Forbidden Planet

I snagged Forbidden Planet from the library this weekend and watched it on Saturday. I also picked up Fellini’s Satyricon and Inagaki’s The 47 Ronin.

Forbidden Planet is an excellent science-​fiction movie. Apparently it is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest which happens to be my favorite of Billy’s plays. I grabbed it mostly because of the opening song in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Leslie Nielsen [pre-​screwball comedy] and the lovely Ann Francis are the stars.

The film features the first all electronic score in cinema history [or so it claims] and has excellent special effects and production values. If you see it, keep in mind that it was made in 1956. Forbidden Planet is heavily psychological and makes no bones about it. Perhaps what is most impressive about the film is that it makes no bones about anything, due to the nature of the characterizations, everyone gets right to the point. There is no intentional artifice. Perhaps most noticeable in this respect [at least for me] are the sparing references to Christianity. For example, on approach to Altair IV in eclipse, a crewman makes the comment ‘The Lord sure made some great stuff.’ I read this as a 1950s attempt to insert a bit of religion into the film but not in an awkward way. The manner in which it is delivered [nonchalantly] and the situation in which it occurs [looking at a beautiful corona] let me know that the guys on the ship have a broader view of Christianity than just about anyone I know. This is a version of a religion that doesn’t get in anyone’s way. The dialogue is always straightforward, almost daring you to judge it.

Other 1950s values are quite present, men take their hats off when they enter a house, rise when a woman enters a room and then immediately objectify her like crazy. Of course, this is Ann Francis role in the whole film: an innocent, scantily-​clad, nubile temptation. Even though she has never had contact with men other than her father and has had no contact with women, she still possesses womanly wiles, most pointedly as a tease. I can forgive all of this though, after all, this was made about 50 years ago.

Other sorts of atavistic themes are dealt with as well. The Krell, a race that previously occupied the world of Altair IV, had reached a state of near-​utopia when they were all mysteriously killed in one night. How this happened, what killed the crew of a ship from a previous expedition and what is killing the crew of Leslie Nielsen’s ship are the main mysteries to be solved. In the laboratories of the Krell it is possible to glimpse the glories of the past and also move toward an answer to the mind behind all of this destruction. In the end, freedom is paid for by the renunciation of power and acceptance of weakness. The film gave me the feeling that no matter how close to perfection humanity might get, there will always be something lurking deep down within.

Robby the Robot has some remarkable abilities even though he gives off the rank aroma of a man in an unwieldy rubber suit. The editing is pretty standard but is also used creatively to get around some of the seams where special effects fail. The electronic score is meant to be otherworldly and despite the slight overuse of a theremin it does a pretty good job. I don’t particularly think it is a good score but in the end it doesn’t really matter.

If you like old sci-​fi films then you should give this one a watch. Its right up there with The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Some Rather Poor Forbidden Planet links. [the sites are ugly but the reviews are alright]