FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)
Article #545 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 9-11-2002
Posting date: 2-4-2003
A spaceship lands on a distant planet to check on the status of an expedition that went there years ago, but they discover that the only survivor is a scientist with his daughter.
Several years ago a local theatre (stage, not movie) put on a musical called “Return to the Forbidden Planet.” The interview in the newspaper about the production described it as a musical sequel to that “campy” science fiction movie of the fifties, FORBIDDEN PLANET, but they made the decision to pass up anything having directly to do with the movie in favor of just lifting their plot from “The Tempest” and taking a “Rocky Horror” approach to it. Somehow, I got the feeling from the article that they were expecting to be praised for their artistic integrity in not dirtying their hands with such low-class stuff as FORBIDDEN PLANET. Needless to say, I did not go to this production.
Campy? FORBIDDEN PLANET? There are science fiction movies from the fifties to which that epithet might apply, but in order to consider this movie as camp, you’d have to consign practically all of cinematic science fiction to that designation. This was one of the classiest, most intelligent, most well-written and most audacious science fiction movies of its time. Yes, it does lift its plot from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, but the movie makes it work so well in a science fiction context that it would be better to say that the story was “inspired” by “The Tempest.” When I was a kid, I was a bit disappointed by it (there wasn’t enough of the monster or the robot; I was fairly predictable back then), but I’ve liked it better and better with each viewing, and this time I watched it, I was quite surprised with how good it was. The dialogue is sharp, witty and sets a certain standard for science fiction jargon (“Star Trek” owes an enormous debt to this movie); the romance plot elements that I used to dislike rise organically and effectively from the story, the comic relief is actually funny, and even though the movie doesn’t have a big-name star from the time (unless Walter Pidgeon counts), the acting is of high quality throughout. I also know of no other science fiction movie up to that time that took us both so far into the future and so far from the Earth.
It took a few viewings for me to appreciate how great this movie is, and I’m glad I took the time to give the movie that attention. It has now won a place in my list of the top ten science fiction movies of all time.