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FORBIDDEN PLANET ($25) has always been one of my favorite science fiction movies. During my teen years, I would stay up all night to catch one of the rare 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 and 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, but when the Turner owned MGM library passed to Warner Home Video, so did the rights to FORBIDDEN PLANET. Not to worry, for anyone who might have missed the MGM DVD, Warner has re-issued FORBIDDEN PLANET in an identical presentation.

For those unfamiliar with FORBIDDEN PLANET, this is one of the great science fiction epics of 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 Sure, today’s audiences will find the special effects outdated by about 45 years and some of the dialogue hokey, but FORBIDDEN PLANET is such a solid piece of science fiction that it has influenced almost every film and television show that has followed it. The plot of FORBIDDEN PLANET is loosely adapted from Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST and tells the tale of reclusive old scientist, his beautiful daughter and a robot servant that are living on a distant planet named Altair IV.

As the film opens, a spacecraft from Earth heads 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, who 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 busied himself for the last 19 years studying the scientific knowledge of the planet’s former inhabitants, a race that had died out 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 and George Wallace.

As I stated above, Warner Home Video’s DVD release of FORBIDDEN PLANET is identical to the earlier MGM disc, except for the obvious name and logo changes. FORBIDDEN PLANET is offered on a two-sided DVD that includes anamorphic enhanced wide screen and severely cropped presentations of the film. Since FORBIDDEN PLANET is an early CinemaScope film, the cropping of the film’s wide screen image is so severe that full screen version of the movie is virtually worthless. The 16:9 enhanced presentation frames FORBIDDEN PLANET a little bit short of the early CinemaScope 2.55:1 aspect ratio, but all of the essentials are up on the screen. The film elements utilized for the transfer show enough signs of age to indicate that FORBIDDEN PLANET is due for some restorative work (hopefully followed by a theatrical re-issue). There are a number of age-related blemishes on the print, as well as dust and a bit of noticeable film grain. Fortunately, none of the flaws are too severe or distracting. In general, the image is pretty sharp and delivers a very good level of detail for a film of this vintage. FORBIDDEN PLANET was produced in early Eastmancolor, which was designed to be an alternative to the dominant Technicolor process. Unfortunately, Eastmancolor is nowhere as vibrant as Technicolor, as the muted hues on this DVD will attest. As with the rest of the colors, flesh tones tend to be a bit on the pale side as well. Some of the reds, oranges and blues are a bit more vibrant than the rest of the colors. However, these better-saturated hues are well reproduced, without a trace of chroma noise or smearing. Blacks are adequate and the level of shadow detail is on par with a mid-fifties production- in other words, not great. Digital compression artifacts keep a very low profile throughout the presentation.

The two-channel Dolby Digital stereo sound offers some pleasing separations, although if you force the sound into the pro-logic mode, it pretty much locks into the center channel. Sound quality isn’t high fidelity, but it is everything one would expect from a film that was released in 1956. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced and fully intelligible. The film’s classic all electronic score would greatly benefit from a re-mix into 5.1 channels, that is, if FORBIDDEN PLANET ever receives a full restoration. French and Spanish language soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English French and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus are very basic, providing the standard scene selection and set up features. A theatrical trailer is provided as a supplement and is accessible through the menu system.

FORBIDDEN PLANET is a science fiction classic that fans will definitely want to add to their collections. Since FORBIDDEN PLANET is one of the greatest classics of the genre, I hope that it will someday receive a full theatrical restoration and then reappear on DVD as a full-blown collector’s edition.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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