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Forbidden Planet

Warner Bros. // G // September 7, 2010 // Region 0
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 4, 2010 | E-mail the Author
Forbidden Planet was released at a time when science
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fiction films were all too often associated with boxy, black and white compositions, pie-pans on strings, and standard issue formulas with nuclear fallout mutating ordinarily harmless creepy-crawlies into barn-sized beasts. It's not at all that '50s sci-fi filmmakers were lazy, incompetent hacks, but studios still treated the genre like a cheap, reliable, red-headed stepchild. Hollywood just didn't feel as if it was something to be taken all that seriously. They were wrong. The wildly ambitious Forbidden Planet was the first science fiction film of the era to have the full weight of one of Hollywood's most powerful studios behind it. The mission statement wasn't to dress up a stock horror plot with some surface sci-fi trappings but to inspire a sense of awe and wonder that hadn't before been captured on celluloid. In the half-century since its original theatrical release, Forbidden Planet has proven to be one of the most enduring and influential films the genre has ever produced. Many decades may have passed since Forbidden Planet first roared into theaters, but its entrancing magic hasn't faded in the slightest.

One of the first shots in Forbidden Planet may be of a flying saucer touching down on a desert-like landscape, but it's a group of thoroughly human men who emerge, not the little green variety. Leslie Nielsen, back when he delivered straightlaced dramatic performances rather than kitschy punchlines, stars as Commander J.J. Adams. He and his crew have been dispatched to investigate the lack of communication from the
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Bellerophon expedition to the planet Altair IV. Their reception over the radio is unusually chilly, but Adams and company are grudgingly granted permission to land. There are only two survivors of the ill-fated Bellerophon expedition: Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his devastatingly gorgeous young daughter Altaira (Anne Francis). Morbius claims that the rest of his party had long ago been devastated by an unseen force to which he and his blissfully naive daughter are for whatever reason immune. They've eked out a life for themselves in the ruins of the lost civilization of the Krell, and their every need is attended to by Robby, a fantastic robot of Morbius' own design. Morbius repeatedly warns of the dangers that await Adams and his crew, and these fears quickly become a grisly reality when the invisible menace attacks the landing site for a second wave of destruction.

Many of the film's admirers are quick to point out how groundbreaking Forbidden Planet is compared to much of the rest of the glut of the science fiction that was churned out throughout the 1950s, and though that's certainly true, a number of the genre's most familiar elements remains. We still have a stalwart, square-jawed military hero in the lead, a romance with an impossibly beautiful girl that blossoms throughout the havoc, and there are even a mad scientist, a robot, and a monster for good measure. Still, these space opera mainstays are used in what amounts to a futuristic adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, and there's a great deal of intelligence and imagination infused into most every frame of the film. Even the nature of its primal monster is more
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inventive and far more compelling than the oversized bugs of years past.

What I find so entrancing about Forbidden Planet is the grand scale of its vision, a spectacle from an era before effects-driven movies were a dime a dozen. It's not at all difficult to see why Forbidden Planet became a mainstay in children's matinees; even to adults decades after cameras first rolled, the film continues to evoke a sense of awe...of child-like wonder. Innumerable shots in the movie have some sort of hand-drawn animation, matte painting, or optical effect to flesh out this fantastic vision of an otherworldly future. Even a half-century later, hardly any of these effects look laughable, a claim not all that many sci-fi films from any era can make. That's not to say that they're indistinguishable from a nine-figure budgeted summer tentpole from more recent years, but many of the effects in Forbidden Planet still hold up marvelously well, particularly the enormity of the Krell underground and the visualization of the monster. At worst, they're charmingly dated, and the same holds true for its playful sense of humor and its characters' dialogue. Forbidden Planet is inexorably rooted in the 1950s, but that's one of its greatest strengths. The same material with a more modern approach doesn't seem nearly as appealing.

