Forbidden Planet

From Academic Kids

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A film poster for Forbidden Planet

This article is about the movie Forbidden Planet. For information about the bookstore chain of the same name see Forbidden Planet (bookstore).

Forbidden Planet is a classic 1956 science fiction film and a subsequent novelization by W.J. Stuart. The film features a number of spectacular special effects, groundbreaking use of an all-electronic music score, and was the first screen appearance of the famous Robby the Robot; the film's characters and setting were inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest, though the plot is very different. Also notable is its very effective execution and use of well designed sets, props and soundstage scenic paintings.



In the film, the space cruiser C-57-D is sent to planet Altair IV to search for survivors of the ill-fated Bellerophon Expedition, lost some twenty years hence. On arrival, they find the ship being scanned by some immense power source, and they are contacted by the sole survivor of the expedition, Doctor Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon). Upon landing, they are met by Robby the Robot, who takes them to Morbius' home. Morbius explains that within a year of the expedition arriving, some unknown force had wiped them out overnight, except for himself, his wife (who died of natural causes), and his infant daughter. He fears the same may happen to the starship, though he has no fears for himself, as he and his daughter have been unharmed since then, and his house has an interesting array of high-tech defenses. The captain (played by Leslie Nielsen) queries such technological abilities on the part of Morbius, whose speciality, as philologist on the original expedition, had been in languages.

Morbius shows the captain what he has been working on for the last twenty years. He had been reconstructing the history and some of the minor technologies (such as Robby) of the Krell, the planet's native race, who had all died in one mysterious night of total destruction two thousand centuries before. He shows them a Krell nursery; this includes an "education machine" that instantly killed one person who tried it and put Morbius himself into a coma for almost two days, though he recovered with an IQ that was doubled. Then he shows them the interior of the planet where a vast underground machine powered by a countless number of thermonuclear reactors has been operating, self-repairing and self-maintaining, for some unknown purpose, for all the millennia since the death of the Krell. The effects shots of the Great Machine are well done, showing miles-deep shafts with huge and incomprehensible structures moving up and down and vast energy discharges passing between them.

Things get interesting for the captain when he meets Morbius' beautiful but extremely naïve daughter Altaira (Anne Francis). Now nineteen years old, she is very curious about human relations and the captain's second in command, establishing the tradition so avidly followed by James T. Kirk, enlightens her on some aspects of this. At night while Morbius sleeps in the Krell nursery and power meters all round the walls start going off the scale, the ship comes under attack from some invisible being made of pure energy. Morbius is awakened by his daughter screaming from a nightmare; the attacker vanishes and the power meters revert back to near zero. The starship's doctor sneaks in to use the education machine and although he dies from its effects he gasps out his realisation of what killed the Krell; the huge machine was for the materialisation of any object desired, making the Krell able to produce anything they wanted at a mere thought. But: "They forgot one thing, John. Monsters! Monsters from the Id!"

Though the Krell considered themselves civilized, their unconscious minds also had access to the machineries and the race was wiped out in one night of frenzied destruction as the Great Machine enabled the acting out of their unconscious urges. In the confrontation that follows with Morbius, he realises that his session with the Educator had attuned his mind to the machinery and he (or, rather, his wish to be left alone to study the Krell) had been responsible for the deaths of the rest of the expedition. Though he realises that his daughter is of an age where she really should be meeting other people and forming relationships, other, darker desires of his have control over the machinery, prompting the attack on the starship that might take his daughter away. His daughter ultimately declares her love for the captain and chooses to leave the planet with him, despite the risks posed by the planet's forces.

In the ultimate attack of the machine the entire power of the generators is directed to a single force that attempts to break into the inner sanctum where the principals have fled - the Krell nursery with its power monitors. The life of Morbius ends from exhaustion in resisting the monster attacking his refuge, and also from the shock of the realization that the monster is in fact responding to his unconscious mind and that he was indirectly the cause of the death of his fellow scientists. Before his death (not seen) and as the only means to protect everyone else from destruction by another Machine-powered monster he instructs the captain to initiate the self-destruction of the Machine; he has finally realized that it is far too dangerous to be used by any race without full control over its mental processes.

About the film

Overall, though it preceded the television series by some years, Forbidden Planet is remarkably like one of the better Star Trek episodes: it could easily have been (but never was) adapted as an episode in that series, complete with the starship captain's amorous entanglements with the girl. Gene Roddenberry admitted in his biography Star Trek Creator that Forbidden Planet was one of the inspirations for Star Trek. Some would dispute that the captain of Forbidden Planet was of this character - he only was described as such by another character who himself several times attempted to take advantage of Altaira's naiveté (once in a scene not included in the DVD but previously seen in TV releases), and the captain's actions and perceived intentions were always beyond reproach - both in his command duties and in his personal relations.

