10 July 2004 | bob the moo
A great sci-fi that rose above the 'reds are a-coming' level of its peers and delivered an intelligent script with some humour in an attractive film that has stood up well over the years
A space ship has carried out the year long journey from Earth to the remote planet Altair-5 with orders to check on a scientific posting there. They find only one small compound on the whole planet home to scientist Dr Edward Morbius, his daughter Altaira and a fantastic robot called Robby. Learning of the deaths of the others of the original group, Commander Adams decides to stay until he can contact Earth for further orders. However 'something' else is on the planet with them and the ship is subject to sabotage of key equipment. Things escalate when members of the crew are attacked and the full extent of the dangers on the planet become more and more clear.
I have seen quite a few trashy sci-fi's from the 1950's because I rather enjoy their b-movie qualities but this is far from being a genre film because it stands out from the usual sci-fi's that act as an allegory for communism (whether deliberate or in hindsight) because this film is very intelligent although I assume it was based on the fears of the period as well, or at least I'd like to think so. Certainly, at a time when nuclear war and technology was risking the Earth, it seems only fitting that the film send a message about the destructive power of technology that the Krell were not ready to use. The script is quite intelligent even if the plot has plenty of holes in it if you're looking for them. The idea of a destructive power within the subconscious is interesting and well delivered and it is certainly a lot more thought provoking than many other sci-fi's of the period. It also has a good mix of comedy in the form of the cook and, surprisingly, Robby the Robot (one of the most famous robots in cinema history) but mainly the film succeeds because of the interesting concept and good delivery.
It's not all perfect of course and some of the plot holes are a bit of a pain if you really want to pick at them and also the need for a 'happy' ending spoils what should have been a much darker conclusion I don't understand why the script spent so much time warning only to offer an optimistic view of the self same things that it had warned against. However, it doesn't overdo this aspect and it still works well enough
The cast are roundly solid even if some of the performances are a little bit stiff and just what you'd expect from the genre. Certainly these actors are not as adept at interacting with special effects as those working with green screen lots are they generally look clunky when they are firing lasers or interacting with the beast. It's hard to watch Nielsen in straight roles now that I've grown up with him in his Police Squad style material but he is good enough for his material here even if he is a little bit wooden at times. Pidgeon is also a bit wooden but it fits his character and the genre and his performance is good. Anne Francis is a little off but she is a little minx and she serves her purpose on the whole. I appear to be one of the few viewers who liked Holliman's work as the comic relief cook but I must admit to finding the rest of the crew (including Kelly and Stevens) to be quite workmanlike even if they weren't 'bad' per se.
Overall this is a great piece of sci-fi that has stood up really well over the past 50 or so years. The film may look rather quaint by today's standards but it is intelligent, funny and thought provoking true, it's not really high art but it is certainly heads and shoulders above the standards set by the rest of the genre. Not as spectacular or as action-based as many of our modern sci-fi's but it just has different qualities and is a great film that I'm surprised is not more highly considered or even mentioned on the IMDb top 250!