Heather does Forbidden Planet

“He was warned, and now he’s paid! Let him be buried with the other victims of human greed and folly!

The Scoop: 1957, NR, directed by Fred. M. Wilcox and starring Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis

Tagline: IT’S OUT OF THIS WORLD!

Summary Capsule: A rescue crew discovers a horrifying monster that is impossible to see, difficult to trace, and more dangerous than they could guess.

Heather’s Rating: 9 out of 10 inner demons

Heather’s Review: Back in December we honored cult legend Leslie Nielsen’s passing with a week of material devoted to one of the funniest men in the ‘biz. I wasn’t able to get hold of Forbidden Planet soon enough to make the deadline, and so I ended up reviewing this turkey that barely featured him (but oh boy is he plastered all over the poster like it’s Naked Gun‘s illegitimate child).

I got this far superior Nielsen film in the mail a few days after that other travesty, and yet here it is over a month later that I’m writing this. With the holidays having ended so long ago that I can no longer blame them for my procrastination I bring you Forbidden Planet! It’s a movie that says it stars Mr. Nielsen and it delivers. A young, hot Mr. Nielsen at that (not that he wasn’t a very good-looking older gentleman)!

We join Leslie and his crew as they journey to the planet Altair IV in order to find out the fate of a group of people sent there two decades earlier as part of an attempt at colonization. When they arrive they’re greeted by a friendly robot named Robby, who takes them to his masters and the planet’s only remaining survivors, Dr. Morbius and his daughter Altaira (“Alta” for short). Though a brilliant scientist, Dr. Morbius obviously failed hard in the creative naming department.

The audience sits through a pretty long scene of explanation by Dr. Morbius as to what happened to everyone else on the planet, as well as a full discussion of Robby the Don’t-I-Look-Better-Than-All-The-Other-Movie-Robots Robot. Morbius also gives a demonstration proving that Robby abides by Asimov’s laws and will fry his brain before hurting another human, even on command. Gee I wonder if that’s going to be important later?

The longer the crew remains on the planet, the more they begin to notice that something is terribly wrong here. The soundtrack and bare environment do a great job giving out an eerie feeling, ’til the audience is getting just as creeped out as the crew. Eventually they come to see that if they don’t leave the planet soon they’ll meet the same fate as Morbius’s colleagues.

Don’t let my sarcastic tone fool you, though.  Forbidden Planet is probably one of the best old sci-fi films I’ve ever seen. Usually I enjoy those movies for their camp value, but everything here was done so well. The backgrounds and sets looked really good, the soundtrack was fittingly eerie and unique (but more on that later) the actors were decent, and the special effects came out very well (especially in the case of Robby). The special effects were so good that it was nominated for the 1957 Oscar for Best Special Effects (and it should have won, too).

I also have to praise the movie for not falling into the traps so many other old sci-fi movies (and many of the new ones) did. Missing is the lengthy poetic pontification by the crew on the enormity of space and the smallness of man.  Though the idea is part of the plot there are no long diatribes about, nor are we smacked over the head with, how we shouldn’t play God. Finally we are blessedly spared the usual 10-minute-long scenes of sciencey babble about scintilly snarzblats and how they must never be activated before the switches on the Domino’s Special are flipped, lest they destroy the Seven Keys of Fentoozler.

With all that good has to come the bad, though. None of the acting was bad, but most of it just wasn’t memorable. I probably saw that film four times before I sent it back and I still can’t recall any of the dialogue or many of the scenes. A lot of it was just the crew looking around, the crew talking to each other, the crew talking to the Dr., or the crew trying to talk their way into Alta’s inexplicably tiny dress/formal washcloth.

Now don’t be too harsh on my use of the word “inexplicable”. I get what the movie was going for by showing Honey West and her legs for days, but I couldn’t help being kind of creeped out by the fact that she was wearing those booty dresses around her dad (especially if, as I suspect, she had some of those dresses when it was just her and Pops). Yuck.  There was one scene in particular where she starts to bend over, but stops before the crucial moment of bare booty, and I could almost hear the director regretfully yelling “Anne, stop! Hey! Lady bits, Anne! We’re not catering to that audience.”

Also I found it creepy when Alta is first introduced to the crew. After she walks off, one of the crew members basically says to her father: “Gee, I sure hope you don’t mind but we haven’t seen a woman in a LONG time and that kinda makes your princess fair game. Hope you have a Babies R Us around here or somethin’.”  The nonchalant attitude of the Dr. after hearing that ramped up the awkwardness something heavy.

The soundtrack, which I mentioned earlier, really started to grate on my nerves. I complimented it earlier for being unique (for its time) and fitting for the loneliness and creepiness of space and foreign planets (it was), but I think we could have benefited from less on that sound like nails scratching down a chalkboard.

