Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > FORBIDDEN PLANET – Louis Barron and Bebe Barron

FORBIDDEN PLANET – Louis Barron and Bebe Barron


Original Review by Craig Lysy

The massive commercial success of the science fiction film The Day The Earth Stood Still in 1951 motivated MGM executives to cash in on the emerging genre, which had captured the public’s imagination. They came upon a screenplay entitled Fatal Planet by Irving Block and Allen Adler, and believed they had found their film. Nicholas Nayfack was hired to produce, and he brought in Fred Wilcox to direct. They were not fully satisfied with the script and brought in screenwriter Cyril Hume to make adjustments, beginning with the title, which was changed to “Forbidden Planet” as it was believed to have greater mystery and box office appeal. An excellent cast was hired, which included Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Edward Morbius, Ann Francis as his daughter Altaira, Leslie Nielsen in his acting debut as Commander John Adams, Robby the Robot as himself, Warren Stevens as Lieutenant Doc Ostrow, Jack Kelly as Lieutenant Jerry Farman, Richard Anderson as Chief Quinn, and Earl Holliman as the Cook. The story draws inspiration from William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” 1610. It takes place in the distant 23rd century on the planet Altair IV. Captain Adams commands the starship C-57D on a mission to discover the fate of the starship Bellerophon, which was sent there on a mission 20 years earlier. They discover two survivors, Dr. Mobius and his daughter Altaira along with their robot Robby, who relate that an unknown entity killed the other crew members and destroyed the Bellerophon. They also learn that Dr. Mobius has discovered technology from an ancient race known as the Krell, which inhabited this planet yet disappeared in a cataclysm some 200,000 years ago.

He takes them to an underground vault, powered by 9,200 nuclear reactors, which contains all the knowledge amassed by the Krell. He shows them a “plastic educator”, which has the ability to enhance the wearer’s intellectual capacity. Discord develops when Adams demands that this great discovery be turned over to the Earth, to which Mobius replies “Humanity is not yet ready to receive such limitless power.” That night the ship is sabotaged by an unknown entity. Adamas orders a force field perimeter be set-up, but the invisible monster penetrates its and kills two crew members, undeterred by their blaster weapons. Ostrow manages to sneak into the laboratory, dons the educator helmet, and is mortally wounded. He dies but is able to disclose to Adams knowledge of what killed the Krell, stating “monsters of the Id” – the savagery of a human being’s primitive mind amplified by the unlimited power of the Krell nuclear reactors. Mobius is unconvinced until the monster attacks their house and begins melting the immense blast doors of the laboratory. When he finally realizes that the monster is the creation of his own Id, he confronts it, extinguishes it, but not before being mortally wounded. He tricks Adams into initiating a cascade reaction, which will destroy the planet and orders him to depart and reach at least 100 million miles away lest they be incinerated by the explosion. Altaira and Robby depart and watch in horror the massive nova like explosion of Krell, as Adams declares that it was best, saying “we are after all, not God.” The film was a modest commercial success, earning a profit of $210,000. Critics also praised the film for its imagination, storytelling, and gadgets, but it only earned one Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects.

Composer David Rose was hired to score the film in 1955, but the production team was not satisfied with his music, and he was released from the project. By chance, producer Dore Schary discovered performers Bebe and Louis Barron at a nightclub in Greenwich Village and impulsively hired them to score the film. It was an audacious move, but he wanted music that was innovative and unconventional. Louis drew inspiration from the book “Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine”, authored by Norbert Weiner, a mathematician and electrical engineer. He conceived using electronic generated tonalities generated by electronic circuits, which would not emit traditional musical notes, but instead “bleeps, blurps, whirs, whines, throbs, hums and screeches”. Theses oscillatory tonalities would then be modulated by changes in reverberation, frequency, amplitude and intensity. This approach was groundbreaking, and the Barron’s secured the honor of creating the first completely electronic score, which laid the groundwork for the creation of the Moog synthesizer in 1964. In conceiving their score, they related;

“We design and construct circuits, which function electronically in a manner remarkably similar to the way lower life forms function psychologically… In scoring Forbidden Planet we created individual cybernetic circuits for particular themes and leit motifs, rather than using standard sound generators. Actually, each circuit has a characteristic activity pattern as well as a “voice”. Most remarkable is that the sounds, which emanate from these electronic nervous systems seem to convey strong emotional meaning to listeners. There were no synthesizers or traditions of using electronic music when we scored the film, and therefore we were free to explore “terra incognito” with all the surprises and adventures.”

