Report Card: Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet is an influential film not just because of its positive audience reaction and later cult success, but also because Gene Roddenberry has stated that it deeply influenced his massive science fiction property Star Trek, in look, general plot structure, and even some of the same effects.

The film is also notable for the introduction of Robbie the Robot, an anthropomorphic robot who was such a hit (and so expensive for MGM to create) that he warranted a follow-up movie all to himself, and inspired the creator Robert Kinoshita to make a similar robot for the long-running family-friendly serial Lost in Space.

But as much as we adore the nostalgic themes and effects, and as much as we recognize the influence of the film, our review must be of its interfaces, and for that it does not ultimately fare well.

Sci: B+ (3 of 4)
How believable are the interfaces given the science of the day?

The Krell technology is meant to be advanced beyond our understanding of physics and technology, so the film shouldn’t be dinged for that. Robbie is somewhat problematic (how, again, does he hold and fire the gun?) but as a result of Krell enhancements, we can forgive a bit of that, too. The Terran technology in contrast scores higher, even with the invisible “force field” version of an electric fence.

Fi: B (3 of 4)
How well do the interfaces inform the narrative of the story?

For a reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the interfaces could have easily been tacked on, unrelated to the central plot. But for the most part the interfaces are deeply integrated in the story, telling a tale of a man’s toying with technology that is terrifyingly advanced and ultimately uncontrollable. The film’s indulgence in some extraneous (and ultimately poorly thought out) “gee-whiz, what’ll they think of next?” moments are the main reason it does not warrant full marks.

Interfaces: F (0 of 4)

How well do the interfaces equip the characters to achieve their goals?

Between demure self-destruct mechanisms, death-prone trash bins, and critically unhelpful astrogator tools, the interfaces in Forbidden Planet are gory distaster scenes waiting to happen. There’s little that a designer would want to pull from these for their own work in the real world. Unless, perhaps, you’re Krell.

Final Grade C (6 of 12), MATINEE

Related lessons from the book

  • The astrogrator’s armillary would have worked in more circumstances with a dynamic, volumetric display (and some attention to visual hierarchy.) (Page 75)
  • Commander Adam’s Public Address system balances ease and control in activation (page 202) while also signaling state (page 202.) It also is an example of a Fixed Connection system (page 203).
  • With his language use (page 187), mobility, and ability to manipulate human objects, Robbie the Robot might have fallen into the Uncanny Valley (page 184). Fortunately his strange manner of speech and inhuman appearance clearly signals his inhuman-ness, as recommended on p185.
  • The handwave switches in Morbius house illustrate the first of Hollywood’s Gestural Pidgin (page 98): Wave to Activate.
  • Though the Krell technology has many usability problems, the Plastic Educator shaped the look of Volumetric Projections from this point to the present day in sci-fi (page 78), and will likely shape it for decades to come.

Suggested new lessons

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