Forbidden Planet (1956)

Because “Why not?”, and as it makes picking viewing easier, Trash Or Treasure is going through every movie in “Science Fiction – Double Feature”, the opening song for that trash culture classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

This week

Anne Francis stars in (ooh-ooh-ooh) Forbidden Planet

It’s a relatively commonly known fact that Forbidden Planet is, to a great extent, based on William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Or at least it is amongst trivia nuts, Sci-Fi fans who feel the need to defend the genre, and drama teachers who are desperate to seem cool in front of the kids. What few people realise is that it’s also based on The Bard’s legendary formula for really packing them into 17th century theatres

This level of beauty is maintained through the whole film.

Act 1 – Introduce an exciting and inventive environment, with mystery around every corner, and a troupe of characters with easily identifiable characteristics. In this show you’ve got “The Incredibly Dodgy One”, in the form of Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) who has misplaced several hundred of his expedition mates, “The Innocent One”, in the form of Alta (Anne Francis) who was 26 when the film was produced but acts like she’s 13 often enough to stay fashionable, and “The Horney Ones”, which are the crew of the flying saucer (Leslie Nielsen, Warren Stevens, and 20 other space sailors) which arrives on the Forbidden Planet.

“All two thousand of my fellow colonists told me they were going to the shops for some milk and I’ve never seen them since”

The Horney Ones want to bed The Innocent One, because they were last on shore leave 10 light years ago, and find out what The Dodgy One did to all those missing people because very obviously mass murder is bad. The Dodgy One wants to protect The Innocent One, because she’s his daughter, and avoid telling The Horney Ones anything because bugger-off-this-is-my-planet. And, to make the perfect triangle, The Innocent One wants to keep The Dodgy One happy, because she’s a good daughter, and bang The Horney Ones, as they’re the first humans she’s ever met other than her dad. She also gets to play with a tiger, which is nice.

The subtext here is sexual intercourse

So far, so basically Macbeth and Othello but with a completely electronic soundtrack that kicks serious arse, some frankly beautiful visuals, sets, and costuming, and far more technobabble. Act 2 continues to follow the classic route by being a massive info dump that takes us up to the 70 minutes mark. Aliens are discussed, strange devices are shown, and the set designers absolutely earn their money by creating a world so vast in scale that the film briefly shifts into cosmic horror. There is also a subplot with the ship’s cook being an itinerant drunkard, which is as funny as a GCSE rendition of The Porter’s Speech, and an invisible death-monster that’s still holds up as an arresting visual effect.

It’s so funny that he’s going to drink himself to death!

Act 3 is about 20 minutes long, and involves everyone’s differences getting settled through outrageous violence, sci-fi widgetry, and poetic justice. There’s something said about the urges of man and the dangers of power, but that gets put aside for some nice explosions, and The Innocent One chooses who she’s going to lose that title to. Mostly, it gets the job done without getting under its own feet or overstaying its welcome.

“It’s your fault my crew are horny after being in space for two years and landing on a planet you live on”

Obviously, there is a lot to be said about the film’s place in history. It was the first film with a fully electronic musical score, it made science fiction a mostly respectable genre, and it had Robby The Robot. But you can safely ignore most of that and get on with just enjoying an incredibly great opening, an interesting middle, and an end that ties it up nicely and goes “bang” a lot. The cast does what can only be called a phenomenal job; except for Earl Holliman but he was probably told “oh, just be a broken alcoholic. You know, like an Irish” so we can forgive him that. Yes, it looks old and a bit chintzy around the ages but they sell it with such honesty and conviction that you can’t help but get drawn in.

“Did I leave the gas on?”

Beyond the inherent retro-futurism aspect, there needs to be a mild warning here are a number of moments involving Alta. The moments of misogyny are mild, and by no measure the worst example out there, but they are enough to make you mutter something the script being 70 years old. But, by the same token, there are a number of forward-thinking ideas, and the overall future it presents seems pretty egalitarian for its time. Mostly though, it’s just high drama and high fun. It avoids camp, has a sufficiently timeless air to it that it seems well-matured rather than old, and is a Treasure you’ll return to when the mood takes you.

The Raggedyman

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