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Forbidden Planet

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Forbidden Planet

Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis
Director: Fred McLeod Wilcox
Rated: G
RunTime: 98 Minutes
Release Date: March 1956
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Classic, Cult

*Also starring: Leslie Nielsen, Warren Stevens, Jack Kelly, Richard Anderson, Earl Holliman, George Wallace, James Drury

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

One of the most widespread forms of amusement among movie fans is "Kevin Bacon game" - connecting various, often quite different, films based on the actors who appeared in them. Movie fans who like to explore the essence of films play another kind of "Kevin Bacon game" - connecting various films based on ideas or characters that appeared in them. One of the most spectacular of such sequences, in which we can trace the original ideas centuries back, is the sequence that begins with William Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST and ends with STAR TREK. There is an important link between 16th Century play and 20th Century cult SF-series, and that link happens to be SF-film with the cult following of its own. This film is FORBIDDEN PLANET, 1956 space opera directed by Fred M. Wilcox.

The plot of the film is set in 22nd Century. Starship is sent from Earth to solar system of Altair. Captain J.J. Adams (played by Leslie Nielsen) has the task to investigate apparent lack of communication with scientific colony that had settled on its fourth planet two decades ago. When the ship approaches the planet, the expedition receives warning by Doctor Morbius (played by Walter Pidgeon), the only remaining member of the expedition. He claims that he doesn't need outside help and that the starship should leave. Adams nevertheless orders the landing and his expedition is greeted by strange, exotic, yet barren world. The only thing that stands out are structures inhabited by Doctor Morbius, his young daughter Altaira (played by Annie Francis) and exotic household appliance called "Robbie the Robot". Morbius reluctantly agrees to help Adams in his investigation, explaining that all the members of his expedition, with exception of his family, succumbed to mysterious force which caused very violent and messy deaths. Stranded on the barren planet, Morbius had begun to explore its underground and found ruins of mighty and ultra-developed civilisation of Krell, people who mysteriously perished centuries ago. Their superior technology persevered, allowing Morbius to create many technological wonders, including "Robbie", despite his lack of formal engineering skills. While some members of the starship crew are intrigued by this finding, most of them are aroused by attractive yet sexually inexperienced Altaira, including Captain Adams. However, after a while, Adams would find that this bizarre planet has lifeforms different from Morbius family and more inimical to his ship and crew.

At first glance, FORBIDDEN PLANET looks like an embodiment of everything that is bad about Hollywood's 1950s science fiction. The predictions of future are laughable, starships look like flying saucers, their crews are made entirely out of white males who speak with American accent. Comic relief in the form of Cookie (played by Earl Holliman) is an incarnation of all cliches of the period. "Robbie the Robot", on the other hand, doesn't just look obsolete - he looks like too obvious attempt by producers to attract juvenile audience, and, compared to this, Lucas and Spielberg look like masters of subtlety. Even on purely technical level director Wilcox manages to shoot himself in the foot when one shot during Altaira's skinny-dipping scene reveals Annie Frances wearing swimsuit. However, despite these flaws, FORBIDDEN PLANET is considered one of the most important science fiction films ever made.

The importance of FORBIDDEN PLANET is in the influence it had on numerous filmmakers till this day, mostly in the form of basic plot. That speaks a lot of about ingenuity and intelligence of screenwriter Cyril Hume, who, unlike many other SF writers, didn't use the premise as a simple excuse for standard action/horror plot, but actually built the real, intriguing story on it and led it to its logical and effective conclusion. Thanks to that, even the viewers who are accustomed to CGI graphics, different standards of sex, violence and language would actually appreciate this film. Despite antiquated special effects, slow rhythm, old-fashioned morality of the characters, FORBIDDEN PLANET doesn't insult viewer's intelligence. It is exactly what is supposed to be - a science fiction film from beginning to the end.

Even on technical levels, FORBIDDEN PLANET is successful film. Special effects were best of its age, and even today some of the scenes might impress the viewers. There was even some room for experimenting, and musical of Bebe and Louis Barron is the very first example of completely electronic soundtrack for Hollywood feature film. This experiment resulted in eerie, surreal atmosphere that seems quite appropriate for the film. Although the actors in this film don't usually belong to Hollywood major league, they do quite a decent job. That includes young Leslie Nielsen of comedic POLICE SQUAD fame as starship captain, and despite his usual deadpan delivery, this non- comic role is rather impressive; "trekkies" wouldn't have much trouble seeing shades of proto-Kirk in Nielsen's version of Adams. On the other hand, Walter Pidgeon is also quite effective as Morbius, and Anne Francis as his attractive daughter delivers seductive combination of sexuality and childlike innocence. Hume's dialogue, despite some usual cliches, has enough room for some rather entertaining double entendres.

All in all, FORBIDDEN PLANET, even after almost half of century, is not only important but very entertaining and intelligent piece of science fiction cinema and it should be recommended to all fans of that particular genre.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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