The Film: Forbidden Planet (1956)
The Principals: Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis.
The Premise: In the 23rd century, the Earth ship C-57D is on a mission to Altair IV to discover what became of a colonization mission 20 years previous. Upon arrival they discover the only survivors are a scientist, his daughter and a robot. The scientist, Morbius, explains that their crew was destroyed by an unknown entity shortly after arriving on the planet. Commander Adams (Nielsen) must unravel the mystery of Morbius and the invisible creature if he ever hopes to return to Earth with his findings and crew intact.
Is it Good: Forbidden Planet is a landmark film in several ways. From the special effects, which used common techniques even then to achieve great visuals, to the groundbreaking electronic score. Created by Louis and Bebe Barron, the music is incredible in how alien it sounds – even to this day. The unfortunate aspect is that it wasn’t considered for the Oscar in 1956, due to the Barron’s not belonging to the Musicians Union. Regardless, the soundtrack (or tonalities, as it is referred to in the credits) had long reaching effects in both film scores and popular music, as the electronic work of Louis and Bebe predated the Moog synthesizer that would become prominent in the coming decades.
Along with the music and effects, the film would also have an impact on TV. Watching it now you can clearly see Star Trek overtones present, from the strong commander to the sets and music. Watching the first 20 minutes or so feels exactly like an early episode of Trek, so the cultural impact Forbidden Planet had cannot be stated enough. Some of the sets and props were used later in episodes of The Twilight Zone, and Robbie the Robot would be spun off in a way for the 1960’s show Lost in Space.
Some of the acting may be considered too ‘theatrical’ to modern audiences, but I don’t feel that’s the case. Pidgeon and Nielsen approached their roles with proper seriousness, and while Pidgeon has some great dialogue and scenes it’s Nielsen who anchors the picture. Portraying the commander, he exudes the right amount of dignity and authority required and is completely believable as the man-in-charge.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to see Forbidden Planet, you’d be well served to check it out. Even if you’re not a big science fiction fan this film has plenty to offer: it’s very well acted, features a great script, wonderful visuals and a haunting score. It belongs in the same category of films that actually manages to live up to the hype.