Robby the Robot steals the show.
Cast: Walter Pidgeon (Dr. Edward Morbius), Anne Francis (Altaira Morbius), Leslie Nielsen (Commander John J. Adams), Robby the Robot, Warren Stevens (Lt. “Doc” Ostrow), Jack Kelly (Lt. Jerry Farman) Richard Anderson (Chief Quinn), Earl Holliman (Cook), George Wallace (Steve) Et al.
Forbidden Planet is one of those films where most people would recognise the name – but perhaps not much else about it. Robby the Robot may trigger some people’s minds about this otherwise slightly forgettable 1950s sci-fi romp helmed by Fred M. Wilcox.
The film follows a spacecraft and its crew’s travels to the planet Altair IV, who have gone there to find out exactly what happened to the previous expedition crew sent twenty years beforehand. Despite warnings of safety from Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) – a member of the previous expedition – the crew lands on Altair IV, only to discover that the planet is traversed by a hideous beast of some kind, killing all who step into its territory. The crew, helmed by Commander John J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen) become determined to find out what happened to the expedition crew – only to discover that it was lurking within them the entire time.
Without going in to too many plot details (some people may not have seen the film), Forbidden Planet constructs a good enough narrative hook, that you feel compelled to crawl through its more boring, slow-paced moments in order to discover what exactly killed the last expedition crew, and what it is that is killing Commander Adams’ crew as well. The wait is definitely worth it, as Forbidden Planet unfolds into a fantastic climax that explains the rest of the film rather well, without the great ending however, the film drags and lulls in uninteresting minute details about Altair IV, given from Dr Morbius and his daughter Altaira Morbius (Anne Francis) to Commander Adams and his fellow crew men from within the Morbius settlement found on Altair IV.
Forbidden Planet’s use of the subconscious and the dangers of the Id is fantastic and really makes the whole film worth it – I just do not wish to ruin the film for anyone who has not seen it, so I will leave it at that.
While these scenes give insight to the audience over where exactly the earthmen crew find themselves, it does get rather dull hearing about the aliens who lived there and other more minute details. However, as mentioned above, the end of the film does pay-off and you are left feeling satisfied – I cannot stress this enough.
The film’s floundering middle however is saved by a handful of aspects, the love interest, Robby the Robot, the sets, the special-effects and Robby the Robot (so good you have to say it twice). The love interest in the film has an interesting dynamic, Altaira has never seen men from Earth before (besides her father), and becomes attracted to most of the officers who go to their settlement, there is more than just a love triangle, it’s more like a love square, with three men pining after her (she ultimately has eyes only for one man however). It is fun to see how the dynamic plays out despite the layer of cheese found sitting upon each scene.
Production design and special-effects are where Forbidden Planet stands out from most other films made in the 1950s. Each inside set was intricately designed to show that the film is set in the future, on a distant planet, while the sets of the outside world of Altair IV convey a different planet wonderfully, especially in the blu-ray edition of the film, the sets really “pop out” and look fantastic. Special-effects in the film are great fun also, mixing traditional effects of the 1950s with hand drawn animation from Disney, Forbidden Planet looks great and ahead of its time by many years.
The acting however, is not ahead of its time. While not bad, the style of acting used in the film has not aged particularly well and leaves an amount to be desired by today’s standards. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but a lot of the dialogue in the film – in performance and what they were saying – just came across as boring – a sign of the film’s age.
By far and away the best aspect of Forbidden Planet however is Robby the Robot – the best on-screen robot in the entire history of film. No wonder the film’s advertising focussed so heavily on him, he is just such a fantastic creation. The way Robby walks is gold; the way he interacts with humans is gold (bringing the cook all that whiskey is priceless) and the way he is used to demonstrate technology is great. But the best thing about Robby the Robot I hear you ask – the way he speaks. Robby speaks through tapes that you can see moving into place inside his head, there is a glorious pause before his every line because the tape is getting into position in order to play. Waiting for the tape containing Marvin Miller’s voice to start playing is a simple joy and one of cinema’s finest.
Forbidden Planet is a cult sci-fi film that every science-fiction fan and film fan has to watch – it’s just a shame that it flounders in the middle section of the film (despite the positives listed above) and that its acting and storytelling have aged so dramatically. Watch the film for the special-effects, production design, great (clever) ending and most importantly of all, Robby the Robot, who justifies Forbidden Planet’s existence.
It’s a shame the rest of the film is not as good as Robby the Robot, one of the finest things to ever grace our screens.