Forbidden Planet ★★★★

Letterboxd Season Challenge 2015-16
Week 12: November 22nd-28th
50s Sci-Fi Week

In the annals of science fiction, few films have had the impact and far-reaching influence of MGM's first "space opera" blockbuster, "Forbidden Planet." From its Shakespeare-inspired story and serious acting to its special effects and eerie "electronic tonalities" in place of a score, this production was like nothing that had ever come before, setting the bar high for all sci-fi films to follow. Indeed, an unprecendented $1.9 million was spent over the course of two years to bring this vision of the 23rd century to the big screen in Eastman Color and Cinemascope, and the studio was rewarded with box office receipts of some $3 million.

Writer Cyril Hume's screenplay drew heavily on "The Tempest" for its plot, while director Fred M. Wilcox had Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" as a model for the dramatic scale of the film. The casting of two-time Oscar nominee Walter Pidgeon as the lead character Dr. Edward Morbius gave the film its intellectual gravitas, while a romantic link between the scientist's beautiful blonde daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) and Commander Adams (Leslie Neilsen) of the Spaceship C57D provided audiences with a familiar human connection.

Worthy of note are the special effects, which were nominated for an Academy Award, losing only to the magical Red Sea-parting visuals of "The Ten Commandments." Robert Kinoshita gets credit for building Robby the Robot especially for this film; illustrator Joshua Meador joined the MGM crew on loan from Walt Disney Pictures to create the infamous Id Monster and other animated effects; and the combination of matte painting, scale miniatures and massive sound studio sets allowed the planet Altair 4 to be realized along with its subterranean realm of the Krell.

Most "Star Trek" fans will probably know that this film inspired Gene Roddenberry to create his famous television series. From the transporter beams and replicator technology to faster-than-light propulsion systems, hand-held "blasters" and the United Planets concept, the number of parallels is mind-boggling. Clearly this movie influenced George Lucas in developing "Star Wars," too, such as the hologram of Altaira looking so much like R2D2's projection of Princess Leia in "Episode IV: A New Hope."

I must admit, this is must-see viewing for anyone who loves the sci-fi genre. So don't put it off for decades like I did, thinking it might be a comedy or a farce just because Neilsen's in it. This is touchstone stuff.

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