‘Forbidden Planet’ is a science-fiction film made more than half a century ago that helped to define an era. Remembered for its fantastic characters and advanced special effects, it is now considered a cult classic.
The movie was directed by Fred M. Wilcox, and written by Cyril Hume, based on a short story by Irving Block. (It’s also been widely reported that the film is loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Just sayin’!) The special effects team was made up of A. Arnold Gillespie, Joshua Meador, Warren Newcombe, and Irving G. Ries.
Set in the 23rd century, the film opens aboard the starship C57-D, captained by Commander J. J. Adams (played in all seriousness by the late, great Leslie Nielsen). They are approaching the planet Altair; a colony was supposedly established on the planet some twenty years earlier. When they near, the crew is warned by Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who is one of two surviving colony members, not to land. However, Adams and crew proceed with their plans and land the ship. Met by Robby the Robot, they are taken to Dr. Morbius’ home where they meet his beautiful daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis).
As the movie progresses, conflict on the planet’s surface comes from an unseen assailant. Eventually, Dr. Morbius is forced to reveal what happened to the original colony and tells that there were previous inhabitants of the planet.
There are some wonderful scenes between the crew and the invisible foe where the special effects are incorporated. Knowing that this film was made in 1956 really gives credence to the fact that the effects and props were made utilizing copious amounts of time and talent.
This was the first time audiences were introduced to Robby the Robot, who would go on to be seen in multiple other films and on TV as well. Robby was designed by Robert Kinoshita and manufactured by MGM for the then-staggering cost of over $125,000. He stood over 7 feet tall, and weighed 300 pounds. He was voiced by Marvin Miller. Frankie Darro donned the suit for filming of this movie. A year later, Robby would be found in the movie ‘The Invisible Boy.’ He is still associated with the start of science fiction-films, and has an impressive appearance resume.
‘Forbidden Planet’ is action, adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and a love story all rolled up into one big package. It seems to have aged gracefully, and still garners respect from the film industry and the science fiction community alike. Incorporating subconscious motives with the human psyche, it delivers on many levels.
Here are some more interesting factoids: both Robby the Robot and the ship, C57-D, were built for this movie, and both were used on other projects. The movie received a nomination for an Academy Award for its special effects. It was the first of its kind to have a strictly electronic soundtrack. The sound stage it was filmed on had previously been used for ‘The Wizard of Oz.’
From the awesome flying saucer-esque ship (no visible fishing line attached, by the way) to the trippy soundtrack, this movie oozed entertainment. I even loved that crazy “modern” furniture in Dr. Morbius’ home. Robby the Robot alone was fascinating in spades. I mean, come on, a robot that engineers anything you ask of it! The possibilities are endless.
The only real complaint I have as I watch the film again and again, is the “realism” aspect of the plot. Unfortunately, the circumstances in the film just don’t present as very “real” – though, given that it is set in the future, who’s to say? Technology that can extract the things that are in your mind and bring them to life may exist one day, but right now that seems like a total pipe dream. I give the film some points due to the fact that I was able to lose myself in it, which shows me that the unrealistic nature of the setting did not deter from the movie itself.
A distant planet with a scary enemy, flying saucers, a long-legged beauty, and a kick-ass robot make for one great story. Having Commander Adams and Altaira as love interests balanced out the sci-fi elements nicely. That extra punch of an ancient, much more advanced civilization that now lie in ruins under the surface was brilliant and quite ground-breaking for the time. Great writing, great acting, and imaginations on steroids brought this baby to life.
The visual presentation of the film is, quite frankly, astounding. Do not try to compare it to today’s blockbusters, but honestly that’s what makes it so great. In his B-movies of the 1950s, Ed Wood has saucers wobbling around on visible strings, but here in ‘Forbidden Planet’ the ship flies seamlessly, no doubt due to the $4.9 million budget. The sets were high-tech, and the fact that many of the items were designed specifically for this movie goes to show their time and commitment to the project. The animation of the monster can be credited to artist Joshua Meador, who did a fine job. Overall, it was a spectacular presentation, well ahead of its time.
‘Forbidden Planet’ is one you’ll want to add to your collection, folks, if you haven’t already. As for me, I’m off to find a full-sized replica of Robby the Robot. You know, for fun. It’s not like I’m going to make him my new best friend or anything…