A lot of stuff has been said about what makes Forbidden Planet such an important sci-fi movie. The ground-breaking special effects, the plot element of a human military vessel exploring space that would spawn the endless iterations of the Star Ship Enterprise. And of course, there’s the classical angle. Supposedly the plot is an update of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”
So, there’s all that good stuff. But to my mind the real reason can be summed up in two words, Anne Francis. When the angelic face of Miss Francis first appears on screen I began to see the movie in the correct light. This was an epic adventure story that rivalled the Odyssey of Homer for timelessness and meaning. Now the fact that I was a sixteen-year old boy at the time probably colored my thought processes to some extent and the skimpiness of her costumes might even have had something to do with it. But let’s face it, giant ants can only get you so far. If you want to keep the natives from getting restless you have to appeal to their most powerful motivations and if a blonde-haired, blue eyed creature with a very pretty face and extremely long shapely unclad legs is brought center stage, suddenly even the acting skills of Leslie Nielsen seem greatly enhanced and worth a fair hearing.
But now that I’m in my dotage and no longer as easily swayed by a pretty face, I’ve had a chance to re-evaluate the movie. Surprisingly, I’m still a big fan. And this is despite the obvious weaknesses that are extremely evident in such an old film. The dialog has some extremely cliché-ridden exchanges including:
- The captain tells off the young woman because her uninhibited interest in the young men in his crew will be a distraction from military discipline.
- Morbius displays the stereotypical arrogance of the academic intellectual toward the practical military authorities.
- The banter provided by the ship’s cook is the comic relief that would seem right at home in an Abbott and Costello movie.
So what makes it good? Well, the humans are mostly likeable and admirable. The plot unwinds in a manner that allows for the gradual reveal of the mystery. Of course, the who of the question is answered long before the why and how of the problem. But the details provide reinforcement of the underlying lesson to learn. We are reminded that smarter isn’t the same as perfect.
And the special effects are still pretty good. The animation of the Krell infrastructure impresses the viewer with the gargantuan scope of the installation. The humans walking through it literally look like ants at one point.
And finally, the interaction between the isolated inhabitants of this dream world and the crew of the no-nonsense military vessel is classic. It reminds you of the stories that portray the first contact between Europeans and the South Sea Islands. The sailors always have a feeling they have somehow discovered paradise with its idyllic climate, scantily clad, friendly women and tropical fruit. The military men are enthralled with how favorably it compares to the boring, spartan existence of their all-male naval vessel.
Are there problems with the story? Yes. Morbius seems a little too dense for a brilliant scientist. The resolution of the crisis at the end is a little jarring. The solution is quite heavy handed. But all in all, it’s a pretty neat story. I think it indicates why the Star Trek series was so popular. But I think it also shows why the later tv series were less interesting. The adventure and discovery aspects became less of a focus as the Enterprise became less of a military/exploration vessel and more of a social worker/nanny vehicle to the stars.