Visions of Paradise

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Forbidden Planet

It has been many decades since I saw the movie Forbidden Planet, so I was interested in how well a movie from the 1950s would hold up. From the first scene it was obvious that it predated movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey which upped the visual ante considerably for sf movies. And some of the acting was “over the top,” especially in the romantic scenes and Walter Pidgeon’s death scene.

But as for the plot and sense of wonder, the movie still held my attention totally. Forbidden Planet was the antithesis of so many mindless thrillers which masquerade as science fiction. It was thoughtful, with a plot totally dependent on the speculative element, which was the fact that the planet had been the home of an ancient race which had achieved an intellectual level far beyond that of humans before mysteriously dying off. The tension arose from the invisible monster which had picked off all the original colonists 20 years ago, with the exception of Walter Pidgeon and his daughter (played by Anne Francis). After being quiescent for 20 years, it was now doing the same with their relief group, which was led by captain Leslie Nielsen (who was very young and incredibly serious for somebody who became a slapstick actor late in his career) and many other recognizable faces from early tv.

At first I thought the romance between Nielsen and Francis was an unnecessary flourish, but the movie’s creators proved me wrong. Every scene in the movie was relevant to the plot and done well. There was an exciting last scene as the monster chased Nielsen, Francis and Pidgeon through the ancient catacombs, but it was resolved in a satisfactory manner which was totally fitting with the tone of the rest of the movie.

I cannot recommend Forbidden Planet highly enough. I can only think of a small handful of sf movies which entertained and impressed me as much (the 1960 version of The Time Machine, Blade Runner, Dark City and 2001). If you have never seen it, and can ignore the dated visual effects and lack of thrills-and-chills, you should enjoy this movie immensely. It is definitely one of the classics of sf cinema.


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