Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Movie Review: Forbidden Planet (1956)

It's hard to watch Forbidden Planet (1956) as both a feminist and a nerd so I'm going to put my issues with the film's treatment of women (well, woman) to the side for now and focus on the sci-fi aspect of this one. You ready?


I don't know exactly what I was expecting when we put Forbidden Planet on, but it definitely wasn't a clean, sharp sci-fi masterpiece with surprisingly good graphics. If I was expecting a hokey, hard-to-watch cringe-fest, I got schooled.

Forbidden Planet follows the plight of a starship crew, headed by Leslie Nielsen' Commander Adams, as they investigate a colony they lost communication with. When they arrive, they find only Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis), still alive.

Well, Dr. Morbius, Altaira, and one big honkin' secret.

I won't lie. I wasn't exactly hopeful when the movie started. It just pulpy enough to make me think, 'This is one of those sci-fi films mama warned me about, isn't it?' Then, it pulled back to show the starship -- a flying saucer! -- and I was certain of it. But then the movie started in earnest and all I could do was stare, open-mouthed, at the awesomeness of Forbidden Planet while Jay laughed at me.

When the crew members walk over to what was obviously a transporter -- a freaking transporter! -- I had to pause the film to wail, "Everything I know is a lie!" Because... because... transporters started with Star Trek, right? Right?!

So, so wrong.

Are you laughing at me as hard as Jay did? Like I said, this film schooled my ass.

As if the transporter incident wasn't enough, the ship's crew (as far as I know, the ship is a C-57D Cruiser but I don't think they actually give it a name) examine the planet and say that there are no signs of civilisation. No signs of civilisation, not no signs of life. I didn't think a movie from the Fifties would make such a distinction.

The crew's uniforms are also remarkably practical (and sparkle-free) for a sci-fi movie. Oh, and the crewmen refer to the organisation they work for as the United Planets. What? No... the United Federation of Planets was completely original and groundbreaking!

...wasn't it?

And, let's not forget that the crewmen have freaking communicators!

Okay, I think I have to say now that you can't call yourself a sci-fi nerd until you've seen Forbidden Planet.

I'm going get back to the film because I've been dying to talk about Robby the Robot!

Can we stop and take a moment for the poor schmuck stuck inside Robby the Robot? That could not have been an easy job! (Robby could be controlled offstage, too, but still.) Marvin Miller gave voice to Robby the Robot but, as far as I know, the operator inside the robot was unnamed.

Robby is the perfect embodiment of Isaac Asimov's Laws of Robotics. If you're not familiar with them, they go like this:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

As advanced as he is (he can speak 188 languages and manufacture just about anything, including bourbon), Dr. Morbius makes it quite clear that Robby is just a tool. Whn he orders Robby to attack him, it nearly fries the robot's circuits.

I adore Robby the Robot (and not just because he made a guest appearance in Columbo's "Mind Over Mayhem") He's clunky and awkward (like me) with lots of moving bits and inadvertent sarcasm. Did I mention he can make bourbon? Get me a Robby!

It's interesting that, while they are clearly capable of space travel, the crew are surprised by Robby. They even say, "You are a robot, aren't you?" I find it amazing that the crew didn't know exactly what they were seeing, that robots were such a new concept. Hard to believe, isn't it?

I'll go on about Robby all day if I'm not careful, so let's move on to his creator, Dr. Morbius. You know, in typical B-movie fashion, that Morbius is bad news because of the way he looks. He's dressed in black and also has a goatee and a window's peak. That's the B-movie equivalent of a siren screaming, "Bad guy! Bad guy!"

In Dr. Morbius's defence, though, he doesn't know he's the baddie until the end. There's a very good manifestation of what they think is the monster when it attacks the ship one night. They try, unsuccessfully, to electrocute it. Although it doesn't work, it does light the monster up in a remarkably effective way.

The monster, which Jay warned me would seem hokey, was freaking cool. It was like the lovechild of Night of the Demon and Fantasia. Part of its effectiveness lies in the fact that it's the one and only time you actually see it. For the most part, the threat is invisible.

Viewers eventually learn the planet's original inhabitants accidentally annihilated themselves by bringing their inner monsters to life. Whoops. They left behind a massive (and somehow still functional after two thousand centuries,) wildly geometric, underground lair Dr. Morbius uses to boost his already enormous IQ.

Don't be too impressed; they all have enormous IQs.

You've probably noticed that I've avoided Morbius's daughter, Altaira up to now. That's because I can't talk about Altaira without igniting just a little feminist rage and I hesitate to do that because I don't want you to think I'm hating on the film. I loved Forbidden Planet. Sexism was just, sadly, part of the time the film was made in.

I'm going to try to skim over a few of the things that bothered me, without condemning Forbidden Planet for something it couldn't help. Here we go:
1. There are no women among the starship's crew, although we have to assume that there were women among the scientists who colonised the planet.

2. Altaira changes her outfit a dozen times or more. The outfits are skimpy and glittery, of course. Also, she's always barefoot.

3. And... she is either just dumb (despite having a solid education) or a hopeless flirt. She's just so happy to see young men for the first time and is easily tricked into kissing them.

4. Did I mention she can't be any older than nineteen -- if that? Yeah.

5. The wolf-whistling when the crewmen see Altaira. Adams even uses the phrase, "space wolf." Sheesh.

6. Adams blames Altaira for the men chasing after her. He orders her to cover up, then blatantly oggles her when he walks in on her swimming nude. 
It could be said, from a modern, feminist point-of-view, that Forbidden Planet is a movie about eighteen guys trying to get laid (and one guy trying to get drunk.) But that really doesn't do this classic justice. Even a whopping dose of the sexism endemic of the time can't touch the epicness that is Forbidden Planet.

This one's the grandfather of all the sci-fi we love so much. It really is a must-watch for fans of the genre. I'd go so far as to say you can't call yourself a real fan of sci-fi until you've seen Forbidden Planet.

What are your thoughts on this one? I'd love to know what you thought. Also, I'm wondering what other sci-fi movies I've missed out on. If there's a sci-fi movie I should see, let me know and I'll it to my list.

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