Fort my money, FORBIDDEN PLANET ($27) is not only one of the greatest science fiction movies of the 1950, it is one of the greatest science fiction movies all time and amongst my personal favorites. During my teen years, I would stay up all night long just to catch one of the rare 2 or 3am showings of the film. When I got older and was bitten by the Laserdisc bug, I purchased FORBIDDEN PLANET no less than four times; including a horrible cropped edition, an expensive Japanese import, the Criterion Collection edition and MGM’s own Letterboxed Laserdisc version. When I made the transition to DVD, so did FORBIDDEN PLANET. MGM Home Entertainment issued the film on DVD early in the game. Warner Home Video then issued a virtually identical release, when the rights to FORBIDDEN PLANET passed to them. Unfortunately for fans, both Warner’s first release and MGM’s preceding DVD release of FORBIDDEN PLANET were less than stellar, as the film was transferred from elements that were showing more than a few signs of age. Thankfully, that situation has been rectified with Warner new 50th Anniversary Special Edition release of FORBIDDEN PLANET.
For those unfamiliar with FORBIDDEN PLANET, this is indeed one of the greatest science fiction epics to be produced by a major studio during the 1950s. It took two years to make FORBIDDEN PLANET and MGM spared no expense by producing the film in CinemaScope and even borrowing personnel from the Walt Disney Studios to help create the film’s spectacular special effects. Sure, today’s audiences will find the special effects outdated by about five decades of movie making technology, plus some of the film’s dialogue is beyond hokey, but FORBIDDEN PLANET is such a solid piece of science fiction that it has influenced almost every genre film and television show that has traveled in its unforgettable wake.
The plot of FORBIDDEN PLANET is loosely adapted from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and tells the tale of a reclusive old scientist, his beautiful daughter and the robot servant who are living on a distant planet named Altair IV. As FORBIDDEN PLANET opens, a spacecraft from Earth journeys to Altair IV to survey the success of a team of scientists, who had set out to colonize the world twenty years earlier. Leslie Nielsen portrays Commander John J. Adams, the captain of the survey ship, which discovers that Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) are the only survivors of the doomed expedition.
When pressed into telling what happened to the others, Morbius reveals that during their first year on Altair IV, the other colonists met gruesome deaths a the hands of some unseen planetary force. With himself and his daughter seemingly immune to whatever killed the others, Morbius has busied himself for the last 19 years studying the scientific knowledge of the planet’s former inhabitants, a race that where annihilated in a single night 2000 centuries earlier.
Unprepared for what they have found on Altair IV, Commander Adams doesn’t heed Morbius’ warnings to leave the planet; instead he decides to contact Earth for new instructions. However, before Adams and his crew have the opportunity to set up their communications system, the monstrous planetary force comes out of hibernation and sets its sights on the crew of recently arrived spacecraft. The cast of FORBIDDEN PLANET also includes Warren Stevens, Jack Kelly, Richard Anderson, Earl Holliman, George Wallace and Robbie the Robot.
Warner Home Video has made FORBIDDEN PLANET available on DVD in a wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays and comes close to approximating the film’s 2.55:1 CinemaScope dimensions. Compared to previous incarnations, the new transfer is a revelation, as this is the absolute best that FORBIDDEN PLANET has looked in the home venue at standard resolution. Coming from "restored" film elements, the on the DVD image appears sharper and better defined than it has in the past. Colors are also much stronger than they appeared on the previous DVD release, which looked exactly like rapidly fading Eastmancolor. The hues on this edition aren’t at the Technicolor level, but are a significant improvement over what has come before. Flesh tones have been given a significant boost, with everyone displaying the healthy pallor of the makeup man’s kit. Blacks are accurately rendered, white are clean and the image sports smooth contrast. The film elements are free from significant defects, with only the mildest of blemishes remaining. Some mild grain is present, but helps create a film like quality for the presentation. Digital compression artifacts are well contained.
For this release, FORBIDDEN PLANET has been upgraded to a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Sound quality is very good for a half-century-old movie. Sure the sonic fidelity is nowhere near the level of a modern production, but the "electronic tonalities" of Bebe and Louis Barron are well represented in the 5.1 channel mix. Considering the sophistication of sound design and recording technology during the mid-1950s, the sound mix doesn’t push the material beyond those limitations, so the majority of the sound is localized to the front channels. There are some sonic separations across the front and the rear channels do engage for some mild fill and passive effects. Voices are cleanly reproduced and the dialogue maintains complete intelligibility throughout. A French language track has also been provided, in addition to English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Electronic tonalities underscore the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials that have been included on this two-disc set. Disc one features several Deleted Scenes and scene extensions featuring some material not seen since the Criterion Laserdisc. Lost Footage consists of various tests and other special effects material that wasn’t utilized in the movie. Two FORBIDDEN PLANET themed MGM Parade Excerpts are also included on disc one, as is the Robot Client episode THE THIN MAN TV series featuring Robbie the Robot, plus a Science Fiction Movie Trailer Gallery that includes trailers for THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, THEM!, FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE BLACK SCORPION, THE INVISIBLE BOY and THE TIME MACHINE.
Moving onto disc two, one will find the remaining supplemental materials. First, we have the black and white 1957 MGM feature film THE INVISIBLE BOY with Robbie the Robot, which is presented in 16:9 enhanced 1.78:1 widescreen. Next, we have the fifty-five minute 2005 TCM documentary Watch The Skies!: Science Fiction, The 1950's And Us, which offers a retrospective of many of the greatest sci-fi films of the decade and features comments from modern directors like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott and James Cameron. Amazing!: Exploring The Far Reaches Of Forbidden Planet clocks in at twenty-six minutes and features a look at the film, as well as offering comments from cast members Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis Richard Anderson, Earl Holliman, as well as additional comments from John Landis, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, Rudy Belmar and John Dykstra amongst others. Finally, Robby The Robot: Engineering A Sci-Fi Icon looks at the creation and re-creation of the film’s leading automaton.
As I stated above, FORBIDDEN PLANET is one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. Warner’s 50th Anniversary Special Edition looks and sounds terrific, in addition to offering some great supplements. If you are a genre fan or share that special love for FORBIDDEN PLANET, then this DVD is a must have. Absolutely recommended.
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