There are three primary motifs, which support the Barron’s soundscape; The Space Flight Motif supports exterior scenes of the C-57D traveling through space. It offers a high pitched rapid oscillatory construct, which rises and falls countered by a lower register contrapuntal throbbing. It creates the sensation of motion and shifts in intensity depending on whether we see the ship approaching or moving away from us. The Residence Motif supports the Morbius residence and emotes as a soft, feminine, bubbling, and almost aquatic pattern. It offers a perfect juxtaposition to the more mechanistic patterns, which dominate the film. Lastly, we have the Monster Motif an ominous, lurking and unsettling, construct consisting of a high-pitched pulsing pattern joined with a low range plodding pattern, which sounds like foot falls, and provide a sense of movement. How they manipulate this motif is genius; soft and subtle when the monster is distant, growing ever more powerful and threatening as it approaches.

Unfortunately, their score was received with hostility by the Musicians Union who would not allow it to be called music, or they to be credited as composers. Instead their score was listed as “electronic tonalities. To add insult to injury, since the Barron’s were not members of the Musicians Union, their score was excluded from both the Film Score and Sound Effects categories at the Academy Awards. MGM passed on issuing a score album, and it would take twenty years before the Barrons to release one on their Small Planet Records label.

“Main Titles – Overture” offers a score highlight, which opens with the roar of MGM’s Leo the lion and supports the roll of the opening credits. What unfolds takes more than one listen to fully appreciate its intricacies and nuances. We are provided a parade of the various oscillatory and reverberating tonal patterns, with ever shifting frequencies and amplitudes that the Barron’s will use for their soundscape. They immediately establish the film’s other-worldly tonalities, which will forever separate it from all its predecessors. “Deceleration” reveals the Captain issuing the order to drop out of light speed. The crew proceeds to the stasis platforms that will protect them during the transition to normal space speed. A stepped oscillation crescendo, which rises over a throbbing ostinato pattern take the crew to the platforms and crests as they are immersed in protective light shielding. As the drop into normal space takes place the screeching oscillatory pattern dissipates on a diminuendo. “Once Around Altair” introduces the Spaceflight Motif as the Captain orders a standard orbital pass. The high-pitched oscillatory pattern flows smoothly as the ship comes into view and then shifts in frequency, which simulates how sound changes on Earth when the source approaches, passes, and then moves away from us – quite ingenious. As the ship begins its descent a lower frequency pattern supports, joining the high-pitched propulsion pattern. “The Landing” reveals C-47D’s descent and landing on Altair IV. The Barrons begin with a high pitched rapid oscillatory pattern, which grows in intensity and carries the ship’s approach. As the saucer slows, hovers, and begins to descend, so too does the oscillation slow and descend in register to carry it to landing.

In “Flurry Of Dust – A Robot Approaches” the Captain orders the perimeter secured and checks the com system. Doc notices a dust flurry in the distance, which propels the rapid approach of a vehicle. Its approach is supported with a complex sonic signature consisting of three separate patterns; one throbbing and low register, one very high register screeching, and a third a high register oscillating pulse. We slow at 0:29 as the vehicle with a robot driver arrives. A new high register oscillatory pattern countered with a low register pattern supports the robot’s exit from the vehicle and walk to the men, slowly closing on a diminuendo of uncertainty. “A Shangri-La In The Desert” offers a soft, feminine, bubbling, and almost aquatic pattern of the Residence Motif, which supports their arrival at the Morbius residence. The Captain, Doc and Lieutenant Farman are greeted by Dr. Morbius who insists they stay for lunch. In an unscored scene Morbius discloses the mystery of the Bellerophon’s crew horrific deaths, the destruction of the ship, and how he came to have Robby the Robot. The Captain is rightfully taken aback by Morbius’ story and states they will have to remain to build a transmitter to consult with high command. The unexpected arrival of the stunningly beautiful Altaira is unscored and we see Doc and Farman aroused, with Farman overtly making a move on her. She asks them to join her as she calls her friends and at 0:33 we segue into “Garden With Cuddly Tiger” where she uses a whistle, which summons her friends; some deer as well as a tiger. The bubbling pattern of the Residence Motif returns, but it is joined by a mid-range shifting pattern, which sow unease and grows more prominent as the tiger joins her.

