Forbidden Planet (1956) stars Leslie Neilsen and Walter Pigeon. It's an adaptation of Shakespeare's Tempest. A rescue crew sets off on a mission to rescue a spaceship lost on a distant planet, only to discover there are far fewer survivors than they had expected. The planet holds a dark secret that previously destroyed a race of beings who lived there. There are ray-guns, a robot and a tiger. Also, there is a blonde lady.
That sounds like maybe a description of The Greatest Science Fiction Movie of All Time, doesn't it?
Forbidden Planet is not The Greatest Science Fiction Movie of All Time, but it was at the time it was released, and that's really the main reason I appreciate it as much as I do.
In 1995, when I worked at THE PLANET 96.3 (it was always supposed to be capitalized), I hosted a midnight show called "Forbidden Planet". I played whatever I wanted for an hour. I didn't put enough effort into it because at the time I didn't appreciate how rare of an opportunity it was to have that freedom on the radio. It was fun!
I actually still have a copy of Forbidden Planet on Laserdisc. Like I said, I really appreciate this movie.
The opening credits are yellow text on a space-background. The words don't scroll Star Wars-style, but are presented as pretty standard opening credits from a movie of that era.
The yellow scrolling text DID, however, show up in the trailer for Forbidden Planet.
Forbidden Planet is grounded in "reality", and I would say has much more in common with Star Trek (including a militaristic hierarchy and space exploration).
What else do you think of when you see these next two stills from the movie?
It took me a couple times of watching to pick up on that, though, because the one thing this movie does pretty well is "techno-babble". Techno-babble is the "scientific explanation" parts of many science fiction stories. For example:
"My God. That Zaphon Beam will split the planet in two if we don't calibrate the Glarphborm Handle to seven-point-five!"
"But Captain, the Felminator only goes to seven!"
"Then re-route the Kemph Transistor and apply a neon burst!"
"It worked! Now the Gleemuls will be Bleemed!"
This scene does not happen in Forbidden Planet, but if it did, it wouldn't explain it to us. The movie treats its audience as if we are smart. It doesn't explain too much. I like that. It's what we fans would call a "hard science-fiction" story, with very few fantasy elements.
I do have to admit this movie's shortcomings. It's a little slow for modern audiences. Here's a pic from the emotional climax of the movie; a philosophical discussion.
It's a very "talky" movie. Lots of discussion.
But when the action happens, it's well done. The special effects are very ambitious, and modern audiences can tell how each one was done. But I try to get my head into the mind of a movie-goer in 1956 and think how amazing it must have been. Robots shooting lasers, invisible monsters (when they become visible) and spaceships would have been quite the sight in CinemaScope!
So while the effects are clunky by today's standards, they are consistent within the world that has been created by the filmmakers. It's not just that some of the panels on the spaceship look like painted plywood, EVERYTHING looks like it's made out of painted plywood.
There is no "soundtrack" in the traditional sense, but there is a soundtrack available. It's not really what I'd put on at a party, though.
But I like it. I find myself watching it about once year or so.
I like its sincerity. I like its ambition. I like the plot. I like the silly colors. I like that they can't slam the tractor door, because it would give away the fact that it's made of wood. I think the attempts at humor work (although they are few and far between).
I like imagining I've gone back in time to watch the future.
It's difficult to recommend it to anyone who isn't mainly interested in film history. I couldn't guarantee that the average modern audience would be captivated by this, but it's amazing to see how far the movie-watching experience has come.
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