Forbidden Planet (1956)
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Some time in the future, Commander John J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen) leads an expedition to the distant planet of Altair-4 to discover what has become of the members of an earlier team of explorers. Having arrived on that world, he learns that all these persons have died, except for one man, Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who is now living on the planet with his nubile daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis), and his robot servant, Robby. The captain is immediately suspicious of Morbius, but he soon has additional worries when he realizes that his own arrival may have unleashed a strange and deadly alien power.

Fred M. Wilcox's Forbidden Planet tells a generally nicely developed story that is given such life by its various intoxicating images that it is sure to captivate the viewer.

Using bewitching mat paintings of a desert landscape ringed by craggy mountains, behind which, in a green sky, sails a vast white planet, the director's alien world burns with a mesmerizing weirdness and an eerie beauty. Fortunately, Altair-4's vast panoramas are not, by any means, the only astonishing places revealed in the film. The cavernous underground power plant built by the planet's long extinct inhabitants, which is filled with various outlandish, cyclopean structures, is, for instance, just as likely to amaze the viewer. There is, in fact, hardly a sequence of Forbidden Planet that is not a delight simply to look at.

Even the film's special effects are breathtaking. The heroes' ray guns shoot beams of animated light that cause whatever they strike to evaporate into curling wisps of animated flame. The terrible invisible monster which attacks these men is, at one point, when it attempts to cross the force field the humans have set up around their spaceship, made partially visible and is then brought to life with a series of ghostly animated images. Robby the Robot is a quirky mechanical joy, and the flying saucer in which the earthmen travel is filled with peculiar gadgets. Wilcox has, with such details, created one of the most visually imaginative science fiction films ever to have been made

What is more, the movie's story, the broad outline of which is derived from The Tempest, is always entertaining. The director depicts Dr. Morbius and his daughter living simple, idyllic lives in their lovely house set in a peaceful garden. There, the latter plays with wild beasts and the former investigates the mysteries of his alien home. The interactions of these two with the members of the spaceship's crew are also nicely done. In different scenes, the viewer is, for example, shown how several of these men attempt to seduce Altaira, who is entirely innocent of their intentions, and how the captain and his chief scientist are shown by Dr. Morbius the artifacts of the civilization that had once thrived on the planet.

In spite of its numerous virtues, I must concede that Forbidden Planet is hardly without flaws. The characterizations of the protagonists are painfully dated. The plot contains a number of rather silly details, and some of the acting borders on hammy.

Nonetheless, whatever its shortcomings, Forbidden Planet is both narratively engaging and visually enthralling.

Review by Keith Allen

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