June's installment of the rewind will highlight one of the great science fiction classics of all time. The 1956 MGM film, The Forbidden Planet, starring Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and a neophyte Leslie Nielsen (in a very straight laced role).
The basic plot is that a team of astronauts, led by Nielsen's Commander Adams, is dispatched to a distant planet to discover why communication has been lost. When he and his crew arrive, they discover that all of the settlement's inhabitants have died save two, Walter Pidgeon's Dr. Morbius, and his daughter, Altaira, played by Anne Francis. Altairia has never met another person before save her father, and is curious about the newcomers. Morbius, though, has made a discovery that he has no intention of sharing. It concerns an alien race that left behind it's technology, and wiped itself out overnight.
What I loved about Forbidden Planet, is that unlike so many of the sci-fi films of the 50's, this one never comes across as a "B' Movie. The effects are top notch, especially considering the time and abilities of movies in the 50's. This film also introduces Robbie the Robot, one of the most iconic and well known movie props of all time. The craftsmanship and effects are really apparent in the film, MGM spent fortune on props and animation, Robbie alone cost $125,000, the most expensive prop ever made up until that time. The final battle with the monster of the id was animated in by one of Walt Disney's top animators.
It's truly the first sci-fi film driven by plot. You could make an argument for The Day the Earth Stood Still or any number of other films from the time, but Forbidden Planet is the first one that paints an epic picture. Combining elements of sci-fi, action, romance, psychology, animation, and history, Forbidden Planet delves into a deeper pool than the other films of it's genre.
I remember the first time I watched it, about 2 years ago with my Dad, who had seen it when he was a young boy, and being amazed at what 50 year old effects looked like, and how well they held up. What the filmmakers had managed to craft was the first timeless movie about the future.
Forbidden Planet influenced many other sci-fi staples that we enjoy today, particularly Star Trek, who borrowed the plot outline for several episodes. As well as shows like Space: Above and Beyond and Joss Whedon's Firefly, using words or locales from the film in their shows. Robbie the Robot was reused in several other MGM films, proving to be so popular that he even ended up on The Twilight Zone. He also stared off against his next generation counterpart in the Robot from Lost in Space for 2 episodes.
That being said, the only slightly dis-jarring part of the film is seeing Leslie Nielsen, an actor symbolic with screwball comedy now, playing such a serious character, as the dashing hero and love interest. Once you get past the typecasting, Forbidden Planet won't let you down. I challenge you not to be impressed with the monster of id attacking the ship or cracking down the wall, and consider the struggles of not having computer animation to make the shot for you.
Please check it out, from 1956, MGM's Forbidden Planet.
End of Line.