If you’ve ever wondered where Gene Roddenberry drew inspiration from for his pop culture phenomenon, Star Trek, look no further than this film:
Made in 1956 and starring Leslie Nielsen, I expected this movie to be a good deal campier than it was. I figured I’d get laughable special effects and silly, posed, heroic speeches. I thought Forbidden Planet would be a cheesy, feel-good time.
Yeah, that wasn’t really the case at all.
Commander John J. Adams (Nielsen) and crew land on Altair IV, investigating what happened to a colony of settlers who haven’t been heard from in twenty odd years. They discover two human survivors, Dr. Edward Morbius and his daughter, Altaira, and are warned to leave before bad things start happening. Then . . . bad things start happening.
1. When you think that someone might be in danger, you should really warn them in as much detail as humanely possible. Vague warnings seem to be all the rage in these types of films, but it’s really not fair for you to darkly mutter about doom, refuse to give any of the pertinent details, and then act all superior when someone gets themselves dead. “I warned you!” you practically crow with delight, clearly never having outgrown the need to say, “I told you so!” no matter how inappropriate the situation. And, yes, I suppose you did warn us. But maybe, next time, you could be a touch more forthcoming with all the facts before I land my spaceship on your shitty, little planet. I mean, it only took me a year to get here. It stands to reason that I might try to complete my mission if all you’re going to give me is, “Don’t come. No, really. Don’t come. Okay, fine, you asshole, come down here, but I’m not going to be held responsible, okay?”
Being unnecessarily cryptic is the first sign of schmuckdom. Just saying.
2. For a movie made in the 1950’s, Forbidden Planet’s special effects are surprisingly good. I was pretty impressed with the little flying saucer spinning through space. That was a lot more believable then the “desert” they supposedly landed in.
3. Speaking of special effects . . . there’s a scene very near the beginning of the movie where each member of the crew stands on top of a circular platform and says, “Beam me up, Scotty!” Okay, they don’t say that at all, and they aren’t actually transporting anywhere, but the effects that are used? Identical to the transporter beams in Star Trek. It’s not the only time you’ll see a link between Forbidden Planet and Star Trek, but it’s the most obvious example. (I also submit that Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory was influenced by this movie. You know the scene, the one that had no business being in a children’s movie, with its acid trip and creepy song lyrics, “Are the fires of hell a’glowing/is the grisly reaper mowing?” Jesus, I wouldn’t want to meet Gene Wilder in a dark alley somewhere. My God.)
4. Back to this film: Altaira (Anne Francis) is the only woman in this movie, and she’s sort of a stupid bimbo, but that’s okay because she actually has reason to be a stupid bimbo: she’s been isolated her whole life with no one but her father, a robot, and some animals to run around with, and therefore doesn’t know what effect her tiny, little body in her tiny, little dress will have on a bunch of men who haven’t had sex in a year. You think her father might try to explain this to her at some point, out of concern for her safety if nothing else, but he seems more amused than anything by her ignorance of the situation. Gee, Morbius. I hope no ones tries to force himself on her or anything. Self-involved, useless, egotistical bastard.
5. You may have gathered that I’m not altogether fond of Dr. Edward Morbius. (Although you have to like that name, Morbius. Morbid Morpheus. Dark dreams. It’s fitting.) Morbius is played by Walter Pidgeon, and I think it’s fair to say that Pidgeon overacts just a smidge in this role. He actually does the full, fall-to-his-knees routine at one point. I’m not saying he doesn’t have cause, just . . . it’s a little heavy-handed.
6. Seeing Leslie Nielsen, on the other hand, is such a trip.
I know Leslie Nielsen wasn’t always a comedic actor, so seeing him outside of the Airplane! movies or the Naked Gun series isn’t so shocking. But seeing him so young, though . . . that’s just kind of strange. It’s like looking at pictures of your grandparents when they were your age and being forced to reconcile the fact that they had these whole lives a long time before merry little you came into the picture.
As far as acting goes, I thought Nielsen was fine. He never winks at the camera, and I liked that about him and the movie in general.
7. My biggest problem with the film, I think, was the luv connection between Adams and Altaira. In one scene, they kiss, and in the next, they’re, like, soul mates. It’s pretty ridiculous. We’re just sort of expected to buy into it, and, well, I didn’t.
8. Forbidden Planet is the first movie to feature Robby the Robot.
I knew I’d heard that name before, but I had no idea just how diverse his career was. Robby the Robot has his own imdb page. He has 23 titles. This amuses me to no end.
9. I can’t talk too much about the mysterious happenings on Altair IV, but the story is surprisingly involved and cerebral. I suppose my low expectations make me sound like a snob, but I can’t lie; I was mostly impressed by just how smart this movie is.
10. Though this is like the grandfather of science fiction films, it’s probably not the kind of movie that I’d give to somebody just starting out with the genre. This is the kind of movie made for established science fiction lovers only. You start with Star Wars or Star Trek or something. You work up to Forbidden Planet.
At least, that’s probably how I would do it. I think there might be a poll question in that. If you wanted to introduce your non-sci-fi friend to the genre of lasers, robots, aliens, and endless questions about the human spirit, what movie would you select to start them with? I’m honestly interested in the answer.
11. One thing I could have used a little less of in this movie: all the focus on the various technological wonders. You see, there are all these neat gizmos and scientific advancements on Altair IV, and while they’re all pretty important to the plot, there’s this one scene that seems to go on for twenty minutes where Dr. Morbius is just leading people around going, “Hey, you wanna see this cool thing? Techno babble, techno babble . . . hey, you wanna see that cool thing?” It might not have bothered me as much, but after awhile, I was kind of like, Hey, these are neat toys and all, but aren’t you supposed to be investigating the Big Bad that wants to eat you?
12. If I had the power, I’d also probably tone down the cook’s character as well. God knows that serious movies need moments of levity, but Cookie is just a little too cartoonish. He’s so obviously the Comic Relief that he feels a little out of place in this film.
13. Finally, I think I’ve found my new favorite insult to use on my sister. Anytime I don’t like what she has to say, I’m going to be all, “Shut the hell up, you id monster!”
Surprisingly smart science fiction film that takes itself pretty seriously. Decent special effects for the time. Love the concept. Not so crazy about the “romantic” relationship, though.
Cryptic warnings help no one. Also, technology is not always your friend; advancement for advancement’s sake can be dangerous, blah, blah, blah. But mostly, cryptic warnings help no one, Morbeus. You hear me? NO ONE.