Forbidden Planet: The Film that Inspired Star Trek Turns 60

Star Trek is one of the most popular and enduring sci-fi franchises ever made. If it wasn’t for the influential 1956 film Forbidden Planet, we might never have had Star Trek. If you examine Forbidden Planet closely, you’ll see the creative aspects that inspired Gene Roddenberry while he was creating his TV masterpiece, which debuted in 1966. According to ‘Star Trek Fact Check’, Gene Roddenberry once wrote a letter asking “Would it be ethical to get a print of the film and have our people make stills from some of the appropriate frames?”  

Forbidden Planet—which was a sci-fi update of the Shakespeare play “The Tempest”—was praised as being one of the seminal sci-fi films that brought maturity and intelligence to a genre which had previously been associated with lite space opera fare like the old Flash Gordon serials. It’s become a lauded film classic, and was entered into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. It also starred a young Leslie Nielsen in his pre-comedy days. So if you only know Nielsen from Airplane or Police Squad, you might want to check out his best-known serious role. 

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It also stars Walter Pidgeon from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Ann Francis.  The story follows the crew of an space ship who go to investigate why the Bellerophon expedition has lost contact with Earth. Arriving on Altair 4, they encounter an obsessed scientist with a beautiful daughter, a robot and an invisible monster.  In what ways, you might ask, did Forbidden Planet inspire Star Trek? The following is a list of comparisons:

*The Forbidden Planet crew patrol the galaxy for the United Planets in the hyper drive (faster-than-light) Star Cruiser C-57D, exploring new worlds and checking on the condition of deep-space colonists. The Star Trek crew patrols the galaxy in the warp-speed (faster than light) starship USS Enterprise NCC-1701, exploring new worlds and defending citizens of the United Federation of Planets.

* Both Forbidden Planet and Star Trek take place in the 23rd Century.

* There are many similarities between Commander John Adams (Nielsen) and Captain James Kirk (William Shatner). Both are dynamic, handsome, tough, Alpha Males with an eye for the pretty girls. Both are frequently accompanied by their ship’s Doctor and First Officer.

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Both the movie and the Pilot Episode of Trek suggest that, even in deep space, the most dangerous thing we’ll have to face is the darker aspects of the human mind. In the film, a scientist develops the power to make his subconscious manifest itself and endangers the crew. In the Star Trek pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, a crewman develops incredible mental powers and endangers the crew. Both men are killed in the end.

The makers of Star Trek liked to use matte paintings as a budget-saving method because Forbidden Planet utilized the technique so effectively.

* Both the film and the TV series liked to explain the oddities and mysteries of space scientifically, rather than with absurd, fantastical gibberish. Both tend to be more philosophical than action-oriented.  

* Warren Stevens, who played Doc Ostrow on Forbidden Planet, was later cast in the Star Trek episode “By Any Other Name”.

Forbidden Planet was based on a work of Shakespeare. Star Trek used many Shakespearean themes or references, including in Conscience of the King, Dagger of the Mind and the Undiscovered Country.

So, it’s appropriate that the fans of Star Trek who are honoring the show’s 50th year also give proper homage to the movie that inspire it. If you haven’t seen Forbidden Planet, it’s time to change that. Happy 60th anniversary, Forbidden Planet!