Forbidden Planet is a smart movie in that its story, though science fiction, digs deep into the human subconscious. Its heroes don’t pilot fast and showy space fighters, its villain is not really a villain at all, and it’s not overflowing with ridiculous aliens. Though it’s set in space, in the future, it takes place primarily on a planet, with a residential home as one of its key locations. It’s a domesticated movie, using science fiction as a building block to fuel a suspense narrative, and for 1956, that’s quite a big deal.
We’re told that it’s the not-too-distant future. Some time during the 23rd century. Man has begun exploring new worlds and planets far away from Earth, and now an explorer, the C57-D — commanded by a very young Leslie Nielsen — is ordered to land on Altair IV to investigate the disappearance of a previous crew, sent to the planet some twenty years before. The ship touches down, and before long, a very speedy transporter car arrives to greet them. The car’s driven by a robot named Robby, one of the movies more innovative creations. He’s a smart thing, able to communicate in 188 languages (or something to that effect) and he can create anything in the world as long as it can fit into a little slot on his chest that allows him to analyze the object’s components. For instance, if you wanted a lifetime’s supply of pizza, just chuck the one you want into the slot and Robby will reproduce it perfectly. Quite a nifty feature that I’m pretty sure found its way into the Star Trek universe.
Robby brings Captain Adams (Nielsen), Lieutenant Doc Ostrow (Warren Stevens), and Lieutenant Jerry Farman (Jack Kelly) to the house of Doctor Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), the previous crew’s linguist and sole survivor. He explains that a mysterious invisible entity attacked and destroyed his crew and ship nineteen years ago, leaving only himself and his wife alive (because they’re apparently immune to it), but his wife died some time later due to natural causes. He also has a daughter, born on Altair IV, the very sexy and naive Altaira (Anne Francis). They’ve been expecting Adams and his crew, but Morbius warns Adams to leave immediately, lest he and his ship suffer the same fate as his own.
This “fate” is what drives the story forward. Throughout the movie, strange things happen to the crew — and the ship. Sort of warnings for Adams to pack up and leave. Of course, he doesn’t. He is determined to find out just what the heck is going on. Why are Morbius and Altaira so happy to be alone? Who or what is attacking their ship, and how do they defeat it? Director Fred Wilcox goes to great lengths to answer these questions. He mixes dialogue, action, and visual effects so well that the story unfolds surprisingly smoothly; the scene in which the mysterious invisible beast is trying to break through the ship’s force field is expertly crafted. It is fully realised, menacing, and believable. Qualities you’d seldom expect of a ’50s sci-fi movie. Look at Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. Same genre, same year. They even use similar flying saucer models. But Wilcox knows the genre; he knows how to manipulate models. Wood, on the other hand, expects the models to work for him. Needless to say, the end result is poles apart.
Best Moment | The crew of the C57-D battling the invisible sloth-toed monster. It’s a great scene with marvelous visual effects. I was honestly quite surprised that Wilcox and his crew managed to pull it off.
Worst Moment | Nope.