And let me tell you, Forbidden Planet is astounding even to this day. This is made all the more noteworthy in that this great film was released twelve years before 2001: A Space Odyssey and over twenty years before Star Wars and Alien!
Its tributaries are even more noteworthy than its legacy, but its legacy is all over the place. Let's take a look at this film's source by having a gander at the plot. A ship finds itself cut off from civilization and its crew finds a mysterious genius and his daughter marooned on a land of magic and wonders with an inhuman servant who is a part of the madman's machinations... but the dangers are only just beginning to reveal themselves.
If that sounds a bit like William Shakespeare's original play The Tempest then you're absolutely right! Story Creators Allen Adler and Irving Block based their ideas directly on The Tempest, more than proving Ben Jonson's assertion that Shakespeare was not of an age but for all time. Screenwriter Cyril Hume, and director Fred McLeod Wilcox continued the adaptation, replacing Prospero with Edward Morbius, Miranda with Altaira Morbius and Caliban (with some of Ariel) with none other than Robby the Robot (who was created specifically for this film).
As for its legacy... well, both subtly and overtly, Forbidden Planet is written all over Star Trek (to the point that Trek's Creator acknowledged that this was a direct influence on the long running franchise). So many elements from Star Trek started right here, from aspects of the ship design to the type of mission the Enterprise so commonly embarked on to even the famous Transporter Pads.
Other borrowed elements are easy to see in everything from Lost in Space to LOST (dig the scene where a group of stranded visitors is menaced by an invisible, supernatural monster that bellows a loud, high pitched, mechanical scream as it approaches an energy fence and tears down trees in its way)! In truth, there aren't many Science Fiction franchises to follow this film that didn't take at least a little inspiration from it.
Forbidden Planet is worth watching for the influence alone, however on its own it's still a really good movie! And I mean this... it's a REALLY good movie!!!
The United Planets starcruiser C-57D has been dispatched to the remote planet Altair IV to investigate the disappearance of the crew of the science vessel Bellerophon twenty years prior. Its year long voyage is led by the intrepid Commander J. J. Adams (a dashing, thirty year old Leslie Neilsen) along with his closest advisor (and chief medical officer) Lieutenant "Doc" Ostrow M.D. (Warren Stevens). The only thing missing from the crew is a Vulcan science officer, man!
But as the Flying Saucer-shaped starship prepares to land on Altair IV, they are warned away by one of the Bellerophon survivors, Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon). Anybody who has ever seen a Space Opera knows how much good it does to tell a Space Ship Captain "Don't explore here!", right? After all, Adams listened to crap like that we wouldn't have a movie would we?
But boy do we ever have a movie here! Not long after the spacefaring crew touch down in their sleek craft they are greeted by a highly technological guardian, years ahead of anything even on their own futuristic Earth. You guessed it, he's Robby the Robot (played by Frankie Darro in that 125,000 dollar suit and voiced by Marvin Miller). Robby is the creation of Morbius and is his only companion, since the death of Morbius' crew... and his wife. That is Robby WOULD have been his only companion if his wife hadn't given birth to a daughter before she sloughed off her mortal coil. And lucky for J.J. and the crew, that daughter Altaira (or "Alta" for short) is played by the remarkably hot Anne Francis and has a penchant for swimming nude in the planet's ponds and experimenting with kissing. Needless to say the cloistered crew is super excited by this and Alta herself has been dying to meet a real dude in the flesh... though she's pretty darned disappointed by most every "specimine" she meets.
True, there is a good deal of comic relief in this film stemming from the discomfort and discord Alta brings as well as the drunken antics of the ship's own Cookie (Earl Holliman) but there is a much more serious side to Forbidden Planet, revealing much of why its working title was, in fact, Fatal Planet! The mystery begins with the ancient race known as The Krell who died out ages before but left their enormous, city-sized machines in perfect, self-sustaining order deep in the catacombs of the planet. Not only does the spectacle of this constitute one of the most breathtaking sequences in the film, with an unfathomable scope and beautiful combinations of practical effects, matte paintings and actor-dwarfing set design, but the story of these vast computers holds the key to the entire mystery of the film! On the much more serious (and deadly) side is the aforementioned invisible "Monster of the Id"! I can't say any more about it without ruining too much, but I can say that, when seen, it took Disney animator Joshua Meador to bring the fearful foe to life and it's as surreal as it is terrifying.
Meador was only one of the many great effects technicians who brought this film to life. The sets by Arthur Longeran and Cedric Gibbons range from the practical (if post-modern) to the scientifically familiar (if prescient) to some of the most outward of the boundaries of speculative fiction. In many cases these futuristic sets are at their best when they make no sense, as the most brilliant of Earth scientists can barely make a dent in figuring them out. Chief Effects man A. Arnold Gillespie also led a hell of a crew including Arthur Lonergan, Jack Gaylord, Robert Kinoshita and the illustrator responsible for finalizing the Robby design, Mentor Huebner!
And that brings us to Robby himself, who has enjoyed over forty appearances in varied media since Forbidden Planet. As a piece of art and a milestone in Science Fiction filmmaking, Forbidden Planet is most assuredly Out Of This World! Though based on Shakespeare, this film contains many of the great firsts of the genre, from the setting to the direction to the very themes (notice, these are humans in a flying saucer FROM Earth flying to another planet, not Aliens from another planet invading Earth). However, on top of all of this, Forbidden Planet may just be best remembered for giving the world Robby the Robot, whose likeness is both indicative of that '50s Science Fiction vibe and one of the most recognizable mechanical forms in the world. From lunch boxes to wind-up toys to parodies to homages to direct tributes to his own multitude of appearances, Robby is still an Icon all these years later.
Still, he is only one of the very many things that makes Forbidden Planet so great. Its influence is felt all over Sci-Fi well beyond only those inspirees I've mentioned. You'll find this film's mark on everything from The Twilight Zone to Babylon 5 to Amazon Women on the Moon!
And, while it's arguable that without Forbidden Planet there could be no Star Trek, it's undeniable that without William Shakespeare and his most original play, there could be no Forbidden Planet! Four Stars out of Five for this fantastic, innovative and imaginative Motion Picture! It rises well above its few slow moments and (now) obvious trick photography to become a truly timeless classic, both a sign of its times and a valid look toward the future of Science Fiction! To this day, most of the special effects remain as astounding as they were decades ago and the obviously borrowed elements in later (and sometimes even greater) sagas is enough to make one shake the old head-bone in surprised appreciation. Trust me, folks, this is one magnificent motion picture that, like the fictional technology it features, quite simply... never gets old!
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