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The Great Machine on Altair IV.

For contemporary viewers, some of the technologies featured on the human starship are interesting, both in their relationship to how human technology has actually developed, and in terms of their influence on later science fiction. The starship has an unspecified drive system that allows travel over interstellar distances in short times. By contrast, the ship is navigated manually - at the film's conclusion, the fact that Robby can navigate the ship is considered a novelty. Approximately a half-century later, faster-than-light travel seems as impossible as ever, but the idea of requiring manual calculations to navigate a ship is now ridiculous in an age of ubiquitous computers. Another notable device featured in the movie is a small crew communication device that may have inspired Star Trek's "Communicator".

Robby the Robot was possibly the most expensive film prop ever constructed at the time: he also featured in the film The Invisible Boy. He made a cameo appearance in the 1980s film Gremlins; he can be seen in the background during a telephone conversation scene at an inventor's convention.

The animated sequences used for the special effects (especially the attack of the Id Monster) were animated by veteran FX animator, Joshua Meador who was loaned to MGM from the Walt Disney Studios for the film. Curiously, shots showing the shape of the invisible Id Monster outlined in the blaster beams were evidently removed from some prints shown on TV -- presumably because its monstrous appearance was considered too terrifying for younger viewers -- and it was many years before these shots were restored. The Id Monster also resembles the Looney Tunes character "The Tasmanian Devil".

The adamantine steel of the Krell towers which fell into the soil of the planet and which were used by Morbius to create protection for his residence share a common etymological origin with the fictional metal adamantium.

After the movie came out, there followed a novelization by W.J. Stuart. In some ways, the book is superior to the film, because of its insights into the mystery of the Krell, and Morbius' relationship to them. Readers find that, unlike in the movie, Morbius repeatedly exposed himself to the Krell Mind Machine, which expanded his brain power far beyond the most intelligent human. Unfortunately, Morbius retained enough of his imperfect human nature to be afflicted with hubris (his contempt for humanity is obvious), which was ultimately his downfall.

The movie is also an example of Cooper's Law ("All machines are amplifiers"), as exemplified by Morbius's Id using the Krell machines to murder.

As mentioned above, the film was influenced by William Shakespeare's The Tempest, though the plot of the film only superficially resembles the plot of the play. Some of the characters can clearly be lined up with one another:

  • Prospero = Dr. Edward Morbius
  • Miranda = Altaira
  • Ariel = Robby the Robot
  • Caliban = Monster from the Id

However, although the identification of Ferdinand with Captain John J. Adams and Stephano and Trinculo with Cookie is tempting, the characters do not really match up. There are no further identifications for important characters such as Alonso, Antonio, or Sebastian. The "monsters from the Id" can be identified with Caliban ("This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine," said Prospero in The Tempest); and they also may have been inspired by the spirits controlled by Prospero.


Main article: Louis and Bebe Barron#Forbidden Planet

The movie's innovative score was electronic music (credited as Electronic Tonalities), composed by Louis and Bebe Barron. Their score is widely credited with being the first completely electronic film score, and opened the door for electronic music in film.


  • The 1990s television series Babylon 5 also had a Great Machine beneath a planetary surface, and some of the visual effects of that many have thought were plainly done as a homage to the machine in Forbidden Planet. However, J. Michael Straczynski has claimed that he selected the shots he did of the Great Machine for aesthetic reasons, even though he knew many viewers would immediately recognize the resemblance to the Krell underground city.
  • During deceleration from supra-lightspeed, the occupants of the spaceship stand in beams that appear similar to those used in Star Trek's "transporter", although they do not disappear. The transporter design was admittedly influenced by this feature of the movie.
  • The robot "B9" in the television series Lost in Space is quite similar in character to Robby, and also in some mechanical aspects, although far less sophisticated in motion. This is likely due to the fact that both robots were created by the same designer, Robert Kinoshita. B9 combined many of the personal characteristics of Robby - able to calculate, interact socially, yet with a humor that was completely unintended by its (fictional) makers - a situational, rather than a mental wittyness. The domed 'astrogator' unit in the center of C-57-D's control deck is also markedly similar to that featured in Lost In Space's Jupiter 2 spaceship (similarly, both were probably designed by Kinoshita)
  • Forbidden Planet set a high standard for plot, characters, and effects in science fiction movies. A combination of elements of this quality would not be seen again for decades - not until 2001: A Space Odyssey and the first Star Wars movie.
  • In the 1990s, a tongue-in-cheek stage musical adaptation was made, entitled Return to the Forbidden Planet, which had some success.

External links

it:Il pianeta proibito sv:Förbjuden Värld


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