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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Forbidden Planet
Forbidden Planet
Warner Bros. // Unrated // January 1, 1999
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Chris Hughes | posted May 10, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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Features: Widescreen Letterboxed - 2.35:1, Full Screen (standard), Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo). Subtitles: English, French. Theatrical Trailer.

The Movie:
The history of science fiction cinema can be recounted by listing the seminal films that shaped its development. Definitive works in the genre include Star Wars, Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet. Each of these movies was revolutionary in comparison to its contemporaries and set the tone for all that came after.

The year is 2200 and a United Planets Cruiser has been dispatched, under command of John J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen), to investigate the mysterious disappearance on Altair 4 of the colony ship Bellerophon. Upon arrival the crew discovers a single survivor (Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Morbius) and his beautiful daughter Altaia (Anne Francis.) The first third of the film focuses on the thinly veiled sexual awakening of Altaia who, having been born on Altair 4, has never seen a man other than her father. The plot kicks into high gear when Morbius reveals that he has discovered the secret of an amazing alien technology. One that enhances intelligence and has the capability to bring thought into tangible reality. At the same moment an invisible monster begins terrorizing and killing Adams' crew. The connection between the menacing monster and Morbius' inscrutable subterranean control center is a classic science fiction plot device and serves to raise Forbidden Planet above pure pulp to almost mythic stature.

Released by MGM in 1956, Forbidden Planet was unlike anything that came before. The film combined a Shakespearean theme with dramatic special effects and a Freudian twist to create an unforgettable screen experience. Though many of the elements seem campy by today's standards (not the least of which are the 50s style 'futuristic' furnishings) others hold up very well. Of particular interest is the gyroscopic Robby the Robot, the 'Electronic Tonalities' of the score and the chilling animated monster sequence created by Disney veteran Joshua Meador.

Though Forbidden Planet certainly stands on its own merit it is interesting to note the strong influence it had on Gene Roddenberry's original Star Trek. Roddenberry borrowed liberally from the film both in terms of visual style and the psychological themes of the plot. In short, had there been no Forbidden Planet there would have been no Star Trek.

The Picture:
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Forbidden Planet on this DVD. I've seen the film on television many times and it's usually extremely faded, exhibits bad contrast and shows many signs of age including jumpy cuts, dust, pin holes and scratches. The print on this DVD isn't free of those problems but it is in better condition than I've ever seen it before. The colors are bright if somewhat under saturated, the contrast is good and black levels are right on. The film elements show some wear in the form of scattered scratches and pin holes but with the possible exception of the prominent projectionists marks at the beginning and end of reels, these flaws are minor. On my player the anamorphic transfer showed no signs of artifacting or edge effects. The double-sided disc includes both the pan and scan and wide screen versions. Forbidden Planet was shot in Cinemascope and the director took full advantage of the wide screen format meaning the pan and scan version, no matter how well done, is almost unwatchable.

The Sound:
Another nice surprise was the sound mix on this release. As you can imagine the dynamic range here is very limited. Forbidden Planet won't give your home theater a workout. The disc does present the audio portion of the film very well though. There's very little distortion, the dialogue is clear and the music elements are never overpowering. I was able to detect a little bit of hiss from time to time but certainly not to the point of distraction.

The Extras:
The only extra content on this disc is the theatrical trailer. Star Wars fans will immediately notice a common graphic element between the trailer and the opening minutes of Lucas' blockbusters. Warner has an inconsistent track record when it comes to DVD and it's a real shame that they didn't put a little more effort into this release. They should be commended for giving it an anamorphic transfer but Forbidden Planet is a movie that could have really benefited from a special edition.

Conclusion:
Forbidden Planet is a classic firmly rooted in its genre. Those who aren't fans of science fiction probably won't get much out of the movie but for those who are Forbidden Planet is a required part of their collection. Because of the lack of extras on this disc I hesitate to give it my highest rating but based on the strength of the film elements and the transfer I highly recommend it.
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