Having originally written this review three years ago, I have re-edited it and updated the photographs to make the captions easier to read and more legible. I also updated my commentary in order to relate the film to current events. I do not leave my politics, opinions, my beliefs, or my personal feelings out of many of my reviews. So if that bothers you, too bad. You don’t have to agree with it no more than you would any other essay of any type. The opinions are solely my own. Also, some overly long text has been deleted or abridged. Still there’s a lot of ground to cover.
I didn’t find out that Forbidden Planet was eternally linked to Shakespeare’s The Tempest until I grew up and had already seen the film countless number of times. When I was a kid, there wasn’t some instant critic in glorious grey scaled B&W on the late show telling us every bit of minutiae of every film they broadcast. They were just happy if you bought their toasted oat Cheerios, Mrs. Olsen’s Damn Fine Folger’s Coffee, and squeezed the hell out of the Charmin.
Every other person who has ever reviewed Forbidden Planet goes out of their way to let everyone know that they studied Shakespeare at a very young age and knew from the time they first watched at the age of three that they immediately got the connection and they wanted to share this wonderful discovery with you. Thus proving once and for all that their knowledge and expertise goes far beyond just cranking out some movie reviews for some web site.
Wikipedia states this about The Tempest:
The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1610–11, and thought by many critics to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion and skillful manipulation. He conjures up a storm, the eponymous tempest, to lure his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to the island. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio’s lowly nature, the redemption of the King, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso’s son, Ferdinand.
Sounds simple enough, even if we aren’t told how Miranda feels about all this conniving and plotting. To some degree Forbidden Planet does follow that plot line. But if you follow the Wikipedia link, don’t scroll down to the complete plot synopsis. It’ll only confuse you.
Instead of Prospero we have Dr. Prospero Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) who is a scientist and certainly not a duke of anything. Nor does he aspire to be one as far as I can tell. Nor is there any brother mentioned of any kind. Good, bad, or indifferent.
He does have a daughter, Miranda Altaira “Alta” Morbius (Anne Francis), but her father doesn’t want to restore her to anything, let alone marry her off to the first star fleet commander who comes whizzing by their home planet.
Father and daughter do not live on an island, but on a planet way out there somewhere in The Final Frontier as part of the Altair Solar System, which means Mr. and Mrs. Morbius named their daughter after the planet they were living on. Or maybe it was the Sun. Or even the whole solar system. Who the hell knows?
I have three sons myself. This movie makes me think that I quite possibly should have named them Pluto, Uranus, and Saturn. Well, maybe not Uranus.
Mrs. Morbius is no longer around. No, she didn’t catch the first passing Federation Starship out of the galaxy but croaked some time back because she would have been in the way of the plot.
There are absolutely no other living humans hanging out on this spacious but suspicious celestial outpost.
As for summoning any male friends to Altair-4 for some hanky panky with Altaira, Dr. Morbius would rather not. In fact, he likes the solitude the planet affords him and his daughter so that he can gather up scientific knowledge and share it with no one in particular. I know I always want to keep my scientific data private and to myself. Less mischief that way. Would the Atomic bomb had been invented if scientists had known that way down the road they would end up in the hands of an orange haired ego maniac named Trump?
And no, he doesn’t lust after his daughter in the manner that Trump Monster drools all over Ivanka every time her butt wiggles.
You never have to worry about any Republican stealing your scientific data. They don’t believe in science. Just ask Darwin. Or Ken Ham if you can pry him off the deck of his modern day monument to biblical bullshitting he erected courtesy of taxpayers in Kentucky.
You know the drill, the earth is flat, the sun revolves around the moon, Jeebus created the earth in seven days and Noah built a pretty big boat.
The less Altaira knows about such things as men, sex, anything penile related, and having any kind of carnal knowledge, the better and easier life is for Morbius. But one can’t help but wonder what kind of explanation Morbius gave Altaira when she hit puberty and got her first monthly due bill. Maybe it was the White Male Republican politician answer: “It’s a gift from God sweetie telling you how special you are. Just enjoy it. See you in a few days.”
And then there’s Robby.
