Forbidden Planet ★★★★

Every damn time.

Every damn time I re-watch Forbidden planet, and the first act unfolds, I question how I consistently give this sci-fi classic four stars. I appreciate it’s complete cheesiness, how the Electronic Tonalities set the stage for aural sci-fi cues for the next decade, how Irwin Allen unabashedly appropriated everything about Robbie and Spaceship C57D for Lost In Space, and especially what could be the first movie use of the order issued by an earnest Captain .. ‘Reverse The Polarity!’

You couldn’t get a much more earnest, svelte, and libidinous Captain than Leslie Neilson’s Commander Adams. He’s the Alpha Male, The Head of the Pack, The Big Cheese, A-Number-One, who’s completely willing to quash the competing lascivious advances of his charge by assigning them to less-than-certain-outcome duties like guarding the ship against lethal invisible monsters. Hmm, something is starting to seem familiar here. Of course, what drives this testosterone fuelled bravado is the presence of the almost perpetually miniskirt clad Ann Frances (Being a child of the 60’s myself, I didn’t think the mini actually appeared until 1964, as a five year old a year I remember well. As it turns out, Forbidden Planet may have broken new fashion ground here.) Of course you need comic relief, and what better trope than the dimwitted and thirsty cook, portrayed dimwittedly with aplomb by a young Earl Holliman. A night out beltin’ the booze with a tin-plated friend should have made its way into a Lost in Space episode ( I would have paid to see Dr. Smith and Robot B9 tie one on ).

Then it happens in the second act every time, every damn time. Our gallant Captain questions the guarded survivor of the Bellerophon expedition, Walter Pidgeon’s Dr. Morbius, about the nature of his creation, Robby the Robot. In one simple scene, without a shard of exposition, Director Fred M. Wilcox and Screenwriter Cyril Hume elegantly introduce Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

While the drama continues, it does so on much more purposeful and compelling notes as we’re introduced to the Krell, and the mystery as to why their civilization disappeared on the eve of their greatest achievement. We’re now in serious sci-fi territory, a territory mined by Tarkovsky in Solaris sixteen years later, and hatched from a Freudian origin here, and according to my reading, a Shakespearian influence as well … although I haven’t re-read read The Tempest since grade school, and have no inclination to.

This, the third act, is what earns the stars. In a decade of bug-eyed-monster sci-fi’s Forbidden Planet stands out as a hard sci-fi coated with a tasty and familiar action adventure coating. Kind of like a ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’, which was Gene Roddenberry’s pitch to the NBC executive of what Star Trek would be. I’ve read that Roddenberry readily admits that Forbidden Planet was his influence.

Leslie Neilson was the prototype of Captain Kirk. That always gives me a smile.

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