Welcome to SciFiNow’s long-running feature that gives you the chance to vote for the greatest sci-fi film of all time. Every issue for the next ten months the industry’s best writers will campaign for their favourite film from a shortlist of ten, with our readers ultimately deciding which film deserves the accolade of Greatest Sci-Fi Film Of All Time.
Today, James Rundle argues the case for Fred M Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet.
Everyone has that moment where they fall in love with film. More importantly, everyone has that defining point when they realise that they’ve not only fallen in love with science fiction as well, but they’re considering moving in with it and starting a family. For me, that moment was the first time that I saw Forbidden Planet, broadcast through a small, grainy television set on a bored Sunday afternoon when I was a child. As I’ve grown older, my enthusiasm for it hasn’t dulled in the slightest. Indeed, my appreciation for it has grown as I’ve come to understand the genre, and film as a whole, and the reasons for why it really is the greatest film ever made within science fiction.
For starters, the pedigree of the story plays a lot into it for me. Forbidden Planet is essentially a science fiction retelling of The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, and unlike many other attempts at translating the Bard’s work into another medium, it’s lost none of its power or resonance. How many can say they weren’t haunted and intrigued by the story of the Bellerophon when the shot pans out to show the graves of the original crew? How many can say that they don’t sympathise with Morbius, who although egotistical and proud, wants little more than to protect his daughter and preserve the immense discovery he’s made? Can you honestly say that Leslie Nielsen’s John J Adams, a true precursor to Captain James T Kirk, isn’t one of the coolest captains pre-Shatner (and, some might argue, post-Shatner)?
Let’s also not forget how groundbreaking the film was as well. The special effects sequences with the Monster From The Id, the landing of United Planets Cruiser C-57D and the Great Machine of the Krell have all been used again and again in various forms, influencing the entire genre. Robby The Robot became an icon of Fifties science fiction and has endured to this day as an instantly recognisable pop culture symbol. More importantly for film, Forbidden Planet was the first to use a completely electronic score, credited as ‘electric tonalities’, and composed by Louis and Bebe Barron, who were criminally looked over for an Oscar due to the fact that the duo weren’t members of the Musician’s Union.
Aside from technical achievements, however, what Forbidden Planet really has that so many films seem to lack these days, is that old MGM gloss of quality. It seems theatrical without being too showy. It’s funny and slightly corny, without being too far removed from its dramatic core. In many ways it’s the quintessential science fiction film. It has all of the elements that we love from classic genre fare, from robots and flying saucers to existential questions about human nature. It challenges and tests the form, particularly for the time when it was made, just after The Day The Earth Stood Still had elevated science fiction from very much a B-movie category to a genre worthy of A-class production. It took that opportunity with both hands and ran with it through giant polygonal doors, over vast chasms of machinery and into the heart of man’s psyche.
For more on Forbidden Planet, speed over to the next page…