Forbidden Planet (Fred M. Wilcox, 1956)

by Douglas Buck August 27, 2017 3 minutes (649 words) Blu-ray

In a sci-fi space adaption of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” (with those wonderfully perverse sexual underpinnings intact), a spaceship heads to a distant planet led by a captain played by Leslie Nielsen (who may have the looks and demeanour to carry a leading hero role, yet unfortunately, I just can’t stop distractedly thinking about his later career-defining bumbling detective Frank Drebin roles in the Police Squad! tv series and Naked Gun films) to uncover the fate of a previous expedition and discover two survivors — the reluctant host and mad scientist Dr. Morbius who wants the intruders off the planet and the hell away from his hot-object-of-desire daughter who the cooped-up crew are immediately drooling over — along with a sort of invisible id creature that starts suspiciously killing the aforementioned crew one by one. Oh, yeah, and there’s that famous walking talking servant of theirs, Robbie the Robot.

After re-watching the two original, fascinatingly different and deeply influential Alien films, followed by the flawed, yet still definitely worthwhile, producer-stewarded messes of Parts 3 and 4 — and before embarking on the far less rewarding Predator and Alien Vs Predator films, as well as Prometheus (which I haven’t yet seen) — all in preparation for director Ridley Scott’s latest dip into the Alien mythos, I figured I (and a band of my mates, as well as my daughter) would muster up a little triple feature viewing of classic sci-fi films that have been said to have inspired original Alien screenwriter (and deservedly growing in reputation filmmaker) Dan O’Bannon, a self-acknowledged genre film nerd.

I suspect perhaps to be contrarian more than anything, O’Bannon has often claimed Forbidden Planet as a greater influence than some of the more obvious choices (such as the additional two I’ll get into in later postings) and the similarities are really more genre generic — landing on an alien planet, getting picked off one by one by a monster and receiving a warning to stay away (which they ignore here, while in Alien they initially mistake as a distress call until, naturally — and fortunately for us monster movie fans — it’s too late). One similarity, though, being the discovery on the planet of a mysterious long-dead alien culture, but even with this, the differences in approach are pretty distinct (in Alien, it’s a visiting ship that’s crashed, with its enigmatic chest-exploded space jockey alien dead, while here its an entire magnificent long-deceased alien culture that haunts the proceedings).

Forbidden Planet, on its own, is a real gem of a film. With nicely evocative and creative effects, expressionistic and colourful set design, a truly otherworldly feel (helped immensely by a ground-breaking and seriously mind-blowing tripped-out electronic score) and some beautifully imagery (the awesome God-like POV shot looking down on teeny-tiny Morbius leading a few of the ant size crew across a walkway in the massive extinct Krell race laboratory is nothing less than astonishing and really should be experienced on a big screen), it’s great to see not just as a precursor to all the great mind- and visually-expanding sci-fi films to come, but as an impressively realized journey in its own right.

Yeah, some of the acting is a bit Saturday-matinee movie clumsy and I can’t say I’m the hugest fan of the animated id monster once it’s seen, but it’s still playing thematically with adult material straight out of the great Bard himself. And that electronic score, while having sounds that are perhaps more common to our ear now, remains as tripped out and experimental within the context of the film today as it must have over fifty years ago (I mean, they just don’t score ‘em like this very often, before or since!). It’s more than well worth the visit, whether O’Bannon is being slippery or not about its influence on Alien_.

_Forbidden Planet_ (Fred M. Wilcox, 1956)

This review is archived under the “Buck a Review” column, written by Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. To read more of Buck’s smart and snappy reviews, click on the column sidebar link.

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