“Forbidden Planet” Starring Walter Pidgeon

One of the Best Science Fiction Movies Ever Made

Forbidden Planet, one of the best classic movies of the science fiction genre, is a film made in 1956 that pays direct homage to William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Starring Walter Pidgeon as Doctor Morbius (the Prospero character in Tempest) and Anne Francis as his daughter, Planet examines how a paradise-like existence on the distant planet Altair-4 may not be all that it appears. That this is so is amply demonstrated by the arrival of a spaceship, captained by a youngish Leslie Neilsen, and what happens when he and his crew are injected into the mix. The movie is also famous for its introduction of Robby the Robot into our popular culture. The robot in Lost in Space is a direct descendant of the Robby archetype, as are many of the space crew portrayals in later science fiction movies and television productions like Star Trek and Babylon Five.

Anne Francis, who plays Altaira, the lovely young daughter of Morbius, gives a nuanced performance, especially after the arrival of Neilsen and his spaceship, which had been sent out in search of the crew that had previously gone to Altair-4.

Of that crew, only Altaira and her father remained, the others having been killed off by an unseen force surrounding the planet. Robby fills the role of loyal servant, who also may be more than is apparent at first blush. While Forbidden Planet uses science fiction as its motive force, it’s clear that it serves as a convenient device with which to examine the issues that underpin the film’s broader narrative. What happened to the race of beings that previously lived on Altair-4? What exactly was the force binding Walter Pidgeon’s Morbius and his daughter to the planet? Does the doctor know more than he lets on, and will he (or the mysterious force) tolerate Nielsen’s courtship of his daughter, who’d never seen another man prior to the arrival of the latest spaceship?

The 50s were a time of anxiety over nuclear power, and our presence in the cosmos. Roswell and UFOs also served to turn up the level of concern over science and its role in the world. But that same concern was also mixed with wonder and a desire to explore, and the movie reflected that. Planet also set cinematic standards for special effects – which still look impressive even today – and for musical scoring, it being the first to entirely use electronic sounds to create a movie score. All in all, when speaking of a science fiction movie classic, Forbidden Planet receives four stars.