Saturday, September 8, 2012

Forbidden Planet

I am currently reviewing Stargate Atlantis over at Eye of Polyphemus. the current episode is the second season’s “Epiphany,” an episode which features a monster created from the negative emotions of a small settlement. What better time to pull out the Dvd of Forbidden Planet and review the film from which the plot element was likely lifted?

Forbidden Planet is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest set in space. The film follows a military crew set out to discover the fate of the ship Bellerophon, which disappeared twenty years ago. In mythology, Bellerophon killed the monster Chimera. In Forbidden Planet, the monster kills all but two people, Dr. Morbius and his teenage daughter, Altaira. Captain Adams, the allegedly swashbuckling hero of the film, woos Altaira while unraveling the mystery, such that it is, of the id monster’s identity. We cannot forget Morbius’ robot assistant, Robby, who has become a staple of science fiction since his debut here.

Watching Forbidden Planet is like taking the World of Tomorrow tour at Disney World wit a vicious, invisible monster on the loose. One minute you are being introduced to a retro idea of a future appliance, and in the next someone is being torn apart by some critter no one can identity. Contemporary audiences would not have the patience for this sort of thing. They would demand a quick set up in order to get to the monster attacks. Even I think the pace could be picked up, but as a history buff, I enjoy the vision of the future filmmakers envisioned back in 1956 enough to not count the instructional video aspects as much of a detriment.

Oh, do not get me wrong…Morbius drones on and on about everything from his house to what happened to his ship to Robby to the Kell and all their technology. Forbidden Planet is very much high on exposition rather than visuals. It is an interesting point when you consider the movie was nominated for an oscar in special effects, but lost to The Ten Commandments. Deservedly so, in my opinion. While I will often gripe good science fiction films rarely earn critical recognition beyond their technical aspects, even special effects were superior. Forbidden Planet was released in the wrong year, folks.

The major flaw with Forbidden Planet is the lack of mystery. There is no possibility anyone could be responsible for the death of every on the Bellerophon but Morbius. Altaira would have been too young. The wife is a possibility for the Bellerophone deaths, Robby was created after Morbius arrived on the planet. It is very clear from the beginning Morbius is responsible. A red herring or two would enhance the mystery greatly. By enhance, I mean actually create some. The revelation the monster is a projection of Morbius’ id is not much of a reveal, but I will grant the climactic sequence with morbius and adams with the id monster banging on the walls is highly effective even today.

I must mention, too, what I suspected might not work, but did. Adams is played by a young Leslie Nielsen. I do not recall exactly when I first saw Forbidden Planet--too young to appreciate it, I am certain--but it was certainly after watching the absurd comedies of Nielsen’s later career. The guy carried around a gag device which simulated flatulence to use during interviews, for heaven’s sake! I am not even certain I made the connection between Adams and The Naked Gun cop back then, but Nielsen was at one time considered a dramatic actor. I assume Viva Knievel! ruined all that. Adams strikes me as too much of a rigid military officer who cannot make any decision without consulting his superiors rather than the pre-James T. Kirk he is supposed to be, but I am too impressed Nielsen can play the role at all to complain.

Forbidden Planet stands the test of time for any true science fiction fan and/or cinema buff who can appreciate the style of films made in various eras. Forbidden Planet is ’50’s science fiction to the core. Could anyone get away with an Earth space ship being a flying saucer these days? Doubtful. The Daleks can pull it off, but who is going to dare question them? Daleks have no concept of elegance.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

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