MGM, 1956, 99 minutes, G
Actors: Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Earl Holliman, Robby the Robot
Taxonomy: Classic 50s sci-fi (almost real science fiction) flick.
Plot: The crew of a space cruiser sent to determine the status of a scientific expedition find only one man, his daughter, their very advanced robot and ... an unnamed terror!
Bluntly: One of the few great 50s sci-fi films which helped shape later sci-fi.
Would you like to play a game? Here's how we play; as I outline the story of Forbidden Planet you try to find as many similarities to Star Trek and Star Wars as you can. Okay? What? You would rather play a nice game of chess? Maybe later.
The valiant and capable crew of the United Planets Cruiser C57-D have just spent 378 days in hyperspace journeying from Earth to Altair. Their mission is to make contact with the crew of the Bellerophon, a scientific expedition that had landed on Altair 4 20 years ago, and act as their relief. This is a bit odd as it is made clear that the crew of C57-D are military personnel. Whatever. A quick web search reveals that the star Altair (scientific name Alpha Aquilae) is somewhere between 16.3 and 17 lightyears from Earth. So, the ship was traveling approximately 16 times the speed of light. Dang! I bet that thing's got a Hemi!
The captain of the UPC C57-D is J.J. Adams, played by Leslie Nielsen. This was long before Nielsen became type-cast in ultra-silly comedy roles. In fact prior to Police Squad Nielsen had usually played the heavy. In Forbidden Planet he gets to try on the hero mantle and if he introduced himself as "James T. Kirk" no one would be surprised. Included in J.J.'s crew are a science officer, a medical officer, an engineer, a communications guy with an ear-piece - you get the idea. Oh yeah, and a stupid cook played by Earl Holliman with an accent that sounds like a cross between Brooklyn and Dixie. He is the obligatory completely non-funny comic relief.
When the ship comes out of hyperspace, we see the crew protected from the deceleration by force fields - neat touch. The ship slows to 0.3896 of light speed. Pardon? Oh, well that's 72,465.6 miles/second. Still pretty dang fast! They scan the planet and find only one 20 square mile area of possible technological design. Then they receive a message from a Dr. Morbius, one of the crew of the Bellerophon. He tells them that they are in danger and must leave and that no assistance is necessary.
Kirk...I mean J.J. is not about to just turn around and go home. He has his orders and by gosh he's going to carry them out! J.J. lands the UPC C57-D himself. What a guy! Did I mention that the ship is a flying saucer? Yeah. That's what spaceships look like! Everybody knows that! The landing sequence is well done. The effects are colorful and must have been quite impressive in 1956. I have read on the web that these effects were done by Disney, but have been unable to confirm this. In other words, I'm too lazy. The ship uses a force field to cushion the landing, but in a nice touch, it wobbles as it settles to the ground - remember J.J. is landing her manually.
Once the ship is down we learn that Altair 4 has 4.7 times the oxygen content of Earth and the gravity is 0.897. I assume they mean that Altair's gravity is 0.897 that of Earth, but they never clearly state that. There is some other scientific technobabble made even funnier because it is 50s scientific technobabble, but the effort is appreciated. The science officer guy has a little handheld gizmo that provides him with all this data. Remember that thing about the oxygen content, we will bring that up later.
J.J. and crew are soon met by a robot who tells them that he speaks 188 languages and has been sent to bring them to Dr. Morbius. This is Robby the robot - or Robbie depending on who you ask. Robby quickly became one of the most recognizable sci-fi icons of our time. You can still buy little toy Robby/Robbie the robots and their knockoffs to this day. The cook's reaction to Robby, "Is it male or female?" No doubt about it, the guy's a laugh riot!
Once at the compound J.J., science guy and doc meet Dr. Morbius. Dr. Morbius is a philologist, an expert at word origins and meanings. Morbius tells them that he "tinkered together" Robby. J.J. seems incredulous and says that Robby is, "beyond the combined physical resources of all Earth's scientists!" When J.J. and company ask if Morbius is afraid of Robby, Morbius demonstrates that Robby is incapable of harming rational beings. He tells Robby to take J.J.'s gun, which Robby describes as, "A simple blaster." and shoot J.J. with it. Robby then short circuits.
Next Morbius explains what happened to the rest of the Bellerophon's crew. They were victims of, "some dark terrible incomprehensible planetary force" that tore them limb from limb and vaporized the ship when they tried to escape. Only Morbius and his wife survived, then not long after that his wife died. Since then the force has not returned and he has led his life in quiet study with Robby to help him. He wishes to remain away from other people.
