How The Ship From Forbidden Planet Found Its Way Into The Twilight Zone

1956's "Forbidden Planet" follows a crew of astronauts traveling the galaxy in a flying saucer. While visiting planet Altair IV, they find a scientist and his daughter (Anne Francis) living alone on this deserted world — and realize they are hiding something.

Directed by Fred M. Wilcox and starring a young Leslie Nielsen, "Forbidden Planets looks like a kitschy B-movie today — and in a way it always was, but it was also a trailblazer. It was one of the first films to show humans in the distant future flying around in faster-than-light starships. Without "Forbidden Planet," there would be no "Star Wars" or "Star Trek."

While the Enterprise has an underbelly and nacelles beneath its saucer head, the "Forbidden Planet" ship (the C-57D) is a simple flying saucer — except this UFO is operated by humans, not aliens. The ship and the other effects got the "Forbidden Planet" special effects team (A. Arnold Gillespie, Irving G. Ries, and Wesley C. Miller) an Oscar nomination. However, they lost to "The Ten Commandments," with even C-57D being swept away by the parting of the Red Sea.

Despite this loss, their work lived on — in the Twilight Zone.

Flying saucers in the Twilight Zone

"The Twilight Zone" featured its fair share of aliens and worlds far from Earth. Since space movies weren't in high supply when the series first ran (1959-1964) and props were expensive, the show sensibly cut costs by reusing effects from "Forbidden Planet." All the aliens in "The Twilight Zone," from the Kanamits in "To Serve Man" to the Monsters visiting Maple Street, travel in flying saucers because all those ships were the reused C-57D model (and/or stock footage thereof).

The most extensive use of the ship is in the season 3 episode "Death Ship" (written by Richard Matheson). In the far-off year of 1997, a crew of three astronauts (played by Jack Klugman, Ross Martin, and Fred Beir) discover a crashed ship identical to theirs — holding their three corpses. Is this a time travel story where they must stop their own deaths? Nope. They're already dead and caught in a loop of refusing to accept it. By this time, "The Twilight Zone" was producing hour-long episodes and that runtime helped the episode's sustained dread.

As documented in "The Twilight Zone Companion" by Marc Scott Zicree, the ship wasn't all "Forbidden Planet" leftovers. According to producer Hebert Hirschmann, the crew built a miniature of the model for take-off and landing shots.

"[The miniature] was on a table with sand and little plants. The ship was suspended from invisible wires. And as the ship was slowing in the descent, I wanted to see the sand billowing up. It was very expensive, but I felt that it was essential to the credibility of the show."

As special effects age, they inevitably look less convincing to future audiences. But that doesn't mean they were ever cheap.