Robby? But didn’t I just say there was no one else living on the planet? Robby, you see, is a robot. And a damn cool one at that. One of the coolest robots ever to grace the cinema and in some aspects, more advanced than the likes of R2D2 and C3PO.
Robby can do some cool shit that those two couldn’t do on their best day. He can make dresses with star sapphires for Altaira, he can build protective shielding to put around your futuristic house, he can glide across the desert at speeds R2 and 3PO could only dream about, he can clean house, cook dinner, and manufacture 60 gallons of liquor out of thin air. He may not be able to co-pilot an X-Wing fighter or whine in a gazillion different galactic languages (Robbie maxes out at just over a hundred language and dialects), but he still trumps those two mechanical clunkers who’ve been hanging on since the 70’s.
Morbius doing research and watching Anne Francis prancing around an empty planet in skimpy 50’s science fiction type outfits does not a good movie make even if I personally believe watching Francis prance around in any movie dressed in anything is helluva great way to spend a couple of hours or even an hour and a half.
So, despite the fact that Morbius has put up a no visitors allowed sign, they’re coming any way whether he likes it or not. You should have phoned home, doc.
The opening narration explains it all:
In the final decade of the 21st Century, men and women in rocket ships landed on the moon. By 2200 AD, they had reached the other planets of our solar system. Almost at once there followed the discovery of hyper drive through which the speed of light was first obtained and later greatly surpassed. And so, at last, mankind began the conquest and colonization of deep space. United Planets Cruiser C57D, now more than a year out from Earth Base on a special mission to the planetary system of the great main-sequence star “Altair.”.
Apparently the Starship Federation has been replaced with the United Planets. Instead of the Enterprise we’re stuck spending time with Commander J.J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen) and headed to Altair-4 to to find out what the hell happened to the Bellerophon Expedition.
The Bellerophon landed on Altair-4 some 20 years earlier to set up shop and do research.
Having supposedly landed safely, the Bellerophon Party went Belere-bellyup and were never heard from again. In other words, although they could travel light years out into space, their communications systems pretty much sucked. Do you know what that means?
AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Time Warner still have a monopoly over the telecommunications industry, even way out there outer space. And given a couple of hundred years, they still haven’t managed to upgrade.
So after 20 years without ET or anyone else phoning home, I guess curiosity finally got the best of the “United Planets” and they decided to send some poor shmucks out as lambs to whatever slaughter awaits them.
Along for this Shakespearean space opera with Commander J.J. Adams is the rest of the crew. Some of them are, Lt. “Doc” Ostrow (Warren Stevens), Lt. Farman (Jack Kelly), Chief Quinn (Richard Anderson), and chief chef, dishwasher, and comedy relief known only as “Cook” (Earl Holliman). I’m not sure if Cook is his last name, first name, or occupation, but you’ll go the whole film and not see him whip up one meal or clean one dirty dish despite wearing a cook’s apron and cap. But that was never the intent. An explanation is forthcoming. Observe.
There are no women coming along on this spaceship because in the 50’s, movies about futuristic galactic female space travelers were not part of life’s equation. At least not for the writers, director and producers of Forbidden Planet. Although they did, as we find out later, zoom out into space like futuristic Judy and Jane Jetsons with the Bellerophon Expedition. As UPC 57-D approaches Altair-4, Dr. Morbius magically gets his radio working. Commander J.j. is happy to tell Morbius that like Luke Skywalker was to Princess Leia (I’m here to rescue you), they are the saviors of Morbius
But Dr. Morbius doesn’t want to be rescued. After the crew of UPC 57-D has just spent a year in space getting there, he would prefer they make a U turn around the Red Sun and take a year going back from whence they came. But, since the Doc isn’t offering up any free passes to Disneyland to get our intrepid explorers to reverse their engines, they decide they’ll vacation for a while with Morbius on Altair-4.
After Morbius warns J.j. of impending doom if they land, and after the Captain goads him into reluctantly supplying the needed landing coordinates, Doc offers up these words of warning: “There’s something funny going on down there, Skipper.”
No shit Doc. Great observation. Han Solo would be proud. Now go fasten your seat-belt. It’s going to be a bumpy night.