Be that as it may, a lot of effort went into this movie and it shows. It’s clear that this movie was meant not just to be goofy sci-fi schlock, but a serious look into the human psyche. As a result we have an Oscar-nominated film that broke ground in its genre and has held up for over half a century.

Proof that the Oscars made poor decisions long before our generation started complaining about them.

Intermission!

  • Captain Adams reacted just a teensy bit to Alta’s popularity with his crew
  • Is it just me, or does that image above call to mind The Empire Strikes Back?
  • Robby the Robot is a famous pop culture figure. His look and personality were unseen in movie robots of the time and set the standard for the ones that followed. He’s also been featured in quite a few movies and TV shows since then. Not only that, but I think he looks more than just a little like the Protectron in Fallout 3.
  • MGM used Joshua Meador, on loan from Disney, for many of the film’s crucial effects such as the lasers, monster, and Robby overloading.

Groovy Quotes:

Dr. Edward Morbius: The fool, the meddling idiot! As though his ape’s brain could contain the secrets of the Krell!
Altaira: [shocked] Father, he’s *dead*!
Dr. Edward Morbius: He was warned, and now he’s paid! Let him be buried with the other victims of human greed and folly!

Altaira Morbius: Where have you been? I’ve beamed and beamed.
Robby: Sorry, miss. I was giving myself an oil-job.
Altaira Morbius: Robby, I must have a new dress, right away.
Robby: Again?
Altaira Morbius: Oh, but this one must be different! Absolutely nothing must show – below, above or through.
Robby: Radiation-proof?
Altaira Morbius: No, just eye-proof will do.

Cookie: Another one of them new worlds. No beer, no women, no pool parlors, nothin’. Nothin’ to do but throw rocks at tin cans, and we gotta bring our own tin cans.

[Robby the Robot has been asked to duplicate whiskey]
Robby: Would 60 gallons be sufficient?

Altaira: [swiming in a pool] Come on in.
Commander John J. Adams: I didn’t bring my bathing suit.
Altaira: What’s a bathing suit?
Commander John J. Adams: [quickly turning his back] Oh, murder!

Commander John J. Adams: Dr. Morbius, just what were the symptoms of all those other deaths, the unnatural ones I mean.
Dr. Edward Morbius: The symptoms were striking Commander. One by one in spite of every safeguard my co-workers were torn literally limb from limb.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
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7 Comments

  1. This one’s a classic, all right. I’m not sure I agree with you about none of the dialogue or performances being memorable, though – whoever it was played Morbius had some good scenes (the ‘My evil self is out there’ bit is pretty cool), and the whole ‘Monsters from the Id’ concept is scripted pretty well – at any rate, it’s stuck in my memory for quite a while.

    • Out of everyone, Morbius was definitely the most memorable to me. Walter Pidgeon did a very good job conveying this tortured and obsessed man.

      I keep writing and rewriting this response, because I just can’t put into words what it is that is holding me back from praising the actors more. As I said, I think everyone did great. There was no one character, or actor, that got on my nerves or bored me (okay well maybe Alta bored me a bit), and yet as a whole I’m still left feeling as if there was something missing.

      I’m also in agreement with you about the dialogue concerning the Id being well done. Again, I’m not sure why none of it really stuck with me, but I at least can say that it was well written and poignant.

      Maybe watching it four times in one day was overdoing it a bit? I think I might have just gotten burned out on the movie, as much as I enjoyed it.

      • It’s possible that the writing style of the era simply doesn’t click with you – screenplays are written very differently now than they used to be, after all. They used to be much more theatrical and impressionistic – realism wasn’t really an issue; film dialogue had its own distinctive sound that tended to sound very little like how people actually talked. Personally, I like this style (it’s where a lot of much-quoted classic movie dialogue originated, after all), but it did take a talented writer to really make it work, and perhaps that’s where the disconnect lies. Whoever wrote ‘Forbidden Planet’ was clearly talented enough in terms of plot and so forth, but perhaps dialogue wasn’t really his strong suit.

      • These are all possibilities. I do love older movies, but I often find that they have a harder time keeping my attention.

        Watching Metropolis a few months back really got me thinking of the differences in acting from then to now, which I mention in the review. It’s so interesting to see the influence that Broadway had on early television and movies.

      • I do agree about the dialogue and theatricality Deneb mentions. I’d also add that a lot of it is pacing as well. We as modern filmgoers aren’t used to long scenes and a lack of quick jump cuts, and it makes films seem very ponderous. A lot of the techniques we take for granted were either fringe then or being pioneered in foreign film.

        Another good film of the era was Them!, the giant ant movie. I think it was just as influential, and you can see it’s influence on Aliens, among other films.

  2. Pingback: Cult Hero of the Week: Leslie Nielsen « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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