Release Date(s)1980 (November 10, 2015)
Studio(s)Elfo Media Corp. (MVD Entertainment Group)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
From the minds of Richard Elfman, Matthew Bright, and Danny Elfman comes Forbidden Zone, a musical movie experiment that has rarely been equaled in just sheer weirdness. When Frenchy enters the Forbidden Zone on a whim, she discovers an underground kingdom where a jealous queen, her adulterous king, their half-naked princess, and a frog manservant rule and torture outsiders. Her older brothers soon come looking for her after she’s kidnapped (as does a chicken boy), meeting Satan and his back-up singers along the way... and that’s only a taste of this movie’s weirdness.
There’s simply no way possible to properly introduce this movie to anybody who has yet to experience it. I personally see it as a piece of artistic filmmaking with lots of different tricks up its sleeve. Besides the straightforward live action, there’s also sped up/slowed down footage, animation, stills, models, etc. It’s nowhere near a high quality film, as evidenced by the sets, but it makes up for it with enthusiasm and imagination.
The background on the movie is that Richard Elfman, ex-leader of the musical theater troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, decided to get into filmmaking. Forbidden Zone served three purposes: capturing the essence of a live performance from The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, to give Richard Elfman the opportunity to make a movie, and to give Danny Elfman (now the leader of the band) a chance to drastically change the direction and style of the band, later renaming it simply Oingo Boingo.
Richard Elfman had no previous experience as a filmmaker, but learned much over the course of making the movie. For example, he began shooting it in 16mm, later switching to 35mm and reshooting what had already been filmed. That was just the start, and after much toil and premiere screenings, it was released to mostly negative reception from critics and little to no box office appeal. However, it later gained a small cult audience that grew over the years. Between the unorthodox musical numbers, the zany dialogue, and the outrageous characters and actions, Forbidden Zone is likely to be a movie that, once you’ve seen it, you won’t easily forget it.
It’s also worth noting before getting into the A/V portion of this review that the movie is presented in two versions: black and white or color, the latter of which was a process that was carried out in 2008. Personally, I prefer the color version, which I know is a bit of sacrilege. Most prefer the original monochromatic presentation being that it did come first and that it hides a lot of the movie’s visual flaws (not to mention has more of an aesthetic), but I feel like the flaws are always going to be there, regardless of how it’s presented. I also believe that the actors and shapes of objects are a little better defined, especially during the title overlays. It was also the director’s original intention long before filming to have it be in color and, dare I say, it makes slightly more sense that way than it does in black and white. But, that’s just one man’s opinion, and the choice is totally up to each individual viewer.
For this stateside Blu-ray release (the movie has been available throw Arrow Video for a while now), MVD Entertainment Group have produced a mostly excellent package. You, of course, have the option of watching either version of the movie, but as far as picture quality is concerned, both presentations feature very solid grain textures and finely detailed images. The color version features the pasty colors you would associate with a colorized version of a black and white movie, but they’re quite strong nonetheless. Black details in both versions are quite deep with decent shadow detailing, and contrast and brightness levels are mostly good (there’s just only so much you can do with this footage). There’s still some very minor instability, mainly during the main titles, and very few leftover artifacts. There’s also been nothing done to alter the images digitally. The real drag is the soundtracks for each film. For the black and white version, you get English 5.1 and 1.0 DTS tracks, and for the color version, you get English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS tracks. You also get an isolated score track in 5.1 DTS. It’s a shame that these tracks couldn’t have been upgraded to HD. Being that this is specifically an upgrade, their non-inclusion is a bit of a mystery to me. Still, as is, they’re still quite enjoyable with clear dialogue (what is discernible, anyway) and strong sound effects and music. It all sounds a tiny bit on the warbly side, but not overtly. They’re fine tracks, but not good enough for a Blu-ray presentation. There are also no subtitles included.
Besides the two different versions of the movie and the isolated score, nearly everything from the previous DVD release (as well as the Arrow Video release) is present. There’s the A Look Into Forbidden Zone documentary; an audio commentary with director Richard Elfman and writer-actor Matthew Bright; a set of deleted scenes and outtakes; scenes from the Hercules Family; a Japanese promo; and the original trailer. Newly-included is an introduction to the film by Richard Elfman, which doubles as a sneak peek at the sequel. Also newly-included is an Easter egg that can be found when you select the bongo drum at the top left of the screen while you’re in the extras menu, which is another sneak peek at the forthcoming sequel. And if you’re picking up the Ultimate Edition version, you get the film’s soundtrack on CD, as well as a 14-page insert booklet that was not included during the initial release. It contains another introduction from Richard Elfman, an essay about Hervé Villechaze by David Hayles, and a few photos from the making of the film. Besides the previously mentioned DTS-HD tracks not being included, also missing is the previously included Oingo Boingo music video for “Private Life”.
Forbidden Zone is essentially a musical, the likes of which are rarely, if ever, made. Often indescribable, it managed to snag its small, but devoted, audience, carving a small niche out for itself. Its director has never reached a high level success in his filmmaking career, but he at least has one memorable work under his belt. MVD’s release of the movie on Blu-ray is not quite the Ultimate Edition that it’s touted to be, but it comes pretty close. If you don’t already have the movie, it’s still very much recommended.
- Tim Salmons