This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Chris Richmond’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
This is one of those dicey times when I have to figure out how to balance a film's influence and importance with its independent value, but my conclusion is that this film is absolutely overrated.
Forbidden Planet boasts a very cool and then-spectacularly innovative score, consisting of electronic beeps and drones that have been imitated in the decades since almost any time a "classic UFO" makes an appearance. It also contains some of the most impressive visual effects you'll find in any 1950's film.
That's not to say it's realistic. Quite the opposite, in fact. From the clearly painted backgrounds to the cartoonish monster, the visual aspect of Forbidden Planet revolves around a certain aesthetic being pronounced, rather than attempting to actualize a potential future. In that regard, it is highly successful, as the art style is both cohesive and pleasing, a neon-comic endeavor of sorts that captures the era and its visions of the future wonderfully.
Additionally, there are fairly well defined characters inhabiting this story, all played more than adequately, particularly Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Morbius. Commander Adams is a bit of a dull and one-note protagonist, but he's at least a consistent note. Robbie the Robot is always a treat on-screen, every bit as fun as his namesake. Earl Holliman's "Cook" (Seriously, that's all his character is credited as) is successful in his function as the comic relief, and Anne Francis is gorgeous, a fact amplified by the near-ubiquitous presence of a mini-skirt that was no doubt controversial at the time.
But that leads me to the first of several negative points: Even for the 1950's, this script is pretty awful about its treatment of the only woman here. She's objectified right from the start, existing almost entirely as a prize to be competed for among the men, and this is only exacerbated by her father's near-pimping of her.
To make matters worse, she falls head over heels in no time for the rough and tough Commander whose only interaction to that point has been to scold her for letting other men kiss her before doing the same. Yikes. And then of course she turns on her father, the only person she's known for 19 fucking years, in favor of this dude she's interacted with for literally a couple hours total. Super believable.
Speaking of believability, that's not at all one of Forbidden Planet's strengths. From the silly and borderline stupid approach of the astronauts' defense against the monster (Let's walk right up to it while we shoot it even though we've been shooting it to absolutely zero effect for what feels like entire minutes, that'll probably work!) to the very nature of the Krell's self-destruction (A race this advanced wouldn't know to test out this kind of machine in a smaller setting before employing it? A race this advanced wouldn't have other planets colonized? A race this advanced wouldn't have figured out what was happening in time to save the entire planet? I could go on, but simply put: I don't fucking buy it. At all.) to the weird and unexplained visualization of an entire 3-D foot based solely on the impression of a footprint (You guys were astonished when you witnessed technology that merely replicated molecules, but you're able to magically ascertain the shape of something just from having the underside of it?), there's a broad undercurrent of clumsiness throughout.
And when it's not clumsy, it's campy or outright cheesy. With a less serious approach, maybe this would be endearing, but here it's totally detrimental. The dialogue, the delivery of said dialogue, and the editing are all, at intervals, contributory to this undercutting of an otherwise well-earned tone, disallowing any kind of actual stoic consideration of the themes laid out.
Of course, that might not have mattered much anyway, given how overt and weirdly preachy those themes are when brought up. Side note: it's weird as hell that religion gets pushed here on three or four occasions, despite having no involvement with the plot or characters whatsoever, and the Commander's implied equating of its importance to our future development with law is not only an example of this being dated, it's nonsensical.
I promise I'm not one of those edgy atheists who can't handle God or religion being present in art (again, The Tree of Life is my second favorite film), but this was totally out of left field and just silly. For that matter, it's hard to imagine why the Commander asserted that "law" would save us from these kind of situations either. Were the Krell lawless? Surely not. What an asinine observation.
Yet another of the problems with this film is its pacing. From about the 15-minute mark to the one hour mark, virtually nothing happens. The vast majority of this runtime consists of either tiresome dialogue or awkward smooching, which would be fine if said dialogue was anything more than exposition and needless science lessons about Krell tech from the good doctor. Despite the foreboding warnings, there's just not a sense of urgency at all or really any kind of interaction past the Commander telling the Doctor what to do and the Doctor replying, "Nah."
There's originally a sort of competition between the Commander and his second-in-command over Altaira, Morbius's daughter, but that's quashed almost immediately (again with pretty much no explanation), and it's not like we care at all who she chooses (if anyone) regardless.
Even visually, the composition here is only "decent," and there's very little done with the camera or editing to enhance the look. There's a nice top-down shot inside the Krell chamber and a couple of pans, but that's really the extent of it.
Forbidden Planet is no doubt an important film, its impact on the sci-fi genre unquestionably large. It's just too bad it's not nearly as good a film as its awesome title and poster would indicate.