Forbidden Planet (MGM – 1956) makes a powerful case for being not only the greatest Science Fiction film to come out of the 1950’s but, along with 2001, the greatest Sci-Fi movie EVER.
United Planets Cruiser C-57D is sent to the planet Altair IV, a year’s travel from Earth, to investigate the disappearance of a colony expedition sent 20 years earlier. Before landing, the ship is contacted by Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who warns them to stay away.
Upon landing, the ship is met by Robby The Robot who takes Cmdr. John J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen), Lt. Jerry Farman ( Jack Kelly ), and Lieutenant "Doc" Ostrow (Warren Stevens) to Morbius' home. Morbius explains to them that an unknown force killed all of the other members of his crew and destroyed their spaceship. Only Morbius, his wife (who died later of natural causes), and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis), now 19 years old, survived. He fears that the crew of the C-57D will suffer the same fate. Altaira has never met a man besides her father, and is interested in getting to know the new arrivals and learn about human relations.
Morbius explains that he has been studying the Krell, the natives of Altair IV who, despite being far more advanced than humanity, had all mysteriously died in a single night 200,000 years before just as they were about to unveil a great machine that would free them from the need of all instrumentality. He shows them a device that he calls a "plastic educator". Morbius notes that the captain of the Bellerophon tried it, and was killed instantly. When Morbius used it though, he barely survived, and doubled his intellect in the process. His enhanced intellect enabled him to build Robby and to help him translate the knowledge of The Krell.
One night, a valuable piece of equipment in the ship is damaged, though the sentries report they saw no intruders. In response, Adams sets up a force field fence to protect the ship . However, the invisible monster returns, and kills Chief Engineer Quinn. Dr Ostrow examines footprints left after the attack and is confused, saying that the creature appears to violate all known evolutionary laws.
"Anywhere in the universe this thing's a nightmare" - Doc Ostrow
The intruder returns the following night, and is discovered to be invisible - its appearance only revealed by its outline in the force-field beams. Several crew members are killed in a massive firefight with the monster. At his home, Morbius is in the Krell lab and subconciously knows that the attack is underway but cannot stop it. His trance is broken by Altaira's scream. At that moment, the creature vanishes.
Later while Adams confronts Morbius at the house, Ostrow sneaks away to use the educator, with fatal results. Just before he dies though, he manages to tell Adams that the underground installation was created to materialize anything the Krell thought of, but they had forgotten "Monsters from the ID!" Morbius objects, pointing out that there are no Krell left. Adams implies that it is Morbius’ ID that is responsible for the destruction of both his people and the crew o0f the Bellerophon. Morbius refuses to believe Adams' theory.
When Altaira declares her love for Adams in defiance of her father, the monster comes for them. The creature breaks into the house and melts through the nearly-indestructible door of the Krell vault where Adams, Altaira and Morbius have taken refuge. Morbius finally accepts the truth and tries to renounce his creation. Battling with his own darkside proves to be fatal for Morbius. With his last breath, Morbius tells Adams to press a lever which sets the Krell machine to self-destruct. Adams, Altaira, Robby, and the surviving crew take off and witness the destruction of the planet from a safe distance in space.
Sounds a lot like Star Trek you say? In fact you would be right! Gene Roddenberry borrowed heavily from Forbidden Planet when he developed Star Trek and in fact the episode “Requiem For Methuselah” was an adaptation of the film.
Forbidden Planet was the first attempt by a major studio (MGM) to make a Sci-Fi “A” picture. At that time Science Fiction was regulated to Drive in Theaters and other such “B” movie treatment. MGM lavished big stars, money and “The MGM Gloss” to make Forbidden Planet a major release. From Robby the Robot to the magnificent Matte Paintings to special effects realized by Disney Artists, this film is one of the most visually stunning films ever made. The MGM team created a completely immersive universe that rivals that of Star Wars. Sparing no effort, MGM actually committed to the first completely electronic musical score. In fact, since no musicians were involved in composing the score, it could not be listed as a musical score or win consideration for an Academy Award. Instead the score was credited as “Musical Tonalities”.
The cast of the film are all A-List stars and supporting actors. Heading the bill are Leslie Neilsen of Police Squad/Airplane fame, the STILL ravishing Anne Francis (Honey West) and the legendary Walter Pigeon. Star Trek Alum Warren Stevens plays the Proto-Bones Doc Astrow with The Six Million Dollar Man’s Richard Anderson and Earl Holliman in featured roles. This was a powerhouse cast to throw at a sci-fi film in the 1950’s.
Certainly THE star of the movie is the incredible Robby The Robot. He was SO popular in the film that the robot later starred in his own film and would appear on television shows such as The Twilight Zone and Lost In Space for years to come. The urbane Robot was one of the inspirations for C3PO decades later in Star Wars.
Forbidden Planet, while certainly containing many elements of “space opera”, dealt with some thought provoking ideas such as the dark side of human nature, the dangers of technology, what constitutes “sentient life”, and of course ….sex.
Forbidden Planet was recently released to High Def and it absolutely pops off the screen! Up until the release of 2001 in 1968 there was not even a debate that this was the greatest Sci-fi film ever made. But even with the advent of films like Star Wars, Alien and the like, Forbidden Planet comfortably rests in (at least) the top five. If you see only ONE sci-fi movie from the 1950’s this has to be the one!
And remember…beware the Monsters Of The Id!