In “Graveyard” Morbius agrees to assist Adams in construction the transmitter. Adams thanks him for obliging, but Morbius points him to the distant graveyard where he relates his dread of having to also bury Adams crew. A dark, ominous mid-range oscillatory pattern supports the conversation. The pattern rises in range and brightens as the men depart and we see Altaira gleefully smiling as a unhappy Morbius looks at her. At 0:51 we segue into “A Night With Two Moons” as we see the ship and a tranquil landing site bathed by the light of two moons. The Barrons sow a misterioso using ever shifting metallic sounding patterns, which create a palpable unease. The scene “Harman Makes His Move” is scored to create a subtle ambiance as Harman convinces Altaira that kissing was essential to good health. Each time they kiss he is more passionate, yet she remains unresponsive, and this is reflected in the musical patterns, which never change in their patterns. When the Captain intrudes Harman is ordered back to the ship and he angrily chastises her for her revealing clothes and tempting his crew who have been cooped up in hyperspace for 378 days. There is a subtle shifting in the ambient pattern, but it remains unobtrusive beneath the dialogue. The music for this scene is not found on the album. Altaira relates her displeasure to Morbius, who advises her to avoid the crew, and then retires to his study. “Robby, Make Me A Gown” reveals Altaira summoning Robby and ordering him to make her a new, soft and gem rich dress, which would cover her from neck to feet. A slow frequency, percussive bubbling pattern joined with a midrange pattern percolate in an almost comic expression as Robby takes in her orders.

In “An Invisible Monster Approaches” it is night and the Barrons introduce the ominous Monster Motif. Tension rises as the low range plodding pattern of foot falls, carry the undetected invisible monster past the guards, and into the ship where it destroys vital parts necessary for the transmitter. “Robby Arranges Flowers, Zaps Monkey” reveals Robby bringing in freshly cut flowers to place in a vase. The gentle bubbling of the Residence Motif supports Robby’s efforts as well as a comic little electrical zap at 0:57 when Robby punishes a monkey for raiding the fruit bowl. In “Love At The Swimming Hole” Adams and Doc arrive to see Dr. Morbius, only to be told by Robby that he cannot be disturbed. They agree to wait, yet Adams sees Altaira bathing in the swimming hole and leaves Doc so as to investigate. She gets out, dresses and reveals her new full-length gown, made especially for him. The Barrons shift a number of oscillating patterns, which create a surreal ambiance. They converse and we see him soften, and apologizes for being rude yesterday. She reacts to this by being flirtatious, to which he responds at 1:27 amorously with a kiss. The soft shifting patterns give way to a dominant mid-range oscillatory pattern with cyclical shifts in intensity. At 2:16 a new, harsher and menacing pattern emerges to support the arrival of Altaira’s tiger, who aggressively growls. When it pounces to attack them, Adams disintegrates it with his blaster. Altaira is devastated and unable to understand why the tiger would try to kill her.

“Morbius’ Study” reveals Adams and Doc entering the study and finding it empty. They examine a paper with hieroglyphs on the desk, unable to discern its meaning. A percussive wave like pattern supports their entry and yields to a new portentous tolling pattern, as they wonder what has happened to Morbius. In “Ancient Krell Music” Morbius enters without notice and expresses his displeasure that they have violated the sanctity of his study. He discloses the existence of the Krell, a noble, advanced and superior race of beings who built the ultimate civilization, only to see themselves mysteriously destroyed in a single night. Morbius then plays for them a 500,000-year-old recording of Krell music, which perfectly conforms to the Barron’s electronica soundscape with its ever-shifting oscillatory patterns, frequencies and amplitudes. “The Mind Booster – Creation Of Matter” reveals Dr. Morbius demonstrating the mind booster machine, which measures the intelligence of Krell children. His measurement reaches half way, which in Krell terms would make him a moron. Doc’s reading is half of Morbius’ and Adams, even less. Morbius then demonstrates how he can create matter out of energy by force of thought, bringing Altaira to life to their astonishment before their eyes. The Barros support the scene with a rising and falling oscillatory pattern, which shifts to and fro from the left speaker to the right, creating a whirling sensation. It literally makes one dizzy during the listen.

In “Krell Shuttle Ride And Power Station” Morbius takes the men on a shuttle rail ride into the heart of the Krell immense powerplant. An ascending glissando like pattern supports the shuttles journey. At 0:22 a mechanistic framework of shifting patterns supports the bustling movement of the Krell powerplant, as the men are awestruck by the enormity and vastness of the powerplant, which stretches 20 miles in every direction. At 1:52 A new ascending power pattern emerges as Morbius asks the men to view the plant’s unlimited nuclear power at the core through a mirror so as to not be blinded by its searing brilliance. As Morbius closes the viewport at 2:06 the power pattern descends, and slows, finally dissipating into nothingness as Adams and Doc stare in disbelief. “Robby, The Cook, And 60 Gallons Of Booze” takes up back to the night watch at the ship where we see Farman ordering the force field fence turned on. The cook asks permission to go out in search of some herbs, which Farman grants. He runs to the rendezvous with Robby and discovers to his delight over 400 pints of genuine Kentucky bourbon. A comic bubbling and sardonic pattern support this interlude of silliness. At 0:32 the music darkens and becomes ominous as we see Robby identify an intruder. When the cook asks is anything moving this way, Robby replies literally, “nothing is moving this way”.

