Forbidden Planet

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Sep 07, 2010
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Fred McLeod Wilcox

Release Date(s)

1956 (September 7, 2010)

Studio(s)

MGM (Warner Bros.)

Review

The year is 2257.  United Planets Cruiser C57D has been dispatched on a years-long mission to the planet Altair IV, to rescue the survivors of the Bellerephon, a deep-space expedition ship with which Earth has lost contact.

When they arrive, Commander Adams (played by Leslie Nielsen) and his crew discover that, of the Bellerephon’s crew, only the mysterious Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter (Anne Francis) have survived.  Yet despite seemingly dire circumstances, Morbius has built a virtual paradise for himself, with the assistance of his futuristic servant, Robby the Robot, and some kind of advanced and previously unknown alien technology.  Shortly after Adams informs Morbius of his orders to collect the doctor and his daughter and return them to Earth, an invisible force begins attacking his crew.  And when Morbius refuses the order to leave, Adams and his men quickly discover the doctor’s shocking secret.

Directed by Fred McLeod Wilcox and filmed in spectacular CinemaScope, Forbidden Planet had a tremendous influence on virtually every sci-fi film and TV series that followed it.  A surprisingly adept retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, it was one of the first genre films to treat its subject matter seriously, rather than playing it for camp in the over-dramatic style that dominated 1950s B-grade fare.  Pigeon is terrific here as the brilliant, but egomaniacal, Dr. Morbius.  It’s also easy to forget that, long before the Naked Gun films, Leslie Nielson made quite a name for himself in serious acting roles.  And if you look closely, savvy genre fans will also spot another familiar face... Richard Anderson as the ship’s chief engineer (you might know him better as Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man).  With its then breakthrough special effects, its highly-stylized production design, and its eerie electronic score, Forbidden Planet is simply not to be missed.

Warner’s new Blu-ray release is thankfully a very good one in most respects.  The 1080p image appears to be mastered from the same high-def transfer used for the previous HD-DVD release, though it perhaps has a little bit more disc room to breathe here on Blu-ray.  Colors are every bit as bold as you’d want them to be, with nicely deep blacks and well-refined image detail.  Very light grain is visible, preserving the pleasantly filmic appearance, and while the image does look a little soft from time to time these are optical issues present in the original film elements.  The film’s creepy electronic score is rendered wonderfully in DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless, and while the surround mixing isn’t of today’s modern head-turning variety, it creates a very immersive sound experience.  I have no complaints on the A/V quality score here.

Nearly every disc-based extra from Warner’s previous 50th Anniversary Edition DVD release has carried over here.  There’s an interesting selection of deleted and extended scenes taken from a workprint version of the film, a sampling of ‘lost’ footage including various camera tests and unused effects shots, a pair of excerpts from episodes of MGM Parade that promoted the film, a complete episode of The Thin Man TV series featuring Robby the Robot, the bonus 1957 film The Invisible Boy (which also featured Robby), and the same trio of excellent documentaries.  The first is a fun TCM piece called Watch the Skies!, that features a wide range of Hollywood directors talking about the history of science fiction films, including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and James Cameron.  The second piece, Amazing!, looks at the making of Forbidden Planet and features interviews with cast members Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis, as well a host of film effects wizards, historians and directors, including John Landis, Bob Burns, John Carpenter, John Dykstra, Dennis Muren, Joe Dante and others.  The third documentary focuses specifically on the design and construction of Robbie the Robot, again offering interviews and a look at rare photos and artwork.  Finally, you get the film’s theatrical trailer.  All of this bonus material is included in standard definition only.  Upgrading the trailer and The Invisible Boy at least to full 1080p would have been a nice way to refresh the extras for Blu-ray, but it didn’t happen.  That’s one complaint I have here, and the other is that there’s nothing new specifically for Blu-ray – no new interactive options, etc.  I should also note that the only thing that’s been left off this disc are the trailers for other Warner sci-fi titles – not a big loss.  However, you also don’t get any of the lobby card reproductions, the gorgeous tin case or the miniature Robby replica from the previous DVD either – and that’s enough to keep me from getting rid of my own copy of the DVD, fine though this Blu-ray may be.  Your own mileage on this will obviously vary.

In any case, Forbidden Planet is a landmark of the sci-fi genre, deservedly ranking right alongside such influential classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars.  It’s also a surprisingly entertaining and thought-provoking film, as well as a veritable feast for the eyes with its wide CinemaScope canvas and lush color palate.  Forbidden Planet is great fun on Blu-ray and highly recommended.

- Bill Hunt

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