Forbidden Planet (1956)
Film review #29
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Sci-fi classic dealing with the “Monster from the Id”…
In the 23rd century, humanity has the power to travel between the planets of the galaxy. The United Planets cruiser C57-D is traveling to the planet Altair IV in order to investigate the disappearance of the Bellerophon, a ship which had gone missing when it landed on the planet twenty years earlier. When they approach the planet, Commander John Adams, who is in command, receives a message on the ship’s radio from a man who warns them against landing. Despite the repeated warnings, Adams orders the ship to go in for a landing…
Upon landing on the surface and venturing out, the crew is met by Robby the Robot, who takes Commander Adams, Lieutenant Jerry Farman, and the ship’s doctor Lieutenant Ostrow to go and meet the man they communicated with on the radio. At a large villa, the trio meet Dr. Edward Morbius, the only survivor from the Bellerophon.
Dr. Morbius explains the fate of the Bellerophon crew: The crew were all savagely killed a few months after landing by a strange planetary force, and only Morbius and his wife survived. His wife died shortly after of natural causes. The meeting is then interrupted by the entrance of Morbius’s daughter, Altaira, whom the Doc takes a liking to. Altaira is fascinated to meet men other than her Father, as she was born on Altair and has never seen any other people. Morbius warns the crew to leave the planet as soon as possible to avoid meeting the same fate as the crew of the Bellerophon, but Adams says he will not leave until he has received further instructions from headquarters, and will stay on the planet until he can do so.
The next night, some of the equipment aboard the ship is sabotaged, though no one saw anyone enter the ship. Adams and Ostrow return to visit Morbius, who tells them of the Krell: An ancient civilisation that vanished from the planet in a single night some 200,000 years ago, just as they were on the verge of the ultimate scientific breakthrough: To discard any physical form and live as pure energy. Morbius then leads them to a secret laboratory where he shows them some of the scientific machines the Krell have left behind, including a “plastic educator”, which enhances intelligence. When the captain of the Bellerophon tried to use it, he was killed instantly, but when Morbius tried it, he barely survived, but his intelligence had doubled. Now being able to access the Krell library, he was able to build Robby the Robot and the rest of the technological marvels in his home. He then proceeds to show the two around a massive cube-shaped Krell underground complex, 40 miles across, and powered by 9200 thermonuclear reactors.
The crew erect a forcefield around the ship to protect them from further intrusions. This proves futile however, as the intruder returns aboard the ship and kills Chief Engineer Quinn. The intruder leaves a large footprint, which the crew finds hard to explain. When the intruder returns again, they find it is invisible, and it’s shape can only be discerned by coming into contact with the forcefield and the crew’s energy weapons, however, they have very little effect on the creature. It kills another four members of the crew, and back at Morbius’s home, we find he is asleep, but when Altaira screams from having a bad dream, he wakes up, and the creature attacking the crew vanishes…
Adams and Ostrow go to confront Morbius again, this time Ostrow uses the “plastic educator” on himself to try and work out what is happening. He realises that the Krell complex was to be used to imagine anything and make it real, but they forgot one thing: The monsters from the Id, the primal subconscious that manifested itself and wiped out the Krell. There being no Krell alive now, they realise it must be someone else’s subconscious creating the monsters: Dr. Morbius. They confront him with this, but he is dismissive. They try to explain to him that when he used the “plastic educator”, he manifested the monster that killed the crew of the Bellerophon, but still he dismisses it.
When Altaira tells her Father she wishes to leave Altair IV and declares her love for Adams, the monster approaches the house. Morbius commands Robby to kill it, but since the monster is an extension of the master he has been programmed not to harm, he shuts down. They then take refuge in the Krell laboratory, but the monster is still hunting them. Morbius finally accepts the truth and tells Adams to activate the planet self-destruct system, and that they have to be 100 million miles away in 24 hours. Morbius is fatally wounded fighting off the monster, and Adams, Altaira, Robby and the rest of the crew watch from space 24 hours later as Altair IV explodes in a brilliant flash of light.
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Forbidden Planet is one the key Sci-fi films of the 1950’s, and is a futuristic venture backed up by a generous budget. The design of the sets and production values are very slick and lavish for their time, as is the use of colour, which was still slowly being adopted into mainstream use in cinemas. The large sets include the highly detailed Krell laboratory, complete with a range of blinking machines and dials, the C57-D starship, and the planet just outside it. The film was very much intended to be view as a futuristic and it achieves that very well.
The character of Robby the Robot is one of the most recognisable characters to come out of the film. Apparently costing $125,000 to make, Robby distinguishes himself from other robots one might see in sci-fi films of that era as being a fully fledged supporting character, rather than being a mere tool of the main cast which robots were generally used for, even elaborate ones such as the robot in Metropolis and Gort in The Day The Earth Stood Still. Robby had his money’s worth got out of him though, being re-used in another science-fiction film The Invisible Boy, and appearing on a number of episodes of the science-fiction series The Twilight Zone. The prop itself has appeared in many more series over the years in various forms, either as Robby, some other form of robot, or just part of a set. All this has lead to Robby becoming a science-fiction icon, and being distinctly recognisable.
The importance of this film in the context of the history of science-fiction development is also apparent. Gene Roddenberry cites it as an influence in creating Star Trek, which itself is one of the major players in science-fiction. Episodes of other popular science-fiction series including Doctor Who and Babylon 5 are also based on the ideas of Forbidden Planet. There was also a musical produced entitled “return to the forbidden planet”, which attests to how this film has a place in the public consciousness and the development of science-fiction movies.
This concept of the “Monster from the Id” is a very interesting concept. It is quite unique as a plot device, and it has a philosophic undertone about it, specifically how our unconscious or primal thoughts can exist separate from the self, and how they may undermine it. It is different from other films that simple use the unknown, or “other” as an antagonist different from humans, but what happens when the enemy is part of your self?
Forbidden Planet is a very important movie in the history of science-fiction and it is still a watchable film today. It has aged, but not so much that it detracts from the experience of the narrative. The story is neatly put together, the acting is of good quality, and there’s a bit of action, humour and philosophy which makes it a worthwhile viewing.