Moments after having landed, a trail of dust is seen racing across the desolate landscape of Altair-4 coming straight toward our courageous and fearless crew. And it’s not Jimmie Johnson in the number 48 race car.
Having met Robbie, Captain J.J. and the gang are transported via. futuristic robot express to the welcoming arms of Dr. Edward Morbius.
He invites them to stay for lunch where he takes the time to demonstrate Robbie’s abilities which include but are not necessarily limited to cooking up a pot of beans, making synthetic concoctions out of almost real nothings, being totally obedient which means offering up some real comfort during those cold long lonely trips where no man has gone before.
Robbie also has an absolute inability to kill, murder or maim, which means he’s obviously a Democrat and not a member in good standing of the NRA. Or has that morphed into the National Blaster Association? (Buy your ray gun now. No mess, no muss, no fuss. Disintegrate whatever and whomever you want and leave no trace. The best human killing device ever invented. It’s a Red State dream device. And now, just for your pleasure, get a free blaster repeating attachment so you can kill thousands in just seconds.)
Robbie is super strong though, so although he won’t kill you, he could build you a bachelor pad in no time flat. So how did Robbie become the property of Morbius? The Doc tinkered him together in his spare time out of a DeLorean. Oh, you can’t accept that this old old man could craft such a wonderful piece of machinery? Well, the explanations are in the movie. You do have to quit reading this crap at some point and go watch. Or look it up on Wikipedia. Meanwhile, J.j. has questions:
Commander J.J: Dr. Morbius, you’re a philologist, an expert in words and languages, their origins and meanings. But yet this robot of yours is beyond the combined resources of all earth physical science.
Morbius: My dear Commander, maybe you overestimate both Robbie and myself. Gentlemen, let me show you another bit of parlor magic.
With a wave of his hand, Morbius’s deluxe apartment is quickly shrouded with metallic security panels that the boys over at ADT Security Systems are most assuredly peeing their pants over even now. As Morbius tells the Commander and his buddies, he had Robbie install the system before he realized how safe he really was.
Or to put it in better perspective, he’s showing off to evade the Commander’s question about how a feeble earthling who is proficient in language interpretation can suddenly have the brain power to build these wonders.
But as Morbius tells J.j, him and his crew can now depart the planet knowing that he and Robbie are perfectly safe. Certainly Commander J.J. would be more than happy to be on his way if it weren’t for one little thing missing. Like the rest of the Belerephon Party.
As Morbius explains it, there are no others. At least not walking, talking, or breathing others. Their new home is up the road at the Altair-4 version of Boot Hill. It’s almost poetic: Gunfight at the Altair Corral.
Only Morbius and his wife were spared from horrible deaths such as being torn limb from limb from limb from limb. And why were they spared? Because Morbius and wife had a very special love their new home planet and as we all know, Love Means Never Having to Be Bludgeoned to Death. But where did the wife come from since Morbius was a single kind of guy when they blasted off from earth?
Lt. Farman: Skipper, there’s no record of any wife in the Belerephon log.
Morbius: Oh Lt., look under biochemistry Julia Morrison. She and I were married by the skipper on the voyage here. I have the certificate.
Marriage Certificate? Figures. You’re on board a space ship to bum fuck planet nowhere, get a little horny and mix it up with some biochemist, and you still have to have a sheet of paper saying it’s all legal for the prudish audiences of the 50’s, the One Million Moms in the year 2020, and the Republican Party for all eternity apparently.
Morbius explains that his wife died of natural causes a few months after the others had their body parts squeezed into a spaghetti-O can.
It also seems Morbius forgot to mention something else. Like the fact that he has a beautiful daughter and judging from the age of Alta (short for Altair), the natural causes that his wife died from had to do with childbirth. Doc can build a robot, but helping his wife survive childbirth was out of the question.
Since she wasn’t invited for lunch, Alta decides to crash the after party. From this point on we will be eyewitness to a heavy dose of 50 sexual innuendo, lust, and sexist double entendre. At least that’s the way I saw it when I originally wrote this review. Due to certain recent events happening 61 years later, my perspective has changed. Observe.
Alta (to the smirking crew members): I’ve always wanted to meet a young man and now three at once.
Doc: That’s very kind of you.
