Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet (1956)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis
Extras: Theatrical trailer

In 1956 the Cold War was fully under way and the fear another world war was imminent in people’s mind. The threat of nuclear destruction, an invisible yet absolutely lethal force, or from Outer Space was omnipresent and built the backbone for a great many science fiction movies of the time. From "Them!" to "Tarantula", from "War Of The Worlds" to "The Day The Earth Stood Still" the theme of the helplessness of mankind in the face of certain – oftentimes – self-self-created dangers could be found in literally every utopian film of the time. "Forbidden Planet" also nurtured this notion, but it took a surprisingly intelligent approach to the theme, using William Shakespeare’s "The Tempest" as the template for its plot. Exchanging the sailboat from Shakespeare’s tale with a spaceship and substituting a remote island with a remote planet, all of a sudden Shakespeare’s age-old theme of humanity took on a very different tone. A tone that rang true with audiences in the 50s, as it does today.

In the year 2257, an interplanetary cruiser is on its way to Altari IV. Their mission is to rescue survivors from an expedition that earlier crashed on the planet’s surface. When the ship lands on Altair IV they find a barren and desolate landscape. The enigmatic Dr. Mobius (Walter Pidgeon) turns out to be the sole survivor of the crash and he has built his own little oasis on the planet’s surface without any wish to return to Earth. Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) who is in charge of the rescue mission listens to the story Mobius has to tell about the years after the crash, how an unknown beast has devoured all the survivors but him and his late wife. Over time he has been able to build his personal paradise to raise his only daughter Altaira (Anne Francis).

Dazzled by his findings, Adams decides to contact Earth for further instructions, but when he and his crew begin setting up a radio post on the planet’s surface, they too are attacked by a ferocious, unseen monster. Trying to find out why Mobius is immune to the creature’s attacks, they find out that he has discovered unfathomable powers of an earlier civilization on the planet. A technology so powerful that it could give mankind an unconceivable advance, but destroy it just as easily.

One of the most remarkable things about "Forbidden Planet" is how timeless the movie turns out to be. Its dramatic aspects work as well today as ever and the humanistic tone of the story is just as ageless. While our fears may be different today than those of the people in 1956 when the film was first released, our generation has its own demons and monsters and the film captures their essence as much as any other fear generations harbored before us.

The visual presentation of the movie is 50s science fiction par excellence. Every frame of the movie duplicates the feel of popular comic book and pulp fiction covers at the time, such as "Amazing" or "Astounding Science Fiction". From the opening shots of the movie the viewers is pulled into a world of wonder that is mysterious, colorful and fascinating. The tone of the film and its narrative soon provides enough clues to conjure up chimeras in the viewer’s mind of a monster that is more powerful and destructive than anything we have come to known. The fact that is invisible for almost the entire film only adds to the excitement this skillfully crafted film builds.

Due to its success and its masterful execution, "Forbidden Planet" soon became the most important science fiction film of its time and is still regarded as such. Its influence can still be felt in many areas to this day. It built the foundation to Gene Roddenberry’s "Star Trek" phenomenon and upon viewing "Forbidden Planet" more than once you will be reminded of the original "Star Trek" television series it predated many years. But also Robby, the iconic robot and much of the film’s terminology has been used and reused on various occasions and names like "Altair" or "Id" have been picked up by computer companies in honor of the movie.

"Forbidden Planet" was the perfect science fiction film with its vast planet locations, the exotic oasis within, the slick flying saucer, the huge machinery and mind-altering devices, the robot and countless others. It is hardly surprising that even today, "Forbidden Planet" has a huge cult following and it still is the material that nurtures one’s imagination. Only recently news surfaced that New Line Cinema has picked up the remake rights to this remarkable film. With New Line’s secret weapon Michael Deluca in the lead and Frank "The Green Mile" Darabont as the director, one can be hopeful that the remake will focus on the story’s essentials rather than turning it into a flashy effects spectacle without depth.

Originally released through MGM Home Entertainment, Warner home Video has recently acquired the rights to this film and is re-releasing it on DVD here in the same way, MGM Home Entertainment did previously. On one side of the DVD you will find a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> presentation of the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, while the other side of the disc hold a <$PS,pan and scan> transfer of the movie. Do yourself a favor and forget that there even is a <$PS,fullscreen> version on the disc, as the cropped image does not give you a remote hint at the expansive vistas the movie’s beautiful photography has captured for the viewer. The <$PS,widescreen> transfer in its original Cinemascope aspect ratio however allows you to see the carefully composed images in their entirety. The transfer on this DVD is good-looking and highly detailed, although the source print exhibits quite some signs of age. Scratches and dust, as well as some grain is visible in the transfer, but given the movie’s considerable age this is certainly excusable and never becomes obtrusive. The transfer has a good color reproduction, bringing out the best of the lush production design and colorful set decoration. No over saturation is evident anywhere and skin tones are faithfully rendered. No compression artifacts can be found in the presentation of this truly classic movie.

"Forbidden Planet" comes with a 2.0 channel <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track in English, as well as monaural tracks in French and Spanish. The stereo track is creating a very centered image and stereo panning is hardly noticeable at all during the presentation. As a result of the movie’s age, the frequency response of the audio is very limited. As a result the audio sounds very harsh without natural low ends. No distortion is audible however and the noise floor of the audio is generally low. Dialogues are always understandable and well integrated in the overall mix.

The movie also features a remarkable music track that has become synonymous with the science fiction genre of the time. Using earliest analog synthesizer technology, the music consists mostly of sine-wave clusters that are harmonized and modulated, creating an odd, otherworldly atmosphere for the film. The music score is as effective as it is haunting, especially as the film’s tension builds towards the end.

This is a great science fiction classic nicely brought to life on a modern medium. The DVD helps maintain the high level of detail in the film and captures the essence of the beautiful Technicolor presentation. Unfortunately other than a trailer there are no extras on this release, but nonetheless for fans of this movie, this DVD is a god-sent that allows them to watch this film in its entire glory.