Why You Must See It
Well first of all it’s beautiful. I watched this on the newly remastered Blu-ray release and it is simply stunning. The production design, the matt paintings and the special effects are all still impressive; quite a feat considering this is a film released nearly 60 years ago. I have to admit that I am partial to the retro-50s futurism style and it adds to the charm and appeal.
The cast is all very good and there is no real hamming it up that you normally see in sci-fi films of the time. Walter Pidgeon is menacing and has just the right smugness of someone who thinks they are smarter and superior to you. It’s always fun to see Leslie Nielsen in his early “straight” roles compared to his later Police Squad persona and Anne Francis is lovely full stop.
The plot is seemingly following the standard sci-fi tropes of other films of the era but is really rather inventive having the “monster” be the human psyche rather than a “bug-eyed” alien. Now I usually don’t care for the “scientist meddling in power beyond his control” trope but here it’s pulled off well and I can deal when it’s done with some nuance.
Also, some truly amazing choices made by the filmmakers as well. The spaceship is the typical “flying saucer” but manned by humans and it takes place entirely on another world making us the aliens. And the fact that we don’t actually see the Krell, we only see their technology and the architecture, and these are so full realized that we can imagine how they look. Science fiction is primarily “theatre of the mind” and I find this detail fitting and nice.
Also, a bit more subtle than everything else, was the notion of Altair’s “loss of innocence.” At the start of the film she can control and subdue the animals on the planet, a tiger for instance. This is a nod to how virgins could control unicorns in myth, but as her relationship with Adams grows her control over the animals lessens as her innocence does. Make of this what you will but it is a very mature idea for a 1950s sci-fi drama.
I guess I can’t finish this without mentioning Robbie. He is without a doubt one of the most iconic movie robots of all time. His design is a bit impractical, but come on he’s cool. I find his role in the film to be a little superficial, he’s there mostly for comic relief and convenience, but he adds the necessary “future” element to the proceedings. And he’s cool, did I mention that?
Are There Flaws?
Oh yes. The scenes with the cook and Robbie making alcohol are really broad comedy that seem rather unnecessary and for me drag the film down a bit. But that can be forgiven compared the outright sexual harassment of Altair.
I can usually brush this stuff off with the idea that it was a different time, different values, but in this film I just found it a little hard to take. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m a father now, but all the cat-calls and groping and innuendo – in front of the girl’s dad! – was just a bit much. I find this aspect of the film hard to palette.
Forbidden Planet is considered one of the seminal works of science fiction. And I totally agree with that assessment. It is an amazing piece of work; it was influential and it is remarkable to look at. The thing is I’m not a huge fan. Oh I totally respect it and admire what it was able to achieve and convey; it’s just that I find it a bit boring. There I said it, one of the seminal works of science fiction and I find it boring. I’ll turn in my nerd card at the door on the way out.
I still think everyone should see it of course (it wouldn’t be on this list if it I felt otherwise); Forbidden Planet paved the way for decades of science fiction film and TV. There would not be a Star Trek if not for this film, that in and of itself makes it great. So see it, appreciate it for what it is and what it influenced.
If nothing else it has Robbie the Robot in it. He’s cool.