Planet is a film that deserves its reputation and was an inspiration for many other creators of the sci-fi genre that so many of us love.

"How many bottles of booze can you make?"

— A significant portion of this movie’s cast had long and illustrious careers in film, TV, and even radio in some cases. Some of them I didn’t know as well as Nielsen, but there are some impressive filmographies in this cast.

— Gene Roddenberry credits this movie for inspiring Star Trek. It’s easy to see the resemblance between the movie and The Original Series.

— Robby the Robot first appeared in this movie and was huge in its (his?) day, and you’ll still see him pop him in various forms of media to this day.

— This movie is heavily based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, one of his pieces I know little about.

Four Robby the Robots out of four. A true gem of fifties sci-fi.

Morella is a Gen Xer who likes strange things a bit too much.


  1. Forbidden Planet is one of my favourite films of all time, and I agree completely that it is one of the greatest SF films ever, unquestionably in my top five. The Star Trek vibe is so complete that it would make a perfect episode.

    It introduced so many new and great things: the completely electronic soundtrack, the great special effects, the intelligent plot. I love the arranged eclipse of Altair. The 10^n power indicators in the Krell mind-expansion room. Everything about Robby.

    Walt Disney Studios did the animation of the creature in the blaster beams, and it is stunning.

    And there's young Leslie Nielsen as a dramatic leading man! Hard to remember that's what he used to be, before Airplane.

    And, yes, Altaira — well, what can one say? The 1950s. I mean, Goldfinger is 1964, almost ten years later; try that one out sometime. Things got a bit better in Star Trek, but it was a long, hard haul, and we're still not there.

    Still. Fantastic film. 10/10. Two — nay, three thumbs up. Required viewing.

    1. I saw all the classic Bond films, but it's been awhile! I have been watching a ton of the 50s and 60s movies like this, and it's something I never noticed as a kid, but it can stick out like a sore thumb to me now. I felt this one went further than usual and for an awful lot of screen time though!

      I kept key parts vague, to encourage people to watch this masterpiece, or I would have a shot of the scene you mention. The effects in this movie are quite good.


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