Alta: You’re lovely Doctor. (The crew members chuckle) Of course the two end ones are unbelievable.
Lt. Farman: Could this end one get you some coffee?
Alta: Oh, I’m quite able to get it. Thank you. (Alta and the Lt. walk over to where Robby is pouring the coffee)
Lt. Farman (to Robby): Thank you.
Morbius (to Cmdr. J.J. and Doc): Of course, you must make allowances for my daughter, gentlemen. She’s never known any human except her father.
Doc: I hope you’ll make allowances too, sir. We young men have been shut up in hyperspace for well over a year now (eyeballing Alta)… And right from here the view looks just like heaven.
Lt. Farman: Sugar?
Alta: But you keep helping me. After all, you’re not Robby.
Lt. Farman (chuckles): I wouldn’t mind being Robby in certain ways. That’s only in certain ways of course
Alta: I can see that was probably very clever, but I don’t seem to understand it.
Lt. Farman: Well, there’s… There’s no rush. (Lt. Farman moves in closer to Alta)
Morbius (to the Cmdr. and Doc): I suppose that one day I shall be obliged to make the trip to earth with her for the sake of her natural development.
Doc (eyeballing Alta): I should say fairly soon too.
Lt. Farman: Your father wasn’t too happy at first about your meeting us, was he?
Alta: Well, naturally not. You’re from Earth.
Lt. Farman: Well, what’s wrong with Earth?
Alta: How lucky I am though. All three of you are such very fine exceptions. Well, you are exceptions aren’t you?
Lt. Farman: Oh, sure, sure. Well, that is, I am anyway. Old dependable Jerry. Of course the Doc can be trusted too, in the daytime.
Alta: What about the commander?
Lt. Farman: Well, I hate to tell you this, Alta but that man is notorious throughout seven planetary systems.
Alta: Oh dear! What does he do?
Lt. Farman: Well, I – – I don’t feel free to discuss the shortcomings of a fellow officer but any girl or woman who lets him get her alone, anywhere… (Lt. Farman waives his finger negatively at Alta)
Alta: Yes, I can see it now. (Looks towards Commander J.J.) There. Just then when he looked at me. Why, his eyes almost had fire in them. I’m so glad you don’t have any fire in your eyes Lieutenant.
Lt. Farman: Well, I’m not that hard up.
Despite her lack of human playmates up until now, Alta isn’t exactly lonely. Besides, Robbie, she has a menagerie of pets including a tiger to cuddle up with and to dampen the affections of earth men who in the year of 2016 AD, made female crotch grabbing the law of the land and a national sport by electing the pussy grabber in chief.
Alta only seems to have eyes for Commander J.j. He seems to be the only one lusting over her on the inside but keeping it real on the outside. At one point he chews Altair out for being so alluring because J.j. has studied early 21st Century Republican politics and discovered that it’s the woman’s fault if men act like assholes around them because of the way they dress.
Remember the Belepheron party? You know, the reason we made this trip in the first place?
Whatever it was that used the ill-fated colony for its play pretty is back in action. The invisible “it” thing starts out small by damaging the spaceship’s equipment. This in turn gives J.j. a reason to pay an encore visit to Morbius, while stopping just long enough to be invited in for a nude swim with a nude Alta who really isn’t nude at all as we find out thanks to the director, cinematographer or editor not paying attention to what they were doing.Eventually, the Commander and Doc hook back up with a very unhappy Morbius and after J.j. tells him about the damage to the ship, he proceeds to teach them everything they always wanted to know about the Krell but were too stupid to ask. The Krell were the former inhabitants of Altair-IV with the last one going up to Krell heaven some 2000 centuries ago.
We also learn exactly why the mind of Morbius is functioning on 10000 cylinders while the average human brain is stuck on somewhere between five and ten. That does not include Trump Monkey brains though. They’ve yet to find the ignition switch.
Morbius takes the two space cadets and us on a grand tour of the Krell universe and all the wonders it holds thanks to some great artwork and special effects. Does it compare to today’s CGI? Of course not. But for a movie made over 60 years ago, it kicks ass.
