Forbidden Planet, 1956. 10/10

Possibly the best sci-fi movie of the classic era 1946-1964 (my parameters there). Beautiful and comprehensive special effects, with good use of color and music, and an intriguing, if complex story (as Shakespeare, among others would attest). The suspension of disbelief is well-established by the attention to detail.

We’re immersed in places and worlds within a worlds: from the astronauts’ futuristic spacecraft to Robby the Robot to the shuttle car, from the desert-like landscape to Morbius’s home and subterranean domain–its attractions and its secrets–to his subconscious delusions. “There’s something funny down there Skipper” is an apt comment to the cool reception the crewmembers get as they approach the planet.

Walter Pidgeon, as Dr. Morbius, is at the center of this tragic tale. He’s a veteran of the first expedition to Altair IV. As such, he’s inherited the remnants of Krell civilization. The relief expedition, twenty years late, it seems, finds Morbius and his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis) basically living it up in what we might call a mid-century palace.

The rescue ship’s crew is headed by Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) Lt. Farman (Jack Kelly), and Lt. ‘Doc’ Ostrom (Warren Stevens). The rest of the crewman are more or less just regular guys, but the cook (Earl Hollman) is just a bit too hokey. Robby actually is well-suited for comic relief, but he’s more on-point than his human ‘buddy.’

The Freudian scheme is a little heavy-handed. We see that Morbius is obsessed with power and control–of knowledge, of Altair IV, even of his daughter–so obviously there’s something unhinged, or at least lacking in him. He’s become a superman; his tangible power is all around him, but even his intangible power manifests itself. So that’s where the monsters come from; not a mutant, alien specie, but essentially supernatural beings. That’s unique stuff for science fiction.

Maybe the monster is a tad too insubstantial; tantalizingly grotesque, it’s dangerous, but could’ve had more presence. Apparently, the remainder of the original crew succumbed to a “devilish thing that never dared to show itself.” Morbius hints that he has nightmares of this force, but shows no signs of any existential threat .

Maybe we’re to take it that Morbius projects the monster due to a passive/aggressive impulse. Why else would the monster stealthily get aboard the ship and sabotage it? After all, he wants the ship to get on its way. Other cracks in the system appear, as the domesticated tiger reverts and attacks Altaira.

It’s interesting that Morbius didn’t invent the Krell stuff; he’s sort of adapted it for his own purposes. He’s become something of an addict of the Krell intelligence. In fact, the monster from the id is like a violent, disturbing reaction or side-effect of his mind-enhancing experimentation. Only an outsider, the Commander (and his men), can sabotage the destructive process.

The exploration of the Krell civilization is the aesthetic and dramatic centerpiece of the movie. There’s holograms, all manner of technical gizmos and doodads, “an Alladin’s lamp in a psychics laboratory.” The explanation for the Krell’s demise is a little fuzzy: they attempted to do away with physical existence, in order to become pure intelligence. Quite a building project–according to Morbius, 8000 cubic miles of apparatus, 9200 nuclear reactors. The math is mind-boggling, but the visuals are awe-inspiring. Apparently, this was the first sci-fi movie with more than a measly budget. The results astound.

Morbius has a dilemma. Basically, he knows that the crew is in imminent danger from the creature; but he can’t or won’t do anything about it. It takes Adams to point out that the monster is Morbius’s (inadvertent) creation; it’s Morbius who killed his crewmembers twenty years ago. Morbius, feeling his power threatened again by the newcomers, has instinctively willed their destruction. He realzes that Adams is right, so he has him set the whole planet to self-destruct. Altaira and Robby, innocent of the Krell supermind power, escape with the crew’s survivors.

Altaira’s role is interesting. The romantic subplot is pretty much a staple in this sort of movie; but Altaira is more than just a love interest. Her naivety and isolation not only provide a motive for her ultimate escape, but give her perhaps the only rational aspect of existence on Altair IV. She’s the underdeveloped ego between the out of control id and superego that Morbius represents.

Morbius himself is the central character. He’s conflicted, arrogant but uncomfortable. In a way, he’s both a Dr. Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster. Definitely an interesting character. He has admitted that he’s responsible for everything that’s happened on Altair IV, but to atone for it means his own destruction.

I’ve picked over Forbidden Planet quite a lot here; it’s just so entertaining and well-realized that I can hardly hurt its impact with some quibbles. This is a treat. Farmermouse liked the fake jungle, the cool shuttle car, the tractor, Robby, the spacecraft, the green sky, the free moonshine, etc. Ten trips to Altair IV. 10/10.

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