Every now and then, there comes a science fiction moving picture that shatters through the barriers of conventional fantasy filmmaking. Just as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and George Lucas’s initial Star Wars entry forever changed the face of sci-fi in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, the Fred M. Wilcox-directed masterpiece Forbidden Planet broke the mold of outer space adventures in 1956.
It was a time when science fiction was not taken very seriously by movie studios. Earlier contributions to the genre usually consisted of a group of sexist males clad in unflattering jumpsuits who combated some of the oddest matte paintings and the most unbelievable of special effects known to man. But what set Forbidden Planet apart from many of its predecessors was the fact that it had full financial backing from its studio (MGM). It also offered filmgoers one of the more cerebral scripts of the time — even if it was loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Sure, Forbidden Planet definitely boasts more than its fair share of male chauvinism. Hell, it was the ‘50s, after all: a time when the female of the species was considered to be “weaker” than that of her male counterparts. Yes, it also has a lot of now-dated FX (courtesy several animators who were on loan from Disney). But, much like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Forbidden Planet’s hand-drawn imagery still succeed in causing one’s jaw to drop to this very day.
But wait, there’s more! The film even stars Leslie Nielsen, back when he was a “serious” actor.
Set in the 23rd century, Forbidden Planet begins with the brave (and utterly stereotypical of the time) all-male crew of the United Planets Cruiser C-57D, who have been assigned the task of finding out what happened to the crew of a colonization expedition to Altair IV some two decades before. A radio transmission from Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) informs the ship’s captain, Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen), that they are not welcome there, and that he will not assume any responsibility for anything that may happen to his crew. The ship lands anyway, and Adams, along with the ship’s doctor (the great Warren Stevens) and Adams’ second-in-command (Jack Kelly), are promptly greeted by a bulky yet extremely intelligent (not to mention useful) robot named Robby.
Despite the fact that all of his fellow scientists were torn to shreds by an unseen menace some 20 years earlier, Dr. Morbius has managed to build himself a pretty posh pad, where he lives with Robby the Robot (who serves as caretaker/butler/security/etc.) and the doctor’s 19-year-old temptress, Altaira (Anne Francis, who is the very epitome of “yummy” here, as she frequently was in other motion pictures and television series). But Morbius’ cryptic answers as to what happened to the rest of the colonization crew are not satisfactory for Adams and Co. — and so they proceed to stick their noses in the scientist’s affairs until the real (and deadly) truth is uncovered.