60 Years of Forbidden Planet

At the time of its creation in 1956, Forbidden Planet was the most expensive science fiction movie ever made.  The MGM production team went all out, and the resulting film was a technical marvel, breaking new ground in special effects, set design, and sound.  Though it struggled to make its money back upon release, the film had staying power as a landmark of ambitious cinema.  Before long Forbidden Planet took on a new stature and influenced a generation of filmmakers and authors, paving the way for future sci-fi endeavors like Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Star Wars.  

The film made its premiere on March 15, 1956, at a time when science fiction films were relegated to B-movie status, and the idea of far-off, futuristic worlds was just hitting the mainstream.  Here we are, 60 years later, and the image of Robby the Robot carrying an overwrought Altaira has become an icon.  The film itself has landed on numerous “best of” lists, and Robby became a star in his own right, appearing in many films and TV shows in the 50s and 60s,including The Twilight Zone and The Addams Family.  His form is also the inspiration for The Robot from Lost in Space (and they even battled in a 1963 episode.)

At the time of Forbidden‘s release, Walter Pidgeon was a legitimate Hollywood star, having made Oscar winners and box office hits like How Green Was My Valley and Mrs. Miniver.  His name brought legitimacy to the project, and helped justify the budget.  Despite his clout, the big-budget project was viewed with skepticism prior to release. (Steve Forrest reportedly refused to appear in the film and was suspended by MGM.)

Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen were in the early stage of what would become lasting acting careers.  For years after, Nielsen would play similar leading man roles — the no-nonsense straight man — in many films and TV shows, but reinvented himself to great success as a deadpan goofball in Zucker-brothers projects like Airplane and Police Squad, peaking with the successful Naked Gun series of films through the mid-1990s. Francis popped up in films from time to time (Funny Girl, Born Again), but made mostly television appearances, notably as the star of Honey West and with credits in shows like My Three Sons, The Twilight Zone, Columbo, and Dallas.  She died in 2011.

The movie’s legacy will surely live on for decades to come.  Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin cites it as his favorite film and sums up the essence of its legacy:  “It’s just amazing.”

Theaters and galleries around the country will be screening the film this quarter to commemorate the anniversary.  Venues include Cinema Maestro in Cavallo, NY; BIIFA Film Club in Birmingham, AL, the Joslyn Art Gallery in Omaha, NE; Ristretto in Portland, OR.  Check local media for other events and screenings near you.