Forbidden Planet

Year: 1956

Production: MGM

Director: Fred McLeod Wilcox

Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Warren Srevens

Screenwriter: Cyril Hume

Based on a story by Irving Block and Allen Adler. Novelization (1956) by Philip MacDonald

98 minutes; Color


Although Wilcox was new to sf cinema (his best-known film was Lassie Come Home [1943]), Forbidden Planet is one of the most attractive movies in the genre. Some of the more interesting resonances of Forbidden Planet stem from its being an updated version of Shakespeare's The Tempest (circa 1611). Prospero is Morbius, an obsessive scientist living alone with his daughter Altaira (the virginal Miranda figure) on the planet Altair IV. Ariel is a charming metal creature, Robby the Robot (who became so popular - the first robot star since Metropolis - that another film, The Invisible Boy [1957], was made as a special vehicle for him). The film opens with a spaceship landing to investigate the fate of a colony whose sole survivors are Morbius and Altaira. The crew is menaced by an invisible Caliban, which proves to be a "Monster from the Id" and eventually destroys its unwitting creator, Morbius; holocaust follows. Altaira is saved.

The plot, mixing the tawdry and the potent, is very sophisticated for the time, astonishingly so for a film designed for a juvenile audience, especially in the intimations of incestuous feelings of the father for the daughter. The dialog is slick and unmemorable. The best sequences involve a tour of the still-functioning artifacts, spectacular and mysterious, dwarfing the humans passing among them, of an awesomely powerful vanished race, the Krel. The visual treatment of Forbidden Planet was unsurpassed until 2001: A Space Odyssey, made 12 years later. Despite its flaws, it remains one of the few masterpieces of sf cinema.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

One of the most charming works in the sf genre, Forbidden Planet is nothing less than an updated version of Shakespeare's The Tempest. It takes as its Prospero a scientist called Morbius (Pidgeon) who lives with his daughter (Francis) who, like Shakespeare's Miranda has never seen men, on a planet named Altair IV, while the role of Ariel is played by Robby the Robot, the first robot to become a popular hero in its own right.

Wilcox, whose best known film is his first, the efficient, if sentimental, Lassie Come Home (1943), directs with surprising flair and sophistication. Almost as interesting as the reworking of The Tempest are the sumptuous sets depicting Altair IV with its two suns and green skies and the underground cities of steel and porcelain of the Krel, the long-dead race whose dangerous secrets Pidgeon has partially unravelled. The film is clearly mounted as a juvenile offering, hence the robot and flying saucers, which was presumably why Wilcox was assigned to direct. However, Wilcox (whose subsequent I Passed for White [1960], which he also produced and wrote, is a remarkably tough film for its time) had other ideas and delicately, step by step, set about subverting the fairy story and transforming it into a nightmare.

The Krels died because in the course of their development they reached the point where they not only freed themselves of material restrictions, they also made materials their nightmares which killed them. Although unaware of the power he has tapped, Pidgeon has similarly unleashed the power of his own Id, first to kill his fellow explorers when they want to return home: he spares only his daughter. The significance of this becomes clearer when another group of explorers, led by Nielsen, arrive to investigate. First Pidgeon tries to warn them off and when they land the previous attacks are repeated, this time because Pidgeon is clearly jealous of the attentions paid by Nielsen to his innocent daughter for whom he clearly has incestuous fee lings.

After the climatic battle against the monster, the literalization of Pidgeon's jealousies and unspeakable desires, Pidgeon finally understands what he has created and dies fighting his own creation thus leaving Francis free to leave her home with Nielsen.

Although the film is charmingly mounted for the most part, some of the details, notably the comic interludes, are intrusive and some the the acting wooden, but in the manner of films as diverse as This Island Earth (1955) and The Wizard of Oz (1939), Forbidden Planet, a simply marvellous title, has an adventurousness about it that is wholly compelling.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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