Ten reasons why ‘Forbidden Planet’ is still cool after 61 years

I watched Forbidden Planet the other day, for the first time in a very long while. And a lot of stuff sprang out at me that I’d forgotten, or which I’d maybe not noticed.

Publicity poster for ‘Forbidden Planet’, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Not seen it? It’s worth checking out. Sure, it was made in 1956 and has a kind of ‘American Modern’ feel – but it’s not just a classic, it’s arguably one of the best sci-fi movies ever made; smart, well-scripted – based, in fact on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. And it was influential in SO many ways – all of which make it very cool even today.

  1. The movie opens with the space cruiser, C-57D, flying through space, and we follow it through the landing sequence on the desert world of Altair 4. This was basically identical to what Stanislaw Lem portrayed in the opening sequence of The Invincible, which he wrote about 8 years later.
  2. The later sequence in which the crew defend the landed C-57D, using a perimeter force-field fence and ray guns, was also used by Lem in The Invincible, where the titular space cruiser was defended on the ground by a perimeter force field fence and ray guns.
  3. The look and feel of the ‘deceleration tubes’ in the opening sequence were basically used later in Star Trek for the transporter.
  4. The general feel and styling of the C-57D was later used by Irwin Allen for Lost In Space, where the Jupiter 2 was broadly the same idea.
  5. Robbie the Robot, designed by Robert Kinoshita among others, became iconic – appearing in other movies and TV shows, including Lost In Space. The Robbie concept was also the basis for the Lost In Space B9 Environmental Robot (also designed by Kinoshita).
  6. The plot of Forbidden Planet, broadly, revolves around the way the Krell, native to Altair 4, lost their physical instrumentality – becoming, instead, creatures of pure energy. This idea was also explored by Arthur C. Clarke in 2001: A Space Odyssey (implicitly in the movie, explicitly in the novel) a dozen years later.
  7. Ann Francis’s main costume was a mini-skirt. This hasn’t raised eyebrows since the ‘Swinging Sixties’, but don’t forget that Forbidden Planet was made in 1956. It was deeply risqué then, particularly in an era when the Hayes Code was still in action.
  8. The soundtrack by Bebe and Louis Barron consisted of ‘electronic tonalities’ – a term used in part to get around a musicians’ strike of the day. It consisted of electronic bubbling sounds, bleeps and bloops produced by an over-driven ring-modulator, various home-built oscillators, filters and tape loop effects. All this is normal today – but then it was innovative, and very much a ‘science fiction’ idea. However, it never took off as part of the genre – we’re more used, these days, to lush orchestral soundtracks of the John Williams variety.
  9. Fans of the 1970s show The Six Million Dollar Man might recognise Richard Anderson as one of the C-57D’s crew. Meanwhile the C-57D’s captain was played by Leslie Nielsen – a serious dramatic role that belied his subsequent work in comedy.
  10. The movie was set around Altair (Alpha Aquilae, HD 165341) which is a Type A star some 11 times as luminous as the Sun, and 16.7 light years distant. It is a curious star, rotating so fast that its equatorial radius is 25 percent more than its polar – which also means the equatorial regions radiate less. This point wasn’t discovered until 1999-2000, but the luminosity of the star was known when the movie was made, and to have the Earth-normal habitability as shown in the movie, the putative Altair IV would have to be some 3.4 astronomical units from the star – about the same distance from Altair as our solar system’s asteroid belt generally is from our Sun. And it would have a ‘year’ some 4.4 times the length of ours.

Have you seen this film? What did you think of it?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017

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10 thoughts on “Ten reasons why ‘Forbidden Planet’ is still cool after 61 years

  1. Agree. An absolute Classic and one of my very favourite early sci-fi films. First saw it when quite young and the terrifying night attack on the C-57D ship was exceptionally well done. I didn’t read The Tempest till a little older, but was impressed by the correlation by the writers. One of the best American productions of the time… (of course they did make some ‘intelligent’ films back then (The Day the Earth stood still 1951, When Worlds Collide 1951 and even the War of The Worlds, Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, being among them). As well as an enormous number of silly ones.

    1. It made a huge impression on me as a kid, when I saw it on TV – and it was that attack on the ship that always stuck in my memory, along with the attack by the Id monster on the Krell metal door. I agree, there were some tremendously smart sci-fi movies back in the fifties – I’d put Invasion of the Body Snatchers alongside Forbidden Planet for quality in that sense. And, as you say, there were also some monolithically dumb ones. The dumbest, to my mind, was that one where a monster shaped like a giant inverted carrot emerges from a cave and you can *just* see the bit of 4 x 2″ timber that the prop guy is using to push it with. I think it was a Roger Corman flick and I am pretty sure Frank Zappa commemorated the scene in his song ‘Cheepnis’.

  2. Absolutely loved it. I first saw it when I was young and even then I knew it was something special, and it still holds up. Maybe it should be considered a time travel movie because it was so far ahead of its time? A favorite.

    1. It’s definitely one of my favourite movies. I agree – way ahead of its time. I think that wasn’t coincidental – the influence Forbidden Planet had on sci-fi – TV, movie and writing – for the next decade and more was simply stunning.

    1. It could definitely stand a remake with updated effects. Still, the sfx were outstanding for the day and still hold up today to a large extent, though the Id monster had a certain ‘cartoony’ look about it – and with good reason, given how the effect was done.

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