How did such an advanced civilization meet it’s untimely end? The only thing I can tell you is think “Bellerophon.” But you had better think fast because it’s not too long before dead bodies start to litter the landscape.
By the time you reach the end, you’ll have a pretty good idea as to what happened to the Bellerophon Party, although you’ll still need the movie to tie up all the loose ends with a nice scientific bow so that it all makes sense. As far as that goes, the one big thing Forbidden Planet does very well is not to treat its audience as if they are a bunch of imbeciles.
Simply put, if Forbidden Planet had gone the way of most 50’s science fiction creature features it would have gone thusly:
Futuristic spaceship lands on faraway planet, earthlings discover big bad monster on planet, earthlings fight monster who appears to be invincible until the final moments when they magically discover its one fatal flaw, kill it and rejoice, back to earth we go.
Yes, the big monster is here, but this invisible big boy is in a sense, really invincible. Sure, making the creature transparent saved MGM a wad of cash in special effects shots, but when you finally do get to see him, it is done so ingeniously that it makes the moment that much more frightening and yet satisfying.
That’s not to say the movie isn’t flawed. But they are flaws more attributed to the mindset of the 50’s then anything else. You’ll just have to over look them. Or maybe not. In some respects, the women as sex objects, a product to be be lusted over is as prevalent now as it ever was among some groups of people. And you don’t need me to point out the when where who and what I’m talking about. I’m referring of course to Donald Trumpenstein and his merry band of Trumpanzees.
Yes, we know. Women were put on earth to be your sex objects and baby factories, courtesy of the GOP and repressed right wingers everywhere. I don’t even want to get into the misogynistic creed of most of the Berniebros. Bill O’Reilly and Fox settle sexual harassment suits for hundreds of millions of dollars while supposed lefty perverted Harvey Weinstein gets booted out of everything and pays the piper for his offenses. And yet, we make misogyny the rule of the land by electing a president whose whole life has been one of marrying trophy wives, sexually assaulting women, calling women with big boobs he thinks are worthy of him, screwing the A team while those who aren’t are put on his pigs list. He openly lusts after his own daughter on the radio, walks into teenage beauty pageant locker rooms hoping to find them in a state of undress, sliming and smearing any woman who dares object or disputes his b.s., especially those of color, and now having to fend off a lawsuit brought by one of those previous mentioned pageant contestants. Oh, and did I mention Stormy Daniels, the porn star he was fucking while his wife was pregnant and then paid her off to keep her quiet during the election?
The point I’m trying to make is that when I originally wrote this review back in 2014, I thought that all the 50’s sexism and sleazy comments were strictly a product of the era. But I got it wrong and really should have known better. In fact, this movie had it exactly right because in 2020, the treatment of women is as bad as ever. The captions I’ve put may be snarky, but they are merely the amped up sentiments of the attitude of many males today. Especially those of but not exclusive to the Republican Party, as we have seen with the Weinstein scandal. Nobody is excluded, nobody is exempt. But the big difference is if you’re on the left and exposed, you’ll be shunned. If you’re on the right and a person of prominence, you’ll forever be put on a pedestal. Maybe elected president as evidenced by the worthless piece of slime we have in the Oval Office destroying the country one day at a time.
And then there’s the biggest puzzlement of all. Why are so many women in this day and age willing to put up with it and still vote for a crotch grabbing piece of shit?
As for Earl Holliman, no offense as he was terrific in The Sons of Katie Elder and a pretty good sidekick for Angie Dickinson in Police Woman among other things. Here, his whole comedy routine as “Cook” is out of place and annoying. It may have been funny when I was eight, but not since. Especially when you stop to realize that if they still need a potato peeler that far in the future, then they haven’t really advanced much at all. The movie could have shit canned the whole bit and been better off for it. I mean prove he’s the cook. At least show him loading up the futuristic dish washer, or slaughtering some alien mutant pig to be the night’s entrée. None of this is Earl Holliman’s fault of course as he is quite enthusiastic especially when it comes to Kentucky Sippin’ Whiskey.
