Classic Sci-Fi: FORBIDDEN PLANET - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Just recently I've been watching a lot of 1950s sci-fi B-movies; The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Blob, Earth vs The Flying Saucers and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers to name but 4. But for me, one title stood out above most of the other genre films of the era, and it's one that much to my shame I've only just now discovered for the first time. Before watching it the only thing I knew about this movie was that Robby The Robot was in it. But I found more than that mechanical legend, I found a cautionary tale about progress and technology, and the social evolution necessary for its appropriate and safe use. I found a cracking sci-fi adventure, with themes of horror (non-graphical) and romance, with witty repartee and intelligence, with (surprisingly good) special effects and drama, all of which come together to make Forbidden Planet a very entertaining movie.

Forbidden Planet is the story of a crew of male space explorers who carry out a year long journey, via flying saucer, traveling hundreds of millions of light years from earth to check-in on Altair-5 - a colony founded 25 years ago. What they find there is a robot more advanced than anything imaginable on earth, a beautiful and totally socially inept young woman and her father, a hermit philologist haunted by more than the demons of the ancient civilization he has immersed himself in. There is also 'something' else on the planet with them, and after their starship is subjected to sabotage of key equipment things escalate as members of the crew are attacked and the full extent of the dangers on the 'forbidden planet' become more and more clear.

Anne Francis, who plays Altaira Morbius, is not an actress I'm overly aware of. She's clearly a very beautiful woman, with that classic Hollywood 'dreamgirl' look that so many actresses of the era seemed to have. I suspect this may have won her the part over her acting chops. I'd like to say things have changed in the last 60 years, but have they really? I think Hollywood still values beauty as a major asset when casting. But Francis isn't the only beautiful aspect of this film. The special effects, and even the aesthetics of the backdrops create a powerful image. There's a goofy retro-art-deco-ness of the 1950s sci-fi props and models - the great flying-saucer design of the starship, the crew's baseball-cap uniforms, the electronic score, and the opening narrator ballyhooing mankind's "conquest" of space all add a quaint yesteryear charm to the film's robust retro-future vibe. Somewhere between the two you're left with an almost timeless appearance, and a movie which looks like its made clever use of every penny of its budget.

If, like me, you've never seen Forbidden Planet before then you may find yourself thinking that you've watched this story play out elsewhere. Likely because the plot itself has been used again and again in shows like Star Trek, Lost in Space, and even Farscape. But even if you think you know what's happening (and you possibly do) it's worth paying close attention, and you'll find that the movie will still sustain the interest of just about any true sci-fi fan.

I mentioned Star Trek there, and I guess this must have been quite an inspiration to Gene Roddenberry whilst he was developing his show. There are various themes which feel similar to that original series (which debuted 12 years after this movie), not least of which Forbidden Planet proceeds along with all the hopefulness for our future that Trek would always depict.

The cast are pretty solid throughout, even if some of the performances are a little bit stiff - but that's kind of what you'd expect from the actors working in this genre at the time. Surprisingly, there's also a very young Leslie Nielsen (pictured above with Anne Francis) in an early straight part. It's hard to watch Nielsen in this kind of role now that I've grown up with him in his Police Squad/Naked Gun style material, but he is good enough here, even if he is a little bit wooden at times.

Forbidden Planet is not perfect throughout, there are some plot holes which can be a bit of a pain if you really want to pick at them, but overall it really is a great piece of sci-fi that has stood up really well over the past 58 years. When popping it into your DVD player the film may initially look rather quaint by today's standards, but you'll discover it's intelligent, funny and thought provoking. It's not exactly high art, but it's certainly heads and shoulders above the standards set by the rest of the B-movie genre of the time.

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