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Commander J.J. Adams and his crew have been dispatched by Earth to discover what happened to a colony of settlers on the planet Altair-IV. There are only two survivors of the ill-fated expedition: Dr. Edward Morbius and his young daughter Altaira, with the rest of the party having been KO'ed by an unseen force. Morbius isn't one to have Adams and his crew stick around, and urges them to leave. However, the invisible menace returns, and with it some unanswered questions about what Morbius really knows.
Five years after THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL hit theatres, FORBIDDEN PLANET came along to kick the genre up a notch. The film was considered ambitious for its time, relying heavily on special effects to help further the story. Plus, there was still that whole thing about sci-fi films not being taken as seriously as other genres. I mean, the film was released in the same year as EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD and the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Granted, BODY SNATCHERS was able to get remade (twice), but the cheese factor still permeated the genre until Robby The Robot came along.
Nowadays, when you look at FORBIDDEN PLANET, it's easy to pass its design and special effects as being dated. But back then, this was some truly landmark stuff. Not many films back then could boast being backed by a major studio company in MGM, and get the budget that we now take for granted in sci-fi films. Heck, spending $125K alone on Robby took balls, but man, the results were one of most iconic robots in sci-fi history. It's not just all about Robby, either. From the numerous matte paintings and optical effects contained in the film, this was really STAR WARS before George Lucas even had the inkling of doing his epic franchise.
Even back then, of course, anyone with a brain could see that special effects couldn't drive a movie (especially in those days), which is why the story and acting had to be top notch. And by Garfunkel, they were. Rather than descending into B-movie schlock, FORBIDDEN PLANET set the tone for every Star Trek episode with a serious story that was accessible to everyone. If you took out the science fiction elements, the story is basically a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest. The whole notion of responsibility with great power is one that can be put into any type of film, so why not a film involving lasers, robots and forcefields?
As for the acting, everyone played this seriously and without the ham that one would expect from 1950's sci-fi. Leslie Neilsen (yes, the same guy who starred in the NAKED GUN films), Walter Pigeon, Anne Francis, and Warren Stevens all give a strong performance that only makes the film stronger. Topping it all off is the landmark all-electronic score by Louis and Bebe Barron. And while the legendary theremin wasn't used in the score (unlike the score for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL), this was still something to be heard, and probably Academy Award-worthy had the duo belonged to the Musicians Union.
So while some of the effects don't hold up today, and those less-informed will pass this off as another B-movie from the 50s, FORBIDDEN PLANET is more than that. As I said, the film set the tone for Star Trek years before the show first appeared. And really, every science fiction film that followed FORBIDDEN PLANET owes the film in some way or another. If it weren't for Robby, you wouldn't have C-3PO or R2-D2, or THE TERMINATOR, or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. So with that out of the way, do you owe it to yourself to see the film? Undeniably, an emphatic yes.
Video: The film underwent restoration for its 50th anniversary in 2006, and the Blu-Ray only enhances the spot-on job pulled off by the DVD release. This 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is a sight to behold. Granted, there are a few white specks here and there, and some scenes (particularly with the optical effects) are softer than others, there is still a great amount of detail to see. On top of that, the colour palette is top-notch, as the film practically pops off the screen. Great job!
Audio: Like the transfer, the audio has received a wonderful upgrade in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. It's not going to blow you out of your seat, mind you. This is, after all, a 50-year old film. That shouldn't be a deterrent, as the audio is crisp and clear, without any distortion or hiss. Much of the audio is concentrated in the front, with the directionals getting some work. Overall, this is a perfect companion to the restored picture.
Thankfully, all of the extras from the superb 2-disc DVD and HD-DVD sets have been ported over to this disc, save for the additional trailers for other classic MGM DVD releases.
Starting things off is a quasi-sequel to FORBIDDEN PLANET in the feature-length film The Invisible Boy. This is a kid-centric film that involves a boy named Timmy, whose father is a programmer working on a government-owned computer containing all human knowledge (yeah, it's 50s sci-fi). Timmy's dad tries to use the computer to enhance his son's smarts, which it does. This enables Timmy to beat his dad at chess, and then assemble Robby, who was apparently brought back from the future in pieces by a wacky mad scientist who worked for the government agency before he died (don't ask). Timmy and Robby team up to turn Timmy invisible, and then more hijinks ensue. While not in HD, the transfer still has pop to it, and is relatively clean.
Following that is an episode of The Thin Man, which ran for two seasons and starred Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk as the detective duo of Nick and Nora Charles. This particular episode, 'Robot Client', again has Robby involved, this time being owned by a "Doc" Niles and being accused of murder.
MGM Parade has Dr. Morbius himself, Walter Pigeon, promoting the film in two separate excerpts from MGM's television series. And yes, Robby is again included.
Not exactly tied directly to FORBIDDEN PLANET, but serves as a great discussion of 1950s sci-fi in general, Watch the Skies! is narrated by Luke Skywalker himself (Mark Hamill) and features folks like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron, and Ridley Scott discussing their favorite 50s sci-fi flicks, its themes and history in the 1950s, the role technology plays in shaping the genre's stories and more. In addition to seeing FORBIDDEN PLANET get some discussion, other films included 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! Exploring The Far Reaches Of 'Forbidden Planet' is a half-hour comprehensive documentary on the film with much of the surviving cast and crew providing input, in addition to some sci-fi historians and some of the film's more famous admirers. Also included are shots of conceptual art, test footage, early monster designs, and unobscured shots of the animation used in the film.
As if Robby the Robot wasn't touched on enough, Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon focuses on the guy himself. Featuring some of the same interviewees as Amazing!, this 14-minute piece also features William Malone, a fan of the film and current owner of Robby, who also goes over how Robby functions.
Deleted Scenes and Lost Footage features 13 minutes of deleted scenes left over from filming, as well as 9 minutes of 'lost footage' which translates to cropped effects plates. Deleted scenes amount to trimmed dialogue and an alternate voice for Robby, and a not-so-successful attempt at a special effect.
Lastly, there are trailers for the film and THE INVISIBLE BOY.
Before Star Trek, there was FORBIDDEN PLANET. The influence this film had on the sci-fi genre is undeniable. From the effects to an honestly serious story that doesn't devolve into guys in monster suits carrying off women, but rather a cerebral one, FORBIDDEN PLANET deserved its accolades. If the superbly-restored picture and audio don't entice you, then the wealth of supplements — including a second film — are more than enough to warrant snagging this puppy, even if you already have the Ultimate Collector's Edition.