Then suddenly a young woman appears. Dr. Morbius sheepishly introduces her as Altaira, his daughter. Altaira is played by the young blond and cute Anne Francis. Altaira meets the men and likes what she sees! The guys have not seen a woman in over a year, so they are quite happy to meet Altaira whom they soon refer to as Alta. Yep, it is at least 250 years in the future, but there are no women in the spacefleet. Ah the 50s! No doubt the guys also appreciate Alta's diaphanous clothing.
Alta was born after the horrible disaster that killed the rest of the Bellerophon's crew. Her mother died soon after her birth, so the only relationships she has ever had are with her father and her animal friends. The animals seem to recognize Alta and enjoy being with her. She introduces J.J. and company to two of her friends, a deer and a tiger. Both are completely placid toward Alta and each other. Dr. Morbius says Alta has always had a way with animals. J.J. rightly thinks that this is a strange situation.
Alta has reached the age where she is interested in men, but she is an innocent. She swims in the nude and does not even know what a bathing suit is. She thinks the idea is silly when J.J. explains it to her.
It does not take long for members of the UPC C57-D crew to start hanging around Alta. The science guy / executive officer even pulls the now classic and corny scene of explaining kissing to her! Soon enough though J.J. shows interest and the other man backs off. J.J. is a bit of a prude and there are several amusing scenes where he tries to explain the adverse effects Alta is having on his crew.
Eventually the "terrible incomprehensible planetary force" damages the ship and kills a member of the crew. J.J. tells Morbius that he must inform Earth of the situation and get instructions. In order to do this they will have to cannibalize the ship to build a transmitter. What!? They have a ship that can travel at 16X the speed of light, but they can't communicate with Earth without tearing the ship apart?
Meanwhile 'Cookie' has convinced Robby to synthesize some bourbon for him. Robby asks, "Will 60 gallons be sufficient?" Yep, that's a knee slapper alright!
Morbius warns J.J. that the force will attack again and the next attack will be worse - he can visualize it. J.J. orders a perimeter defense system put up around the ship in case the force returns. Well, you knew it would didn't ya? Yep it sure does! It manages to make it through the force field and the 3 billion electron volt neutron disintegrator beams and kill 3 more crew before retreating. During the attack we see an outline of the usually invisible force monster.
Okay time for a technobabble reality check! 3 billion electron volts! Sounds powerful don't it? It's not. At all. An electron volt is a very tiny unit of energy. A volt is a unit of electrical potential. They are two very different things. 1 electron volt = 1.602 E -10 joules. A joule is another standard measure of energy. A 100 watt lightbulb burning for 1 hour produces 360,000 joules which equals 2.2 E 24 electron volts. 3 billion electron volts would be 3.0 E 9 electron volts. Gee, that there planetary force thing must be awfully strong to survive a storm of Hellfire like that! If all that is over your head, simply realize that the next time you swat a mosquito you are delivering vastly more than 3 billion electron volts of energy.
J.J. confronts Morbius who then tells him of the Krell. They were an incredibly powerful alien race who lived on Altair 4. Morbius says the Krell were at least one million years ahead of mankind. Robby was built with the Krell knowledge that Morbius gained from using what he calls the 'Plastic Educator.' This device can double ones IQ, but is very dangerous and could be fatal. The Krell could use their technology to make thoughts visible and even substantial! Morbius has been studying the Krell technology all these years. He shows J.J. some of the underground facility and we are treated to scenes of gigantic computer like machinery that make up a huge portion of the interior of the planet. These scenes are still quite impressive and make one think of the scenes on the Deathstar in Star Wars. Morbius says that the Krell were working towards having a civilization with no 'physical instrumentality.' In other words - pure thought.
So, there is the set up for the climax. Needless to say more weird things happen, the force monster attacks again, Alta screams and falls for J.J., and J.J. and crew realize that they need to get a look at this 'Plastic Educator' thing to help them get out of this mess. What happens to Morbius? Alta? J.J.? Robby? Dumbass Cookie? The force monster? Do they survive? What about the Krell? Do J.J. and Alta ever get jiggy with it? You'll have to see the movie and find out for yourselves! Nyuk, nyuk, nuyk!
Babeage: Sure the clothes and skinny dipping is pretty lame to modern viewers, but there is no denying that the young Anne Francis was quite a cutie.
Sleazeploitation: Come on! It was the 50s! Well, I suppose one could draw some rather uncomfortable conclusions about Altaira and her father, but that is not even hinted at in the movie, you pervs!
Beasts, Freaks and Weirdoes: The planetary force monster is a very frightening concept when we finally learn just what it is and this idea was used in later sci-fi films. Of course as with all
sci-fi cinema, this idea was old in science fiction literature by 1956. I guess Robby the robot goes here too even though he is a cool character. Cookie is definitely a freak in my book.
