Study Guide for Forbidden Planet

1. Filmographic Citation

Forbidden Planet. Dir. Fred Mcleod Wilcox. USA: MGM, 1956. 98 min. Fred M. Wilcox, story. Irving Block and Allen Adler, script. Story developed from William Shakespeare's The Tempest.

2. Major Cast

Dr. Morbius: Walter Pidgeon Altaira Morbius: Anne Francis
Lt. "Doc" Ostrow: Warren Stevens Lt. Farman: Jack Kelly
Chief Quin: Richard Anderson Cook: Earl Holliman
Bosum: George Wallace Commander J. J. Adams*: Leslie Nielsen
The Monster from the Id Robbie the Robot

* CO, United Planet Cruiser C57D

3. Setting

The distant planet Altair IV in 2200 C.E., three years after last contact with the Earth colonists there.

From J. Baxter: "Elaborate beyond the dreams of sf fans, Forbidden Planet...was and still is the most remarkable of sf films, the ultimate recreation of the future, a studio-bound extravaganza where every shot is taken under artificial light and on a sound stage. The system begun by George Pal had reached its logical conclusion; everything was false, everything controlled. Reality was not permitted to intrude on this totally manufactured, totally believable world" (110-111).

4. Plot

Cmdr. Adams et al. arrive on Altair IV in the Bellerephon to find all the Terran colonists wiped out, except for Dr. Morbius (corresponding to Prospero in The Tempest), his daughter Altaira (Miranda), and Robbie the Robot (the Ariel figure). The Caliban figure-a monster-is that which destroyed the colonists and, as things turn out, the Krel before them: the original inhibitants of Altair IV. The plot turns on identifying the monster and getting rid of it-and laying the groundwork for a marriage between Altaira and a suitable male (the Ferdinand figure).

5. Comments and Questions

In The Tempest, Prospero finally looks at the monster Caliban and says, "This thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine" (5.1.275-6). The line needn't have any profound meaning in context, but Leslie Fiedler, for one, has pointed out its obvious possibilities. How is the monster in Forbidden Planet more blatantly something of Dr. Morbius-and our own?

The Tempest lightly raises some questions on politics, ethics, art. What questions does Forbidden Planet raise on, say, gender politics and human relations with machinery and our desires?

In the rock opera based on Forbidden Planet, the female characters are fairly strong-stronger than Miranda in The Tempest-and there are more of them. How do you find the presentation of Altaira?

Vivian Sobchack distinguishes between monster Horror movies and more science fictional creature features. Forbidden Planet is a useful test case for her idea that Horror films tend to look deeply at flawed individuals, often succumbing to the animal in us, while creature features are more external, more social (and SF film usually comments on intellect). In Forbidden Planet, we have a Monster from the Id, as internal as one can like, and explicitly represents the beast within. "The exception proves"-i.e., tests-"the rule." How internal is that Monster from the Id, how animal? Or is Forbidden Planet "really" warning us about mind and intellect and the dangers of technology? All of the above? Some? None? More sensibly, where would you put Forbidden Planet on various spectra on beast vs. machine, body vs. intellect-or whatever?

Works Consulted

Baxter, John. Science Fiction in the Cinema. Ed. Peter Cowie. New York: Paperback Library, 1970.

Parish, James Robert and Michael R. Pitts. The Great Science Fiction Pictures. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1977.