Late last night, I watched a movie that was just added (!) to the Netflix streaming service. Many years ago I’m quite sure I also watched the 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet, but I have virtually no memory of the earlier experience. What I vaguely recall is I rented it after hearing the hypothesis that it is a futuristic rework of The Tempest. Having watched it in that context I did not find the connection to be terribly significant and, over the intervening decades, it faded from my memory complete.
When I started in on it again, I hadn’t rechecked the release date. There was resulting sense of disorientation. Forbidden Planet has this mid-60s, Star Trek vibe, except that they’re flying in a comic-book “flying saucer” instead of an Enterprise-like spacecraft. The crew also is more World War II submarine than groovily-diverse United Federation of Planets capital ship. It hit me that this film was older than it should have been or rather, put another way, way ahead of its time.
Much is made of the robot “Robby,” and it being such an innovative character, but I don’t think he’s all that far off from Gort in the 1951 The Day the Earth Stood Still. Forbidden Planet also, apparently, introduced human-engineered, faster-than-light travel to the big screen. Myself, I caught one of the ship’s engineers referring to himself as a “quantum mechanic,” a subtle reference to a theoretical field that was only just beginning to intrude on the public’s imagination. Despite a few old-fashion quirks, the sci-fi of Forbidden Planet remains fairly current into the 1970s.
That said, there are a few places where the film got its futurism fantastically wrong. The introductory narration predicts that a moon landing in roughly 100 years when, in fact, it was barely more than a decade out. I also love the mechanical controls; the status of the spaceship is monitored via a large model inside of a demarcated globe. All this I can forgive, but it is always amusing to see such a failure to anticipate near-term developments coming from a story that predicts such fantastic advances in technology.
Finally, I see why Usherette (or movie-version Riff-Raff) felt Ann Francis starred in Forbidden Planet. I’ve always enjoyed Leslie Nielsen as an actor but…