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If you’re looking for a list of influential science fiction films, one title that consistently turns up is Forbidden Planet. Considered one of the great science fiction films of the 1950s, the film set the bar for many films to follow. The film follows the crew of the C-57D as it travels to the distant planet Altair IV to follow up on a mission that went there and disappeared 20 years previously.
The story can be considered a loose retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play where sailors from a distant land encounter the sorcerer Prospero (who controls the spirit Ariel) and his beautiful daughter Miranda, who has never seen any man except for her father. In the film then, Prospero is Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), one of two survivors of a previous mission to Altair IV, Miranda is Morbius’ daughter Altaira (Anne Francis), Ariel is the ever helpful robot Robby and the sailors are Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) and his crew, though it could be argued that the commander is also an analogue to Ferdinand, the nobleman who ultimately marries Miranda.
The film contains a number of firsts: its the first to depict humans traveling in a faster-than-light vessel; it was the first to take place entirely on another planet besides Earth (the story opens with the C-57D in deep space); most notably the film is the first to contain an entirely electronic film score (credited as ‘electronic tonalities’). The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
From the start, you can tell there’s something fishy going on with Dr. Morbius. He’s way too eager for Commander Adams to be on his way back to Earth, and small wonder. It comes out that the first expedition discovered the ruins of an ancient civilization belonging to the Krell, an ancient super-race that accomplished everything you can imagine before mysteriously vanishing overnight. And that’s not all: there’s a giant machine 20 square miles in size located underground, introduced with a scene that almost boggles the imagination.
Weird things begin happening back at the space ship: vital equipment is sabotaged, a crew member is violently killed (literally ripped limb from limb offscreen) and strange footprints from an invisible being (in one of my favorite scenes) are spotted. I remember the first time I watched this film it drove me crazy as to what was stalking the planet. For a while I was convinced that it must be a Krell, a lone survivor as it were, attacking outsiders. But the truth is so much more terrifying. It turns out that the mysterious beast is none other than Dr. Morbius himself, or at least it’s a part of him.
See, when Commander Adams and two of his men discover the Krell ruins, Morbius gave them a tour and showed them a strange machine that had the ability to dramatically increase intelligence. Morbius used it on himself and is now arguably the smartest human alive. But what the scientist fails to realize is that boosting his intelligence gave his subconscious mind access to the large underground machine. That huge machine was the Krell’s greatest accomplishment and their undoing. Having accomplished everything else, the Krell sought to make the final accomplishment: creation by mere thought, simply imagine it and it will appear. It’s not a bad idea, if the conscious mind were all there is. But the Krell had long since forgotten about the subconscious mind, known in psychology as the Id, the reservoir of all our deepest, most primal desires. When the machine was turned on, the Id of every Krell on the planet gained access to a machine with unlimited power. Though they consciously didn’t wish to destroy or kill, their subconscious acted out their secret desires and thus the whole race was wiped out.
Morbius is unwittingly in the same predicament as the Krell, though he cannot consciously use the machine, his subconscious can and has before! Deep down, Morbius only wants to be left alone with his research and daughter, so his Id is acting on these desires and attempting to ‘eliminate’ the problem. It’s a horrifying moment, when the scientist realizes he is the monster. And speaking of the monster, the one glimpse you do get of the Id monster is the stuff of nightmares.
Robby the Robot provides several moments of humor throughout the story (he has a very dry wit), including a memorable exchange with Altaira:
Altaira: “Robby, I must have a new dress made right away!”
Forbidden Planet is definitely a must-see film for any fan of science fiction cinema and if you haven’t seen it before I hope you’re inspired to go check it out. If you have seen the film, what did you think about it and the revelation of the Id monster? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below 🙂
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