Jaded viewers with a distaste for classic cinema will find plenty to sneer at with this widely influential film, but it's their loss. Forbidden Planet is a crowd-pleaser that's quite a bit more intelligent than it lets on at first glance, and even though this is a film that rang in its fiftieth anniversary several years ago, the scale of its ambition and unparalelled craftsmanship never cease to fascinate me. Forbidden Planet remains one of the most startlingly imaginative and visually entrancing science fiction films ever produced. This is a seminal work of sci-fi cinema, and it's greatly appreciated to see that Warner has lavished the film with the treatment on Blu-ray that it so richly deserves. Very Highly Recommended.

I was hoping to dust
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off my HD DVD player and do a direct comparison between this Blu-ray disc and Warner's initial high definition release from a few years back. My dust-caked Toshiba HD-A30 deck wasn't feeling particulary cooperative today, but going from memory, this Blu-ray disc does appear to be minted from the same transfer as its 2007 release in HD. I was deeply impressed with Forbidden Planet on HD DVD, and I couldn't be more thrilled with this re-release on Blu-ray either.

This remastering from Warner wipes away most every trace of wear and speckling, and film grain remains tight and stable throughout. Crispness and clarity can vary somewhat from shot to shot, particularly whenever optical effects come into play. That's to be expected, of course, and the sheer amount of depth and detail are often striking. I'd be curious to see how this Blu-ray disc compares to the original theatrical screenings from fifty years ago; the increased resolution here pulls back the curtain in ways I don't recall when I was younger. For example, the optical mingling of Anne Francis with her character's pet tiger is now much more apparent. Another scene sees Alta skinny-dipping, and her innocent question "what's a bathing suit?" gets an even bigger smirk now that I can very clearly spot the wrinkled, fleshtone swimsuit she's wearing. Despite a tiny handful of other similar cases, I continue to be surprised how well many of Forbidden Planet's effects still hold up more than a half-century later, even under the unforgiving scrunity of high definition. Forbidden Planet was shot using Eastman Color, and this early incarnation of the process is notoriously prone to fading. Warner's restoration team has done a commendable job injecting life back into the film's palette, and Forbidden Planet's otherworldly hues continue to be eye-catching. Black levels are generally robust, and if there are any flaws with the authoring or compression of this Blu-ray disc, they didn't grab my attention. The big, bold letters on the original poster art for Forbidden Planet scream "amazing!", and there's really no better way to sum up this high definition presentation than that.

Forbidden Planet is offered on Blu-ray at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and, the same as the HD DVD before it, this presentation has been encoded with VC-1. The film with its extras span both layers of this BD-50 disc.

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no one's going to mistake it for a hyperaggressive $100 million sci-fi flick, Forbidden Planet's 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack still sounds terrific on Blu-ray. Its attempts at localizing sounds across the front speakers are consistently effective -- perhaps most memorably the directionality to the sentries' dialogue as the camera swoops from the landing site to the interior of the ship -- even if the audio doesn't seem quite sure what to do with the surround channels much of the time. The mix doesn't have the sort of dynamic range to keep the subwoofer rumbling from the first frame to the last, although there are a couple of noteworthy assaults in the lower frequencies, particularly as the end of the film approaches. Forbidden Planet's many sound effects sport a reasonably full-bodied presence overall as well. The audio isn't marred by any hiss or background noise, at least none pronounced enough to distract. As a longtime fan of vintage electronic instruments, I'm fascinated by the "electronic tonalities" that take the place of a traditional score, and that swooping analog squawking emerges remarkably well in the mix. Its most remarkable moments engulf the room with these strange, eerie electronic sounds. This is a very strong effort from Warner, and it's very much appreciated that Forbidden Planet has been lavished with a full 24-bit lossless soundtrack. I don't doubt that this is the best the film has ever sounded.

Monaural dubs are offered in French, German, Spanish, Castillian Spanish, and Portuguese. The disc also features subtitles in English (SDH), French, Spanish, Castillian Spanish, Portuguese, and Norwegian.

