Forbidden Planet ★★★★½

While a contemporary audience might dismiss the now hokey-appearing charms of Fred M. Wilcox's "Forbidden Planet," that audience would be overlooking a science fiction classic that is a true document of its time. With its zithering, atonal music score; colorful, future-world sets; speculative technologies; and classic genre themes; the film works to establish an other-worldly sensibility and couch that sense in a cutting-edge, mid-century special effects extravaganza. The fact that it also strives to entertain the largest possible audience with its occasionally jokey beats, dusty gender politics, and sailors-in-an-exotic-port vibe may work against the film now, but it should not detract from the genre greatness and enjoyable experience on hand.

A space-bound take on Shakespeare's "The Tempest," "Forbidden Planet" finds the crew of an Earth vessel landing on a planet inhabited by a man, his daughter, and their robot. Acts of violence belie the planet's peaceful exterior, and, soon, the crew finds itself locked in a battle for its safety.

The plot is engaging. With its ancient technologies that dwarf those of humanity and warnings about using those technologies, there is a heavy and, in terms of the genre, classical quality to the narrative's themes. This is not just a film about landing on a planet, riffing with a robot, and kissing a girl; it carries with it deeper and compelling ideas.

Wilcox keeps the action moving at a good clip, and his film is rich and colorful. The special effects are bold , permeating the film's metallic-meets-organic design. It is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer visualization of the future that is as quaintly rendered as it is fully imagined. Leslie Neilsen makes a steady-handed leading man, and Walter Pidgeon adds gravitas as the tragic Dr. Morbius. Anne Francis, in the thankless role of the damsel who is not quite in distress, is charming but is given little more to do than distract the men of the film.

With its CinemaScope vistas and sturdy themes, "Forbidden Planet" is anything but a B-movie. It is, however, a vision of the future rendered in the strokes of the 1950s. Though these strokes may be translated as camp by a contemporary audience, the film still has its share of current-audience-pleasing pleasures. Taken altogether, "Forbidden Planet" is both a genre testament to its era and a classic piece of work in general.

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