Sunday, January 16, 2011

One A Week Reviews #2: Forbidden Planet

While I'd never seen it all the way through before, once I got myself a blu-ray player, I moved Forbidden Planet to the top of my Netflix queue. With both Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis having recently passed away, and my memories of it from snippets on cable television are of it being a lavishly set-bound and colorful movie. All I knew about it going in was that it was inspired by Shakespeare and that, according to The Rocky Horror Picture Show "Anne Francis stars in 'Forbidden Planet' woah-oh-oh-OH-oh/to the late night/double feature/picture show" Obviously, I thought it was just the thing to show off what the player could do.

If you're not familiar with Forbidden Planet, a space crew from Earth, headed by Nielsen, land on Altair-4, a planet inhabited by the dry, creepy Dr. Morbius, his overripe daughter Alta, and Robby the Robot. The planet had been inhabited by the Krell, and their magnificent matte-painted underground cities, but now their technology lives on only to serve Morbius and his wish-fulfillment fantasies. It increases his intellect and winds up killing a few people by manifesting his Id as an invisible monster. (Oh, hush about spoilers - this movie came out in 1956)

It's a very stilted, silly movie by today's standards, dull as dishwater in places. For every charming, quaint animated special effect there's long slogs of talk-talk-talk, but the charm still comes through. And those effect are charming. The "invisible footprints" still hold up and the matte paintings, even though fantastical, please the eye. Lavish, enormous sets and grade-A production values are the standard here. Miniature work, big cyclorama backdrops, everything here is very stage-bound and expensive, but beautiful. However, the Fifties ponderousness of this take on The Tempest doesn't prevent it from also being downright pervy at heart.

The center of Forbidden Planet seems to be "all impending date rape, all the time." This focus on Alta, who's never met anyone besides her father, and her spaceman love triangle is down right creepy. Sure, she's a girly girl who designs her own jewel-encrusted gowns, but in real life you can't help but think she'd probably have a terrified skittishness at these strangers. Instead they go for "typical Fifties female" with just a hint of simmering libido. She's really rather non-plussed by their appearance after all these years, waiting to get snatched up and married even if she's unfamiliar with the concept.

One also gets the impression she'd have been turned into a bit of a love slave by Morbius, since he certainly comes off as a bit of a creep.When he takes the Krell "test of intelligence" he winds up creating a hologram of his daughter in a mini-skirt. His Id Monster goes to sabotage the ship after Lieutenant Farman kisses his daughter and he nearly does in Captain Adams with a tiger. It's all rude and more than a little passive-aggressive. The first go-round, Morbius cleans off the planet so it'd all be his. This time, the Id is in it just to protect Anne Francis' maidenhead.

Leslie Nielsen is... well, pretty damn dull. His later fame as a comic stems from the same super-serious delivery he employs here. Without that spark of madness he's just kinda wooden, and I'm from a generation conditioned to expect him to spark laughter. Anne Francis has a character that I'm not sure anyone could do well with at that time, but she's lovely enough. Towards the end she starts to stand out as Alta makes proactive choices, but otherwise she's a Fifties movie-gal all the way through.. In reality, she'd be odd, as overly-mannered and educated as she'd be near-feral from lack of exposure to other people. Walter Pidgeon is good, very dry and very "old Hollywood." A definite curio from the Fifties, with it's glacial pacing, shoe-horned-in love story, and ponderous morals, it's still a beautiful, classic movie movie. A satisfying, old-fashioned entertainment
Gotta say, when you see that red-outlined, Tasmanian Devil-looking Id creature, he is pretty nightmarish. He can't be defeated by laser beams or electric fences. No, just lots of scenery-chewing by Leslie Nielsen and Walter Pidgeon can do the critter in, with the help of flashing lights, weird electronic noises, and static shots of the set since the critter's invisible. Forbidden Planet is a beautiful piece of CinemaScope eyecandy. Enjoy.

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