Forbidden Planet (1956)

“One cannot behold the face of the gorgon and live!”

‘Forbidden Planet’, directed by Fred M. Wilcox in 1956, is an American science fiction movie. The plot is a riff on Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’: a crew of spacemen lead by Commander John Adams, played by Leslie Nielsen, are on a rescue mission to a remote planet to hunt for a previous mission that was stranded there twenty years before. They discover a scientist called Dr Edward Morbius, played by Walter Pidgeon, his daughter Altaira, played by Anne Francis, and a robot made by Morbius. The pair have mysteriously survived a massacre of the crew and have formed a comfortable life for themselves exploring and using the advanced technology of the Krells, the previous occupants of the planet. It’s a movie that relies on spectacle and effects, both visual and aural, over performance or a sophisticated plot to stand out. The sets are entirely studio-based, but the painted backdrops are incredibly effective. The special effects are animated, but in many cases are more impressive than the CGI that would have been used today, whilst the design, particularly that of Robby the Robot, is solid and timeless. What really stands out, however, is the soundtrack: the ‘electronic tonalities’ of Bebe and Louis Barron. The first use of an entirely electronic score in a mainstream movie is also one of the more evocative, entirely consistent with the story and the imagery. The composers weren’t allowed to be credited as musicians as they weren’t part of a guild, but this merely added to the newness of what they achieved. In the end, it is the legacy of this movie that really points towards its success. Countless science fiction television series following this, including ‘Lost in Space’, ‘Star Trek’, and ‘Doctor Who’, have acknowledged a debt to the movie, or in some cases have actively homaged it.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s engaging and, surprisingly, it holds up as an effects movie. Watch alongside something like ‘Star Wars’ and then ‘Star Trek Beyond’ to get a sense of the progression of technology from hand-drawn to computer animation.

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