In “Giant Footprints In The Sand” we shift back to the ship where we witness a contact explosion of sparks on the fence, which dissipates and the men resume their patrols. We then see enormous silent footfalls in the sand moving toward the ship, and then the metal stairs being squished downward by the enormous weight of the monster. The monster’s progress is supported by the horrific Monster Motif, which perfectly syncs with its footfalls, becoming silent only when a crewman sounds a blood curdling scream. “Nothing Like This Claw Found In Nature!” opens in Morbius’ study where Adams states that a discovery of this magnitude cannot be manage by one man, and that oversight must be turned over to Earth. Morbius will have none of it and refuses, saying that he and he alone will determine what is to be shared with mankind, subject to his own judgement and conscience. The argument is interrupted by a call from the ship indicating the gruesome murder of the Chief. Adams and his men depart and Morbius, now full of dread advises Altaira that it is beginning again. The Barrons sow dread and palpable danger with a dark pattern, which rises monstrously on a horrific crescendo. At 0:31 we return to the ship where Doc unveils a plastic mold of the monster’s footprint to Adams, which reveals anatomy incongruous with nature. The terror of the Monster Motif supports the men’s discussion of what can only be described as a Chimera.

After the burial, Morbius again issues a warning that the death cycle that killed the Bellerophon crew has returned and if Adams does not leave immediately a more destructive attack will follow. Adams is outraged at Morbius’ words, who clarifies that they were a premonition. Morbius and Altaira depart and with nightfall Adams prepares the camp for an attack, testing new blaster batteries. In “Battle With Invisible Monster” radar detects an object at the head of the arroyo moving slowly towards the ship. The shrill high-pitched oscillations and diabolical footfalls of the Monster Motif strike fear and carry the monster’s progress. Adams orders two preemptive salvos with no apparent effect. The monster pauses, and then at 0:48 again moves forward toward the ship atop a swelling crescendo of terror until 1:21 when it makes contact with the forcefield and unleashes a deafening roar. Adams unleashes withering fire, yet with no apparent effect on the monster. The Monster Motif is replaced by very harsh, cacophony of dissonant patterns, which support the relentless firing of blasters at the beast, countered by the ferocious electronica roars of the beast. Three men are killed, and then at 2:46 we see Morbius wake from a dream. Behind him the bank of power gauges turn off sequentially, supported by a diminuendo, as we see back at the ship the beast vanish into thin air. In “Come Back To Earth With Me” Adams decides that they must evacuate Morbius and Altaira, as well as take another session with the mind booster. They arrive at the residence and Altaira aborts her father’s order for Robby to not admit anyone. As Adams and Altaira converse, Doc runs to the lab to take the brain boost. Adams pleads with Altaira to leave with them supported by the rhythmic oscillations of the Flight Motif. She refuses and forbids him to take her father by force. At 1:02 a high range pattern with a low range counter pattern shifting in intensity supports the arrival of Robby who carries Doc and sets him down on the sofa. He has been mortally wounded, but with his dying words states that it was monsters of the Id, which arose from the Krell minds that destroyed their civilization.

“The Monster Pursues” reveals Adams speaking Doc’s final words to Morbius, which elicits both men to have an epiphany. The Krell constructed a machine designed to create matter using their brainwaves. What they overlooked was the primal savagery of the Id, the subconscious mind and its capacity for violence. It was this subconscious savagery that destroyed the Krell. Morbius attempts to refute the theory by saying the last Krell died over 200,000 years ago, so there was no mind left to create the beast. With this Robby alerts them that a beast is approaching from the southeast, which is supported by the terror of the Monster Motif. Morbius closes the metal shutters as Adams asserts that this monster is empowered by his Id and that it had come to destroy as vengeance for Altaira leaving with him. The Monster Motif resounds, joined by an aggressive shrieking pattern as the beast begins to tear through the metal shutters. When Morbius orders Robby to kill the beast, he short-circuits, unable to violate his non-violence directive. They flee to the laboratory, which Morbius secures with impenetrable Krell steel doors. A diminuendo of the theme suggest safety, but it is short-lived as the pattern slowly builds in intensity. The Krell steel door slowly begins to heat, and then melt, empowered by the unlimited power of the Krell machines. The Monster Motif continues to swell horrifically, unstoppable with a terrible resolve as Adams demands Morbius recognize that it is his Id that empowers the monster. Morbius cries out that it is his evil self at the door, and for Adams to kill him as he cannot control it. At 4:02 we segue into “Morbius Is Overcome” atop a horrific dissonant crescendo as the invisible beast melts through the lab doors and enters. Morbius rushes forward shouting his denials carried by a grotesque cacophony, which crests, and then dissipates as we see Morbius struck down by the beast and the Krell machine gauges turning off as he falls mortally wounded. The Monster Motif persists, but it has been shorn of its power. Morbius instructs Adams to turn a disk and then push the nearby plunger, which he does without questioning. Morbius then discloses that he has just activated the power plant’s self-destruct mechanism, which cannot be stopped. He states with his dying breaths that they have 20 hours to reach 100 million miles or they would be incinerated.

