Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Warren Stevens, Jack Kelly, Robby the Robot
Oscar Nominations: Best Effects, Special Effects (A. Arnold Gillespie, Irving G. Ries, Wesley C. Miller)
SUMMARY: In the 23rd century, a spaceship is sent from Earth to check on the condition of a human settlement on the planet Altair IV. This previous settlement was established in a mission 20 years earlier. As the ship approaches Altair, the crew receives a message from one of the settlers, Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), warning them not to land. The ship’s commander, John Adams (Leslie Nielsen), insists on following orders and lands despite the warning. Not long after the ship lands, the crew are visited by Robby the Robot, a highly technical robot who acts as the personal servant to Morbius; the robot takes Adams, Lieutenant Jerry Farman (Jack Kelly) and Lieutenant “Doc” Ostrow (Warren Stevens) to Morbius’ house. There they learn that Morbius is the only surviving member of the 20-person mission; the others were killed by a mysterious “planetary force”, while Morbius and his wife, another crew member, were somehow immune. Morbius eventually lost his wife to natural causes, but not until they had a daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis). Morbius does not know what causes him to be immune, and fears that the new crew are in danger of succumbing to the mysterious force. Only the day after landing, the spaceship is sabotaged by an undetected intruder. Adams and Ostrow return to Morbius and confront him, demanding to know what is going on. Morbius reveals that Altair IV was once inhabited by a species called the Krell, an incredibly advanced people who suddenly died out 200,000 years ago. Morbius has recovered a number of Krell artifacts, including a device that can measure and increase intelligence (which nearly killed Morbius, but eventually doubled his IQ) and an immense power generator. Adams believes that this knowledge and technology should be taken to Earth, but Morbius refuses due to his belief that humans would only abuse the knowledge and power.
To keep the ship from being attacked again, Adams and his men erect a force field around their ship. Despite these measures, an intruder again enters and kills the Chief Engineer. Some time later, the crew catches the monster trying to cross the force field. Here, they realize that the monster is usually invisible, but due to the force field’s energy, and the laser beams being directed at it, the monster becomes visibly outlined. Unfortunately, neither the force field nor the laser weapons have any effect on the monster, which kills three more crew members (including Farman). Back at his house, Morbius has fallen asleep in his Krell lab; he wakes up when he hears Altaira screaming. At the same time he wakes up, the monster disappears. Adams and Ostrow again return to the Morbius house and sneak into the lab, where Ostrow tries to use the intelligence enhancer. He manages to tell Adams that the machine is capable of materially producing anything desired by the Krell, but that they forgot about “monsters from the id” before he dies. Adams believes that “monsters from the id” refers to monsters created by the subconscious mind, that act on the hate and fear inside the operator; thus, the monster that killed the original expedition members and the current crew members is Morbius’ subconscious self. Morbius scoffs at the theory. Altaira then announces that she intends to return to Earth with Adams, against the express wishes of her father. Robby senses the approach of the monster, but is unable to kill it because it is part of Morbius (he is programmed to not kill humans). Morbius, Adams and Altaira hide in the Krell lab, where Morbius finally realizes that Adams was right. As the monster breaks into the lab Morbius loudly disowns it; the monster disappears, but only after fatally injuring Morbius. As he lays on the floor dying, Morbius starts a process that will cause the machine to explode and destroy the entire planet. He warns Adams and Altaira that they must be 100 million miles away by the time this happens in order to survive. Adams takes Altaira and Robby back to the ship, where the crew just manages to get to safety in time.
MY TAKE: This movie is a little different from most sci-fi movies of the time because it wasn’t a low-budget, low-profile picture: it’s in color, has several big names, and uses the best special effects available at the time (they were actually created by the Disney studio). Both Walter Pidgeon and Leslie Nielsen were or would become stars, though Nielsen became more well-known for his farce comedies and white hair (which is absent in this movie). However, I don’t think that they money made a huge difference, because I didn’t find the movie particularly entertaining. The monster is some unknown, unseen thing that is basically a figment of the imagination and looks like the green ghost from Ghostbusters. It’s not too scary. The fact that they don’t know what it is for most of the movie makes it hard to develop a real feeling of suspense, and when they do figure out what it is it’s still not very suspenseful. Personally I was rooting for Morbius himself to be the monster, sort of like a Norman Bates thing. That would have been a lot more threatening in my mind. However, the special effects are pretty good.
RATING: Not too spiff.