When I was growing up, local TV stations would often run old movies in their less-than-prime-time slots. This obviously saved them money, but it also ensured that the younger generation was exposed to the past glory of film. The Forbidden Planet was such a movie.
It was made in 1956 and was the first attempt by Hollywood to make a serious SF film for adults. Before that, such movies were not taken seriously and the Flash Gordon serials were about as good as it got. The film had an outstanding look that we now think of as “retro” and the special effects were top drawer for the time (no wires can be seen). The acting was very good and the script was based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
This film had a pronounced effect on science fiction movies to come. The main characters of the flying saucer’s crew are very reminiscent of Kirk, Bones, and Spock (captain, scientist, and doctor). The production design was influential as well; you can see the interior of the planet’s underground city looks a lot like the Death Star. Things that we consider common elements of space opera like blasters, robots, and alien races are also features of the film.
The only fault I can make of The Forbidden Planet is that it is a product of its time. Space al-la 1950’s seems to be peopled entirely with white people and most of them men. The one female character acts in a very stereotypical way. To be honest, I don’t think the producers of the film were trying to make any racist or sexist statement…it was just the soup they all were swimming in back then.
Despite its flaws, I recommend the movie. It’s a classic and can reveal where we as SF fans come from and how far we have traveled since 1954.
By Clayton J. Callahan