FORBIDDEN PLANET(1956) *** 1/2. Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Warren Stevens, Jack Kelly, Richard Anderson, Earl Holliman. Directed by Fred McLeod Wilcox; written by Cyril Hume from story by Irving Block and Allen Adler. MGM. 98 min. No rating.
Reasons for seeing this 36-year old movie and watching it on a big screen:
a) It is a space classic -- the best of its decade -- and a serious forerunner of STAR TREK. In the year 2200 ( or maybe 2020 ?), Commander Nielsen lands his United Planets Cruiser on Altair-4 to investigate, after 19 years,the non-return of colonizers from Earth who had come on the craft Bellerophon --one of the arcane mythological references in the movie. They find a survivor -- the strange Dr. Morbius (Pidgeon); his Altair-born daughter Altaia (Francis) who's never seen a human other than Dad; unexpected fauna; Morbius' creation, the superb, friendly Robby the Robot; and an incredibly advanced technology by the Krell, a civilization which mysteriously disappeared thousands of years ago. They also face an inexplicable monster. When the explanation comes, it is in a modern, clever and Freudian twist: the monster ( a "planetary force" that's "out there") is the Id, the dark, subconscious expression of "humankind's " (and not the usual "mankind" of the period ) duality.
b) FORBIDDEN PLANET is a futuristic version of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST, with Pidgeon standing for the magician Prospero, Francis for Miranda, Robby for Ariel and the monster for Caliban.
c) The film has special effects by tech-wizard A.Arnold Gillespie and others. Among those effects: the impressively electronic (and amusing) Robby;the eerily menacing Id designed by Disney animator Joshua Meador; the then-avant-garde sounds baptized "Electronic Tonalities."
d) At the same time,the movie is campy. The admirable Robby moves like the mechanical equivalent of a man in a gorilla suit. The exterior sets (papier mache rocks and a 10.000 foot cyclorama painting) and the artifacts can be ludicrous but are naively endearing today. Morbius' atrium home is in the progressive California architecture of the 1950s. Altaira's coming of sexual age and her instant attraction to Nielsen are engagingly preposterous. Altaira's costumes,made by Robby, change in each scene but are always in authentic cheerleader couture.
e) You catch Anne Francis in mid-career. She is,in 1950s lingo, "yummy" even if neither she nor anyone else --save Pidgeon-- gives more than an eager, comic-strip performance.Holliman plays his usual dimwit and once again is a cook.
f) In spite of sci-fi gobbledygook, the dialogue strives to make humanistic and psychological points. The violence is neither too graphic nor gratuitous.
g) The movie is in its original, uncut version. The colors are good in spite of some footage having acquired a reddish cast. Compared to a video, a celluloid print has five times more gradation between darkest and lightest hues. Most importantly,the film is in CinemaScope, with edge-to-edge compositions, while on USA-made videos nearly all wide-screen movies are chopped on all sides or use the infamous pan-scan method. (Edwin Jahiel)
[Published 29 June 1990]