All of the extras from
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the 2007 special edition releases on DVD and HD DVD have been carried over in standard definition. As always, it's a mild disappointment that the newly-produced extras aren't presented in HD, but the overall quality of the material is high enough that the limited resolution is easy enough to shrug off.
  • The Invisible Boy (89 min.; SD): Warner doesn't boast about this on the cover art, but this special edition of Forbidden Planet is actually a double feature, sharing the bill with 1957's The Invisible Boy. This endearingly kitschy family flick gave MGM a chance to squeeze a little more money out of their hefty investment in Forbidden Planet. Timmy thinks his newfound robot pal Robby is too overprotective, so he uses his scientist pop's supercomputer to strip out a couple of Asimov's laws, unwittingly setting into motion a nefarious plot that threatens the survival of the human race. Oh! Almost forgot: Timmy can turn invisible. The Invisible Boy is whimsical and altogether kidsy early on, but it takes a darker, more sinister turn as the movie progresses, feeling like more of a "that's armageddon!" '50s sci-fi flick than mindlessly chipper kiddie fare. The anamorphic widescreen, black and white presentation is surprisingly good, especially considering that the movie is only being tacked on as an extra.

  • Watch the Skies! (56 min.; SD): Narrated by Mark Hamill, this hour long documentary from Turner Classic Movies features Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron, and Ridley Scott excitedly discussing their favorite '50s sci-fi flicks and how these films were such a reflection of their times. Forbidden Planet is not surprisingly lavished with quite a bit of attention, and among the other films they touch on are Destination Moon, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Them!, Rocketship X-M, The Monolith Monsters, Invaders from Mars, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Space Children, and War of the Worlds.

  • Amazing! (27 min.; SD): This exceptionally well-researched retrospective presents interviews with much of the surviving cast and crew of Forbidden Planet, including stars Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen, as well as a number of sci-fi historians and some of the seminal film's more famous fans. This aptly-titled featurette offers a very comprehensive look at the production of the film, including glimpses of conceptual art, test footage, early monster designs, and unobscured shots of the cel-free Disney animation.

  • Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon (14 min.; SD): Several of the same interviewees pop up a second time for this featurette, one of several extras anchored
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    around Robby the Robot. The featurette notes Robby's washing machine-inspired design, the role MGM's leather department and former Lockheed machinists played in its creation, a runthrough of how Robby functions by current owner and Forbidden Planet superfan William Malone, as well as the robot's enduring popularity.

  • MGM Parade (7 min.; SD): Walter Pidgeon promotes Forbidden Planet in these two brief excerpts from the television series MGM Parade.

  • The Thin Man (26 min.; SD): Also featured here is a full 1958 episode of Peter Lawford's The Thin Man in which Robby the Robot stands accused of ::gasp!:: murder.

  • Deleted Scenes and Lost Footage (22 min.; SD): There are twenty-two minutes of additional material leftover from filming, although the tantalizingly titled "lost footage" is really just nine minutes of cropped effects plates, offering fans a glimpse of how some of these elements looked in their unfinished states. The thirteen minutes of deleted scenes, properly letterboxed but culled from what looks like 18th-generation VHS, are of far more interest. Some of these aren't actually deleted scenes; there's a good bit of extended dialogue along with an alternate voice for Robby, for instance. One full scene was yanked for its dodgy special effects, following Robby's land cruiser as it races across the alien landscape, and a couple others liken Alta's rapport with her animals to the unicorn myth. This material was justifiably trimmed out of the movie, but it's still interesting to see what could have been.

  • Trailers (SD): Finally, there are also trailers for both halves of this double feature: The Invisible Boy and Forbidden Planet. The additional trailers from the 2007 special edition releases -- The Thing from Another World, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, The Black Scorpion, and The Time Machine -- haven't found their way onto this Blu-ray disc.

The Final Word
Amazing! Even with more than a half-century having passed since Forbidden Planet first soared into theaters, it remains one of the most dazzlingly imaginative and visually entrancing sci-fi films ever produced. Its ambitious scale and pervasive sense of wonder have rarely been rivaled in the many decades since. Boasting a breathtakingly gorgeous high definition presentation and a slew of worthwhile extras, Forbidden Planet is an essential purchase for anyone with even the slightest interest in science fiction. Highly Recommended.
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