“The Homecoming” reveals the ship travelling through deep space with the Altair System far distant on the view screen. The Starflight Motif supports the saucer’s flight, receding in frequency and intensity as the ship moves away from us. At 0:42 a crescendo builds and crests at 0:47 as we see Altaira, Adams and the crew watch in horror as a massive nova like explosion consumes Krell in a blinding flash of light. We conclude with a misterioso reverberating pattern as Adams is contemplative and ends the film saying – “This tragedy will serve as a reminder that we are after all, not God.” “Overture – Reprise” opens with the Monster Motif, which flows into the battle music played in track 19 where the crew fought against Morbius’ Id monster. The cue concludes with an eerie misterioso of uncertainty.

I wish to commend Louis and Bebe Barron, Small Planet Records and GNP Crescendo Records for the long-sought release of the score to “Forbidden Planet”. This score was audacious in its conception, bold, innovative and constitutes a seminal event in the history of film score art. Never before had a totally non-acoustic soundscape been used to support a film. The electronically generated oscillatory patterns created by the Barrons served as the progenitor of the modern synthesizer, which would arise eight years later and be embraced by cutting edge composers seeking a new sound and method of scoring films. I cannot overstate the significance or importance of Louis and Bebe’s contribution to the evolution of art form. In writing this review I was challenged by their music’s complex patterns, that were ever shifting in frequency, amplitude and intensity. Several listens were needed to discern them, as well as to fully appreciate the nuances before listening in film context, where it all came together. On balance I believe the Barrons succeeded in their mission to support and enhance the film’s narrative. They effectively captured the film’s futuristic setting, advanced technology, the magnificence and power of the Krell, and lastly, the horror of Morbius’ Id monster. Less effective was the more intimate and amorous scenes where the tonalities seemed incongruous and unattuned to the emotions expressed by the actors. This small criticism aside, I believe the Barrons succeed in assisting Fred Wilcox achieve his vision, opening the door to a new era of film scoring, which persists and thrives today. This score is totally unique, and precious given the role it played in the evolution of the art form. It offers a fascinating listen and I highly recommend you purchase this album as an essential score for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the Main Title -Overture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qj6lUC6K4VQ

Buy the Forbidden Planet soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Titles – Overture (2:21)
  • Deceleration (0:55)
  • Once Around Altair (1:10)
  • The Landing (0:50)
  • Flurry of Dust – A Robot Approaches (1:10)
  • A Shangri-La In the Desert/Garden With Cuddly Tiger (1:33)
  • Graveyard-A Night With Two Moons (1:16)
  • Robby, Make Me A Gown (1:18)
  • An Invisible Monster Approaches (0:48)
  • Robby Arranges Flowers, Zaps Monkey (1:18)
  • Love At The Swimming Hole (3:12)
  • Morbius’ Study (0:38)
  • Ancient Krell Music (1:48)
  • The Mind Booster – Creation Of Matter (0:58)
  • Krell Shuttle Ride And Power Station (2:34)
  • Giant Footprints In The Sand (0:45)
  • Nothing Like This Claw Found In Nature! (1:26)
  • Robby, The Cook, And 60 Gallons Of Booze (1:07)
  • Battle With Invisible Monster (2:55)
  • Come Back To Earth With Me (1:19)
  • The Monster Pursues – Morbius Is Overcome (5:49)
  • The Homecoming (1:59)
  • Overture – Reprise (2:15)

Running Time: 39 minutes 24 seconds

GNP Crescendo/Small Planet Records PRD-001 (1956/1989)

Music composed and performed by Louis Barron and Bebe Barron. Album produced by Louis Barron and Bebe Barron.

  1. July 6, 2020 at 12:56 am

    Awesome post! Keep up the great work!

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