Violence: Blaster fire and rampaging planetary force monster.
Gore & FX: No gore - again, it was the 50s. Some beautiful sets and landscape matt painting effects. The force fields are done well as is the blaster firing which takes the form of short spurts of energy not complete beams and reminds one of machine gun fire - like in Star Wars.
Opening narration - "In the final decade of the 21st century, men and women in rocketships landed on the Moon. By 2200 AD they had reached the other planets of our solar system."
That's what's wrong with the world today, technology is just developing too fast!
Cookie - "Nothing to do but throw rocks and tin cans and we have to bring our own tin cans!"Robby on the subject of oxygen - "I never use it myself, sir. It promotes rust." Robby explaining to Altaira why he responded slowly to her call - "I was giving myself an oil job."
Dr. Morbius responding to J.J.'s doubts about the benefits of the Plastic Educator - "It's all right, sir. A commanding officer does not need a brain, just a good loud voice, hum?" Dr. Morbius reacting to the death of one of J.J.'s officers - "He was warned! Now he has paid! Let him be buried with the other victims of human greed and folly!"
Altaira upon meeting J.J. and his two officers - "I've been so terribly wild to meet a young man, and now three of them at once! You're lovely Doctor, and the two end ones are unbelievable!"
The Science / Executive Officer tells Altaira - "Any girl or woman that lets him [J.J.] get her alone in any way..." He shakes his head in a 'bad news' sort of gesture.
J.J. upon catching Altaira's kissing lesson - "Well it so happens that I am in command of 18 competitively selected, super perfect physical specimens with an average age of 24.6 who have been locked up in hyperspace for 378 days! It would have served you right if I hadn't...and then he...!" That's right J.J., she was asking for it! Love that 50s sexism!
Moral: Listen to your elders! - OR - Don't play with other children's toys.
If you have any interest in sci-fi films at all you should see Forbidden Planet. It paved the way for the dominant American sci-fi to follow. If you don't catch the Star Trek elements, you just are not paying attention! This is a classic 50s sci-fi film with wonderful effects, good acting and a decent story. If none of that turns you on, then at least watch it simply to see where that "classic robot" design came from and to see Leslie Nielsen as a staunch hero type.
Some trivia: Forbidden Planet was one of the first American films to have an all electronic soundtrack. Louis and Bebe Barron are listed in the credits as providing 'electric tonalities.'
Oh yeah, that whole thing about Altair 4 having 4.7 times the oxygen content of Earth; seems like a bad place to be shooting blasters and causing electrical circuits to short. All, that oxygen plus hot blaster beams and open sparks...?
This is the first film reviewed at The Duh Spot to earn the title Sci-Fi Classic. Highly recommended.
Far superior to the Disney film...
I was strolling through my local beer store and thinking what would go well with a bit of classic 50s sci-fi goodness. When before my eyes there appeared a black hole!
Weyerbacher Black Hole Ale
Weyerbacher Brewing Company, Inc.
Easton, PA, USA
The label call hails this as "A new dimension in beer." I would not go that far, but this may be one Black Hole you would not mind getting near! The brewer's intent was to make a dark, semi-rich yet bitter and dry ale. Perhaps not as dry as Porter and also not as rich as Stout. In my humble opinion, the folks at Weyerbacher got it just right.
ABV: 7.00%, IBU: I would guess between 30 and 40.
Color: A very dark opaque caramel brown - almost, but not quite as dark as a stout.
Aroma: Rich yet soft with hints of toffee, coffee and chocolate and a tiny dry hop tang.
Head: Foamy fine bubbled nugat colored semi-persistent head. Just like many stouts, there are the tiny nitrogen bubbles that flow down the inside of the glass.
Taste: Smooth, but not too rich, nutty with the roasted malt imparting coffee and hazelnut flavors. This semi-creamy start moves to a roasty middle and then to a gently bitter slightly dry finish. There is a bitter dry aftertaste that lasts several minutes after you swallow.
Recommendation: Weyerbacher Black Hole Ale is a smooth medium bodied dark ale that will please porter and stout fans alike. It would also make a good introduction to these more robust English styles of ale. With Autumn getting closer every day, Weyerbacher seems to have things covered; you may recall that this is the same brewery that produced last years Halloween Imperial Pumpkin Ale. Weyerbacher has several beers that I am eager to try now that I have tasted two winners! Recommended.
Well, I'm off to my little cabin in the woods. Halloween is only a few weeks away, so get those movie recommendations in to me soon! See you in a week!
Comments, suggestions, questions and requests welcome.