Forbidden Planet: When the sum of the parts don’t add up



Science fiction, double feature/
See androids fighting Brad and Janet/
Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet/
Woah oh, oh oh oh/
At the late night double feature picture show

  • Rocky Horror Picture Show


Retro review by Ian M. Clarke


Anne Francis doesn’t really star in Forbidden Planet (1956). If the picture has a star, it’s likely Walter Pidgeon, he of the fatherly demeanour, here seen in a non-sectarian selection of black and grey vestments.  He’s Doctor Morbius – whose idea of terror would be doing 20 minutes at Yuk-Yuks. He a heavy dude.

Or possibly the star is Robbie the Robot – HAL 9000 meets the Michelin Man. Still, when Francis debuts in her Ice Capades-style bedazzled miniskirt, things get kinda funky.

ForbiddenPlanet1956Sometimes cult films achieve such a status due to a free-wheeling, aggressive incompetence – Tommy Wiseau’s The Room comes to mind. Other times, these films have a Frankensteinian quality, whereby individual aspects of the film may be tolerable; however, taken together, there’s no fluency or cohesion – or, worse, the elements foul each other. That’s what we’re facing with this cinematic curio.

Forbidden Planet (1956) always wins a position in the Top 100 Science Fiction films of all time. Why? The overall concept is creative. The acting is energetic and professional. The special effects are exceptional for the time. The music – it has the first all-electronic score – is impressive. But…the script is wooden…scenes often appear to be shot unedited using one camera with a ten-minute magazine of film…the humour is misplaced and leaden…Leslie Neilson (yes, the guy from Airplane) offers an energetic but wildly bi-polar portrayal of the space ship’s captain: he seems to be reacting to dialogue from a different film, possibly a Spanish cowboy flick.

So…we have a conundrum. What’s the big whup?

Thematically, this film raised the bar – though the bar for mid-1950s sci-fi films was the in dust. The makers of Forbidden Planet, for whatever reason, decided to take the whole thing seriously, overlaying socio-political concerns – from the impact of computerization in society to the role of morality in the pursuit of technological achievement. Some say it owes a debt to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Maybe.

No wonder Gene Roddenberry denied-then-admitted Forbidden was a huge influence in Star Trek. Pretty obvious (Shatner is Nielson, just hammier). It almost verges on infringement.

However comfortable your chair, it’s hard to sit through a complete showing of Forbidden Planet. Some tried, many failed. And those that failed required years of therapy. It’s so damn uneven. Call it the Easy Rider Syndrome. Almost better to read about it.