Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Explore Forbidden Planet

When he died in November 2010, Leslie Nielsen was largely feted for the comedies he made in the latter part of his career (Airplane, The Naked Gun!).

But don't forget the Canadian-born actor also appeared in one of the best science-fiction films ever made, the 1956 MGM release, Forbidden Planet.

The story, based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, is solid. The special effects are still impressive more than 50 years after Forbidden Planet's release. Electronic music by Louis and Bebe Baron is eerie and adds to the film's mood. The Soundtrack is light years ahead what viewers of They Came From Beyond Space had to suffer through (see my earlier posting).

Commander Adams (Nielsen) heads a spaceship crew on a mission to Altair-IV. A scientific party landed on the star, more than a year away from Earth, 20 years earlier. Now in 2257, the mission of the United Planets crew is to check for survivors.

Professor Edward Morbius (Walter Pigeon) is the only person still alive. He definitely doesn't want to be rescued.

His colleagues were killed by an invisible beast. Others died when their spaceship was destroyed trying to leave Altair-IV.

Morbius has a daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis). She's a looker. There's just a hint of tension of 19 very smart, and young, men spending more than a year in space and stumbling upon a blond beauty in this otherwise barren planet. The romantic triangle between Adams, Lieut. Jerry Forman (Jack Kelly) and Altaira is the film's weakest point. Handled better, this could have added to the film's tension.

Adams is convinced Morbius knows more about what happened to the rest of his scientific party years earlier and now acts of sabotage and murder on his ship. Just how much does Morbius know about an ancient civilization on Altair-IV that was a million years ahead of mankind in intellectual development? His research skills have helped him tap the civilization's language.

There's some comedic relief with Cook (Earl Holliman) which is mildly funny, but doesn't really fit in with the rest of Forbidden Planet.

This film's strength is its intelligent script touching on power, possessiveness and the potential for violence. Pigeon is well cast as Morbius. He's a towering presence and commands the screen. Nielsen plays it earnestly straight as the ship's commander. Some of his dialogue could have been ripe for spoofing in those later comedies he made. Still, he is believable in the role.

Forbidden Planet is the second-last film directed by Fred M. Wilcox. He died in 1960. His other credits include The Secret Garden and two Lassie films.

The public library in my community only had a VHS copy of Forbidden Planet. Viewers who've seen the special edition on DVD are encouraged to leave their comments about that release and the quality of the extras.

Rating: 9/10

Forbidden Planet (1956, 99 minutes, CinemaScope).
Cast: Walter Pigeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Warren Stevens, Jack Kelly, Earl Hollman.

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