Wednesday, 8 February 2017

I've Just Seen: Forbidden Planet (1956)

Director: Fred M. Wilcox

Pre-moon landing films have a different feel to more modern films. The images of men walking on the moon, or even seeing the earth from space were not yet part of modern culture. Filmmakers' imaginations roamed a little more freely. Special effects in these old films have a particular charm to them; these days you have the fall back of doing things in post-production if required, and some in the audience just think "That was done with CGI."

Couple these special effects with a clever adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, a wise-cracking robot, a thoroughly modern electronic score, and with a plot that is much more about humanity than aliens than you might think, and you have one of the best science-fiction films of the 1950s, and of the genre in general.

Seeing Leslie Nielsen being both young and serious was a slight obstacle at first - and in some of the more sexist 50s scenes with Anne Francis' Alta I half hoped for a wisecrack just to cut through my  discomfort - but he is great as Commander Adams. He and his crew land on Altair IV and find the environment is the least hostile part of planet.

The sexism is what dates this film. Alta is portrayed as naive, not realising her self-designed clothes are making the earth-men uncomfortable; or that her physical interest in these men is unladylike. The male audience of the 1950s got to have it both ways: look at a pretty girl, and see her get reprimanded for being too showy. This, however, is the only negative things about this film. Forbidden Planet goes to some very dark places about the human subconscious and the way technology may one day interact with our thoughts.


  1. The objective of Science fiction, good science fiction is to look at ourselves from unusual angles. The cience fiction environment enables us to take viewpoints not normally possible or allowed and that is what marks Forbidden Planet as true science fiction (As do Arrival and Passengers for modern equivalents). The adventure is just the sugar coating that let us eat that pill.
    You are so right about the sexism in the movie. There is an element of pandering here, but there is a purpose as well. A major theme of the movie is control of the subconsious monster and the crew is struggling with that faced with Alta, and so would the average male viewer at the time.

    1. Oh, I like that spin in the sexism! Though it doesn't make it less uncomfortable, it does make it more understandable.

      When writing about the film, I kept thinking that it's interest in the internal and well as the big external of space was an antecedent to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even Solaris, and the wonderful Arrival.

  2. The sexism is uncomfortable--one wonder exactly what that trip back to Earth is going to be like for Alta as the only woman on a ship filled with men, aside from her almost certainly being given all of the cooking and cleaning duties.

    Despite this, it's a smart movie because it doesn't rely on weird aliens and ray guns. There's a point here beyond the weird landscape and the giant robot. It will never take the place of Invasion of the Body Snatchers for me in terms of great '50s sci-fi, but it's certainly a part of tha pantheon.

    1. Her father's fears about outsiders are not that ridiculous; going back to earth almost certainly means a curtaling of her freedom.

      Having really enjoyed the bleakness of the 70s Body Snatchers, I really want to see the 50s version. Smart science-fiction is generally enjoyable on many levels.