Despite what I wrote above, making Alta nothing more than a naive sex object really wasn’t necessary and I wish it had been different. In other science fiction films of the era, women were played as smart professionals whether it was Paula Raymond as Lee Hunter in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Peggy Castle as Audrey Aimes in Beginning of the End, Joan Weldon as Dr. Patricia ‘Pat’ Medford in Them!, or even Dana Wynter in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But even they had their limitations. Always succumbing to the charms of the male lead after having been rescued by the end of the movie.
Yes, I realize that she was brought up on a planet with a father who was preoccupied with studying the Krell civilization, but as she tells J.j. at one point, “He (Morbius) says I’m terribly ignorant but I have had poetry, mathematics, logic, physics, geology, biology.”
The relationship and developing romance between the Commander and Altaira is integral to what happens later in the film, but along with the comedy routines of Cook, it’s just not written very well regardless of the decade or planet for that matter. Some of the scenes between the men of the United Planet Cruiser 57D and Altaira are pain inducing to watch.
But that is absolutely no knock on Anne Francis. She is stunningly beautiful, and plays the part of Altaira to the hilt. She’s far more interesting than anybody on board Cruiser 57D. So much so that 50 years later, we wish the part had been better written.
But Francis was always a favorite actress of mine in films and television, and has a resume a mile long, so maybe I’m a bit prejudiced in her favor. She may be Altaira here, but she’ll always be Honey West to me. And as Honey West, she was way ahead of her time.
Nielsen does a good job and is perfectly believable playing Captain, but as a romantic interest he’s not so hot. His scenes with Alta often makes him seem a bit goofy, like an adolescent schoolboy, at times more closely resembling his Frank Drebin character from Police Squad. But they are partially redeemed by the wide eyed Francis whose naiveté and wide eyed innocence make things easier to swallow. It is what it is though, and that’s that.
Walter Pidgeon is damn near perfect as the self-centered, ego driven, Morbius, who can’t see the forest for the trees. His preoccupation with the Krell makes him totally oblivious as to what caused their annihilation. In fact, I think he’s much better here then he was some five years later as Admiral Nelson in Voyage to the Bottom of the sea.
Fred Wilcox, who directed both Elizabeth Taylor and Lassie in Lassie Come Home and The Courage of Lassie, does decent work here, if not particularly exceptional or memorable.
The cinematography and Art Direction is as well, although it’s pretty obvious that much of Altar-IV is nothing more than matte paintings. But they are well done and it won’t annoy you and after a few minutes, you won’t care.
For 1956, most of the special effects are way better than average, particular when we explore the underground world of the Krell. So super kudos to those guys.
And then there’s Robbie, who may have been the best special effect of all.
Instead of a regular score that we’re used to, you get musical Tonalities. What is that? Can’t really explain it but I think it was a brave decision to go that route because I don’t think you’re going to sell many soundtrack albums or get in the top 40 with a single. In the 50’s they had Pat Boone and Elvis for that.
I highly recommend Forbidden Planet. The basic plot is far more thought provoking and in a manner of speaking, more controversial than what you usually were given (with some exceptions) in 50’s science fiction films. So much so that you have to think the quoted biblical passages that J.j. and Doc spew were inserted to balance out what some people would see as blasphemy because gee, suggesting that we just might not need some magic man in the sky to create things could possibly get you tarred, feathered, put in the stockade and burned at the stake, or banned from the public library by some people. In 2020, Evangelicals would still love to carry on those traditions.
As previously written on my old blog, someone didn’t care too much for my atheism snark in some of my commentary and in some of my screen caps. He missed the point entirely. The fact remains that in my mind there is no doubt the religious philosophizing in the film is to make sure that the audience wouldn’t think the producers, writers, and directors were advocating that somewhere out there, there might be a race of people who in were in fact trying to master the art of creation out of nothing but mere thoughts.
So that leaves me with a grade. A remake of Forbidden Planet has been in developmental hell forever. I have to think that if it ever gets off the ground it could turn into a pretty good project because of the flaws of the original. Then again, Hollywood has been known to muck things up pretty badly so maybe we’re better off without a remake. And besides, there’s no replacement I can think of for Anne Francis.
In other words although Forbidden Planet is not perfect, for 1956 it’s above and beyond what one would expect so I have no other choice but to bestow a grade of A and a film well worth your time.