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'Forbidden Planet' - Good Plot, Great Robot

Classic Sci-Fi with a Side of Shakespeare

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Robby the Robot

Forbidden Planet DVD

An intelligent, absorbing piece of early science fiction that wasn't afraid to use big words, Forbidden Planet was a smash in 1956. Along with terrific special effects for its day and a Shakespeare-inspired story, Forbidden Planet also featured the debut of everybody's favorite mechanical man, Robby the Robot.

The Plot

Inspired by Shakespeare's "The Tempest," Forbidden Planet is the story of an intrepid crew from the "United Planets" sent to investigate the fate of the Bellerophon, a ship that landed on the fourth planet of the star Altair twenty years before.

They find the only survivors, the scientist Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis in some really short sci-fi skirts). In an eden-like setting, the scientist has been uncovering the remains and the secrets of a once-great society, the Krell, who flourished on the planet eons in the past.

He explains that the Bellerophon settlers were hideously murdered by a unseen monster. Only he and his family remained unaffected, and the ship itself was vaporized as the last settlers attempted to escape. Morbius has spent two decades exploring the vast spaces of the Krell's mysterious underground power plant, and boosting his lowly human IQ with the Krell equivalent of Baby Einstein tapes.

Wouldn't you just know it, as soon as the handsome young men of the ship start hitting on Morbius' luscious daughter, the invisible monster comes back with a vengeance. The boys need to figure it out quickly, or everybody's cooked.

The whole thing is embellished with a bizarre electronic score and sound effects that were ground-breaking at the time - lots of theremin and oscillator-wave noises - that are still kind of cool today.

The Cast of 'Forbidden Planet'

Pidgeon makes a satisfactory scientist, coolly arrogant, with a graying VanDyke that makes him look kind of old-guy sexy. It's great fun to watch a young Leslie Nielson as the manly commander of the expedition. He looks the same and plays basically the same role as in his later "Naked Gun" spoofs, although without a trace of irony. (It's hard not to laugh when he pulls his space-age communications device from his belt on a cord, like a janitor's set of keys.)

The crew could be any regulation bunch from any Navy movie, including a stereotyped cook for comic relief. But there's something oddly Third Reich about their tight gray uniforms. You find yourself flashing back to the desert Nazis in the Indiana Jones movies.

Anne Francis does her best as the object - and I do mean object - of the commander's affections. A movie that is otherwise inventive and thoughtful betrays its 1950s origins in its view of women. There are no females on the United Planets crew; Francis spends a lot of time posing in uncomfortable, provocative outfits and worrying about what to wear; and Robby - who cooks, cleans, sews, manufactures booze and drives the rover -- is described as a "housewife's dream." Guys, it's the year 2207. Let my people go.

The Visuals

The sets, props and special effects steal the show, starting with Robby, an instant and enduring sci-fi icon, who went on to guest spots on "The Twilight Zone," and continues to turn up in movie and television cameos. The paintings and matte work are impressive, giving the alien planet a strange beauty and suggesting the awesome size of the Krell power plant with deco flourishes.

Morbius's house is space-age meets Hollywood modern, decorated with some trippy sculptures that suggest fossilized fish. And I would dearly love to see on the big screen the moment when the invisible monster, howling and snarling, is outlined in blaster beams as it tries to attack the ship. So cool.

The Director

While a sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet may not be the most famous film Fred Wilcox made. The journeyman director also helmed three Lassie films during his days at MGM, along with the first film version of the children's classic The Secret Garden.

'Forbidden Planet' - The Bottom Line

Forbidden Planet influenced many of the science fiction films and television that followed in with its style and its ideas. It's fun, if a little dated, and a must for true science fiction fans.

Recommended For You

If you liked Forbidden Planet, you may like The Day the Earth Stood Still, When Worlds Collide, The War of the Worlds or The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Just the Facts:

Year: 1956, Color
Director: Fred Wilcox
Running Time: 98 minutes
Studio: MGM
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