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Forbidden Planet

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General Information:
Year Released: 1956
Country: US
Director: Fred Wilcox

Forbidden Planet was another 1950's science fiction box office success, containing a mixture of technological paranoia (computers and technology ultimately destroyed the galaxy's most advanced race) and optimism (space flight is ubiquitous, mankind is flourishing, and Robby the Robot is every housewife's dream come true).

The film begins with a very squeaky-clean and positive view of science and technology.

The first piece of "alien" technology we are introduced to is Robby the Robot. Robby is another perfectly crafted work -- he is self-sufficient and perfectly loyal to his human masters. When we are first introduced to the rest of the technology of the Krell, it too is pristine. It shows no signs of wear and tear, despite its incredible age. It was perfectly crafted millions of years ago, and is entirely self-sustaining.

The first conflict surrounding technology in Forbidden Planet comes when Dr. Morbius and Adams fight about the distribution of this amazing alien technology. Morbius discovered it and has turned it into his life's work. He has spent years sitting in front of the Krell's computer terminal decoding their language and trying to understand their science. Despite the greatness of his discoveries and their potential benefit to humanity, he does not feel that this information should be shared with anyone else. He sincerely believes that knowledge should be kept by the elite few who are good enough to understand it -- which excludes everyone but himself.

Although this viewpoint is seemingly in error, the circumstances surrounding the Krell's technology make it correct in this case. Once we learn that the Krell were essentially destroyed by their self-inflicted dependency on machines, it becomes evident that some information should be kept from us. This film tells us that technology can be a good thing, but we must be careful to not allow it to eclipse humanity.

At the end of the film, the planet of Altair IV is destroyed, along with all of its high technology. This is a necessary step to prevent mankind from going the same route that the Krell did. "Let's hope when the human race reaches the same level of development as the Krell it will be better equipped to handle it," says Adams.

The Promise of Science: Alien Life

Extraterrestrial intelligence is also never physically encountered in Forbidden Planet (1956, US). Extensive remnants of an ancient, highly advanced civilization are discovered when space-travelling earth men visit the distant planet Altair IV. There is no direct interaction with alien beings in this film, as they no longer exist. However, enough of their technology is left over to produce a hostile confrontation.

According to Dr. Morbius (AIFF, 5mb), the Krell were a million years ahead of humans, both ethically and technologically. They managed to completely suppress (not eradicate) their "basic" selves, freeing their culture from sickness, insanity and crime. Their music (AIFF, 800k) sounds very different from ours; the film implies that it, too, is more advanced.

The Krell became extinct, virtually overnight. The whole race was collectively working on a project to move themselves into the next phase of evolution when they suddenly disappeared. They were seeking a way to leave their physical bodies behind and cease relying on tools. The underground complex was intended to provide the Krell with the capability of using their mental power to control physical reality, which it did -- all too well. When the Krell fused themselves with the machine, their suppressed animal selves were amplified and destroyed everything on the planet.

The only clue given to the physical appearance of the Krell is the shape of their doors. Unlike most aliens in film, they are not implicitly humanoid.

The Promise of Science: Space Travel

The flying saucer from Earth.

Interstellar space flight is portrayed imaginatively in Forbidden Planet. This film is set far in the future, when men have explored many of the far reaches of the universe. Unlike many of this film's predecessors, rockets are not used for space travel. Instead, a flying saucer (complete with artificial gravity unit and hyper-drive) is the vehicle of choice.

Space travel is not the central event of this film, as it is in previous films. Travelling through space is nothing special to the people in the film. It is merely another aspect of life in the future, similar in function to today's methods of transportation. Instead of being manned by a small group of adventurers or scientists like the films we have examined so far, the crew of the saucer is similar to the crew of a military boat. Responsibilities are divided between a captain, first mate, communications officer, cook, etc.

The eqipment encountered in the saucer is pristine, ubiquitous and works perfectly. Human technology does not fail its users.

The Promise of Science: Computers

Almost as large is the computer complex in Forbidden Planet, although it is located entirely underground. Its neverending energy source is the core of the planet, and it has been running for thousands of years. Despite its great age, it shows no signs of wear and tear, as it is able to repair and maintain itself. This computer system is different from many others that appear in SF film because it is neither good nor bad. It simply exists to serve those who built it.

Unfortunately, those who built it have been extinct for over two thousand years. The computer complex was built to accomodate and magnify the mental power of all Krell, so they could download themselves into it and abandon their physical bodies. However, they forgot to accomodate their repressed lower-level instincts when designing the machine, and these were magnified to the point of destroying the entire civilization.

Interestingly enough, the machine has the same effect on the humans that are visiting the planet centuries later. The computer (and therefore the planet) has to be destroyed in order to protect mankind.

This is a shot of the enormous underground cavern containing the Krell's computer system.

The Promise of Science: Robots

Robby the Robot short-circuits when instructed to shoot Adams, demonstrating his inability to harm humans.

A second machine that is incapable of harming humans is Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet. Despite his clunky appearance, he is a technological wonder, serving humans as a driver, cook, maid and performer of heavy labor. There is nothing menacing or threatening about Robby at all.

Robby the Robot is an invention of the extinct Krell. He is built by Dr. Morbius from plans found in the Krell computer system, and is far more advanced than anything created by mankind. He is highly adaptable, capable of learning new tasks and understanding human instructions. Complete loyalty to his human masters is demonstrated when he short-circuits when given an instruction to harm Adams. Later, when instructed to destroy the invisible monster, he also short circuits, providing evidence that the monster is a version of Morbius.

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. erika . .
. last modified: Feb 5, 2001 .