Review: ‘Forbidden Planet’
Last week, Warner Home Video released six of their science fiction films on Blu-ray for the first time. While all were greatly appreciated by genre fans to one degree or another, it can be safely said that the most eagerly awaited one is also the best one of the set. MGM’s Forbidden Planet is clearly a class act and the loving restoration is evident in just how fabulous the movie looks in high definition.
The 1956 was one of the studio’s last major releases before its decline in quality, and it was also their first real attempt at science fiction. All the resources that made their musicals shine brightly were brought to the feature production and as a result, this is the single best science fiction movie made that decade. Its influences go far beyond imagination considering the enduring popularity of Robby the Robot and how much the film’s look and feel influenced young producer Gene Roddenberry when he conceived Star Trek only eight years later.
Sure, some of the science remains implausible, but it was a terrific story inspired by William Shakespeare’s The Tempest transplanted to an alien world. The strong cast was anchored by Walter Pidgeon’s Morbius and Leslie Nielsen as Commander John Adams. Filling out the ensemble was Anne Francis as Morbius’ innocent daughter Altaira and familiar genre vets Richard Anderson and Warren Stevens. The Bellerophon expedition had gone silent and Adams’ crew was sent to investigate, discovering two survivors and the remnants of an incredible alien civilization, the Krell. Morbius’ genius is evident in the robotic servant, Robby, he designed and built, but Adams is troubled by the man’s reluctance to leave the world and rejoin humanity. Menacing them, though, was an unseen horror that had to be stopped before anyone could leave the world.
The sets and costumes were unlike any science fiction film previously made and the scope and spectacle to the matte paintings and special effects also raised this film beyond so many of the low budget atomic horror films that categorized the genre that decade. Everyone took the film seriously, playing things straight, and making it a tale of humanity among the stars. Also helping us consider this something different was the electronic score, credited in the release as “electronic tonalities”, a dramatic departure from what had been used before.
Warner had previously released this in a nifty package designed for the now defunct HD-DVD format, so this has been an eagerly awaited release. The care that went into restoring it in 2007, especially boosting the fading Eastman Color stock, has been preserved here and the film has never looked better.
The disc is packed with plenty of special features, making this a true celebration of the film and its legacy. All are carried over from the HD release and none were prepared for Blu-ray so appear in standard format. Still, they are all worth your time and attention. Kicking things off is the TCM special, “Watch the Skies!” as you spend nearly an hour listening to Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron, and Ridley Scott discuss what SF films were like prior to Forbidden Planet. Nice perspective, terrific clips and a solid Mark Hamill narration make this a strong entry.
There’s also “Amazing!” a well-produced 27 minute feature talking to the surviving cast and crew of the film, talking about its production. Great archival drawings are unearthed to illustrate this piece. Robby gets his due in the 14 minute “Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon”.
There are plenty of deleted scenes all of which comes with captioning to introduce each one and explain what was changed or why it was dropped from the final print. Some are missed, but most are interesting from a historic perspective only.
The robot’s popularity is demonstrated by the inclusion of the 1957 quickie, The Invisible Boy, a feature about a young boy and his robot. When the robot’s programming is altered, he becomes a threat to the Earth and Timmy, who can somehow turn invisible, is the only one who can stop it. Robby also guest starred on countless television series and The Thin Man episode from 1958 is included as an example.
Walter Pidgeon appears in two excerpts from the prime time MGM Parade series when he appeared to promote the film.
No fan of the genre can be without this wonderful film that has been well-preserved and endures the passage of time. If you haven’t seen it lately, now is the time to rediscover the marvels of intelligent science fiction at a time when paranoia ruled the day.