Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

Fred Wilcox's FORBIDDEN PLANET

Fred Wilcox's FORBIDDEN PLANET

Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald

The Movie

When I was a kid, this movie scared me, especially the Id Monster’s attack on the starship’s sleeping crew.

When I was a young man I was enthralled by the colors and sound, despite the period costumes and pop psychology.

Now my kids are college age and I am trying to overcome their initial amusement. My daughter, for example, thinks that the starship crew’s hats are “cute,” although I think she really means “silly” but doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.

Me, well, I think of Forbidden Planet is sort of like a “comfort movie,” one I can watch repeatedly and never grow tired of, despite its faults. Why do I like it so much? A few things really stand out.

First, it’s a total fabrication. There’s nothing real here, other than the people and the animals. Everything is done on sets and with miniatures, props, matte paintings, dioramas, optical effects, and animation. The art direction is just terrific. You can tell a LOT of work has gone into creating alien worlds and machines.

Second, the movie has several scenes of breathtaking imagination or beauty. Most striking are the views of the starship as it approaches Altair IV and enters the atmosphere. The eclipse of Altair itself is a beauty but watch the ship as it angles into the planet’s atmosphere. These gorgeous outer space scenes would not be matched again till Kubrick’s “2001.”

Also watch the scenes of the planet’s surface as seen by the crew through the starship’s view screen; the visual effect here is surprisingly realistic.

And, I still cannot help but be awed by the marvelous views of the Krell’s ventilation shaft and the buzzing machines moving up and down their tracks. The matted in view of the tiny humans on the catwalk viewed from above completes the effect. This sense of scale and space has few equals. Even the interior of the alien spacecraft in ALIEN does not match the scale here, and one can begin to imagine what the interior of the spacecraft in the novel RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA would look like were that ever to be filmed.

Third, the music, or should I say, electronic “tonalities.” This is the 1950’s and we have an entire movie where both the music and a significant portion of the sound effects are created electronically! For a long time a lot of people probably thought this was what outer space is SUPPOSED to sound like.

Fourth, some of the mechanical design details are beautifully realized. At the top of the list is Robby the Robot, sort of a mechanical giant gumball machine on legs with neon lights and clattering switches. Note also the workmanship and detail of several of the set elements, including the miniature spacecraft in the moving Plexiglass globe used for navigation on the starship, and the Krell “brain booster” with its adjustable sensors. They look very polished and realistic in close-ups and are on a level with the lovely spinning-disc Time Machine in George Pal’s movie.

Yes, the story and dialog are corny and derivative. Robby the Robot has some overly cute scenes, and references to sex and romance are hopelessly dated and at times laughable. But I love the overall look, feel, and sound of the film. It’s as if the technology and imagery of thousands of pulp science fiction magazine and paperback book covers has been distilled and displayed on the big screen for public view.

The DVD

It’s a pity that the DVD does not have any significant extras. Fortunately I own the double edition of CINEFANTASTIQUE magazine (vol. 8, nos. 2 and 3) which contains a book’s worth of detail about the making of this movie. And I’ve heard rumors of a special edition due out in 2006.

Postscript

In one of the scenes Dr. Morbius remarks to the starship crew that no images of the Krell have survived, but that by looking at their doorways (sort of an inverted “V” with angled-in spaces at the bottom) we can begin to imagine what they might have looked like. These doorways are quite unusual and do not normally occur in the real world.

But they do! If you ever ate at the now-defunct KAHIKI “Polynesian” restaurant in Columbus, Ohio you would have seen several examples of the Krell doorway, one of which lead to the gift shop. (Insert “Twilight Zone” music here.)

Review copyright (c) 2006 by Dennis D. McDonald

Update

on 2012-11-29 15:39 by Dennis D. McDonald

I just purchased the Blu-ray edition. This is the review I posted on Amazon:

I own the DVD edition in the metal box that contains the miniature Robby but wanted to see what the Blu-ray edition looked like.
It’s beautiful. No it’s not as sharp and clear as PROMETHEUS but the colors and details are just fantastic. Skin tones and details are particularly revealing and fresh looking and do contribute to the drama. The standouts are the sets and the special effects.
The outside night views of the ship against the sky and stars are stunning and I am still amazed at the beauty of the ship’s entry into the atmosphere at the beginning. The interior sets also look amazing; Morbius’ study looks remarkably fresh.
I am still impressed with how well this movie holds up after all these years. Quality production values and a top notch story make all the difference.
John Lasseter & Joe Ranft's CARS

John Lasseter & Joe Ranft's CARS

Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS (Kino edition)

Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS (Kino edition)