[Last Film I Watched] Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet poster

Title: Forbidden Planet
Year: 1956
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Sci-Fi, Adventure, Action
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Writer: Cyril Hume
based on a story by Irving Block and Allen Adler
Music:
Louis Barron
Bebe Barron
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Cast:
Walter Pidgeon
Leslie Nielsen
Anne Francis
Warren Stevens
Jack Kelly
Richard Anderson
Earl Holliman
George Wallace
Rating: 7.2/10

Forbidden Planet 1956

An archetype Hollywood Sci-Fi monumental artifact shot in grand widescreen (2.55:1), FORBIDDEN PLANET is directed by Fred M. Wilcox, an old-hand for MGM, the story siphons its inspiration from Bard’s THE TEMPEST, sets its 23rd century future world on a distant planet Altair IV, where Dr. Morbius (Pidgeon) is the last survivor of a human expedition 20 years ago, now lives with her 19-year-old daughter Altaira (Francis) and a robot named Robby, until a human starship arrives under the command of John Adams (Neilsen), to determine the fate of the expedition and furthermore to latch onto what happened to the highly intelligent indigenous race Krell, which had been mythically extirpated from the planet overnight 200,000 years ago.

As a trailblazer, the film’s sign-of-its-times production design inevitably looks dated in its then cutting-edge matte-painting background, and leaves a first-time viewer an ambivalent feeling between emphatically majestic and obtrusively fake. The opening space voyage is conspicuously static with a all-white-male crew on board, buzzing around to self-seriously make believe their ultra-advanced actions in their dun uniforms. Once the crew meets Dr. Morbius, the story meanders into an expository and didactic mode with the latter holds forth to supplement them (and us) all the incredible discoveries meanwhile a rattling undertow of something insidious is lurking behind. What makes even today’s audience tick is the following day, when Dr. Morbius proceeds with his edification and leads John and Lt. Doc Ostrow (Stevens) to an introductory journey into what remains of Krell’s civilization, a ream of futuristic or cubistic superimposing designs which harks back directly to Fritz Lang’s legendary METROPOLIS (1927), catches our yes, you might not buy the Krell’s tall-tale, but the visual grandeur is indubitably remarkable.

In a cunning move, the monster which preys on the living souls is designed as an amorphous and invisible force, only materializes with a gleaming contour (achieved by a more expedient animation job than creating a humongous prop ex nihilo) during the force field combat, and just when one fears that the Krell mystery has been over-elaborated to anticipate a shark-jumping coda, it turns out to be quite surprisingly logical, an id monster derived from human’s subconscious and intrinsic frailties, thank you, Mr. Shakespeare!

The cast is serviceable at its best and torpid at its best, Pidgeon subsists with his usual gravitas until the final reveal to face and suppress his inner demon; Nielsen is blessed with good luck to be cast in a leading role in his silver screen debut, although most of the time he is no more animated as the rest of his cohorts. The (visual) revelation comes from Francis, struts her pert figure in a prepossessing mini-skirt with a prelapsarian naiveté (Altaira has never met any humans before other than her father, so who can blame her to cozy up with those female-hankering crew members?), when her pet tiger cannot recognize her and prance on her after she experiences indecent human contact (not more than some random petting), here is a trenchant allegory to the innocence lost in the Genesis. Of course, there is the iconic Robby the Robot (misused on the movie’s poster as a menacing creature), the forefather of all the future screen robots and androids alike, who is still in a very gauche and movement-hobbling stage, but his integrity and proteanism is so desirable.

Finally, the omnipresent and otherworldly electronic tonalities from avant-garde musician couple Louise and Bebe Barron is another major novelty stemmed from this Sci-Fi classic, a stunning achievement so integral to the film’s success and would inspire numberless emulators to forever change the film score soundscape.

Oscar 1956  Forbidden Planet

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