Pros: soundtrack, sets
Cons: pace, cliched characters
I only just got around to watching the 1956 MGM “Forbidden Planet,” the first sci-fi A-picture (not counting the German silent “Metropolis”). I can see that it was pioneering, not least in electronic music (which was not permitted to be credited as a music score for Oscar competition), and some vague connections to “The Tempest.”
Its philologist Prospero (the mellifluous, deep-voiced Walter Pidgeon, given the ominous name of Morbius) has better reasons to abjure his magic than I see in Shakespeare’s original version, but the visitors do not crash. Rather, they are on a mission to see if there are any survivors from two decades earlier and take them back to earth. And the visitors have not wronged Prospero, causing him and his daughter (Anne Francis as a virginal Miranda). Robbie the Robot is a clunky, unsprite-like Ariel and there is no Caliban. A lot of time is spent explaining the technology developed by lifeforms (Krell) that vanished 2000 centuries ago, but left in smoothly running, self-maintaining condition.
The movie was lovingly restored in 2006 for its 50th anniversary. I cringe at the dimestore Freudian heart of the movie (a savage id rather than a death instinct) and consider the characters unoriginal with the possible exception of the robot, though his originality is difficult to see having seen later sci-fi movies with compelling mechanical servants (the computer HAL in “2001”, the robot R2D2 in “Star Wars” movies). Anne Francis seems particularly vapid in very short skirts (miniskirts après la letter) and Earl Holliman’s boozy cook/dishwasher is as much a cliché as the mad scientist devoid of self-insight (or a good Freudian analyst, though the spaceship’s doctor takes a stab at analysis delivered to the captain rather than to the analysand).
A young Leslie Nielsen played the commander and love interest. The old Nielsen pops up on bonus features to marvel about various things. The (2010) blu-ray is loaded with bonus features, including a 56-minute documentary about 1950s Hollywood sci-fi (Watch the Skies!), a 27-minute celebration of the movie, 14 minutes on engineering Robbie the Robot, 22 minutes of deleted/alternate scenes and unused special effects, plus Robbie the Robot’s appearances in a definitely B-picture followup (The Invisible Boy) and in an episode of the tv “Thin Man” (with Peter Lawford as Nick Charles), and two two-minute “MGM Parade” teasers and theatrical trailers for both “Forbidden Planet” and “The Invisible Boy.”