Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet (1956)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Warren Stevens
Extras: Additional Scenes, Lost Footage, Bonus Movie, Bonus TV Episode, TV Footage, Featurettes, Documentary, Trailer Gallery

This 1956 science fiction classic has long been a landmark of the genre that is beloved by millions and viewed over and over again. To celebrate the movie's 50th anniversary Warner Home Video has not only restored the film to its original glory but also created a HD-DVD version, complete with new extras. Clearly, this was a disc I had to check out!

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 Altair IV. Their mission is to check up on colonists who had traveled to the planet's some 20 years earlier. When the ship lands on Altair IV they find a barren and desolate landscape. The enigmatic Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) turns out to be the sole survivor of the colonists 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 mission listens to the story Morbius 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 Morbius 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 technological 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.

I do not know how they do it, but what Warner Home Video did with the transfer of "Forbidden Planet" is bordering on magic – seriously. The transfer on this HD-DVD is so absolutely staggering that it left me utterly speechless for the first few minutes. I could not believe my eyes! The restoration process made this film look as if it were a brand-spanking new film depicting a 50s era science fiction period piece. I kid you not, but this transfer puts everything to shame I have seen in terms of restored classic movies. Not only is the image absolutely free of any blemishes, scratches, noise or grain. The image is also rock solid. There is not a single registration error, making the presentation completely stable at all times. There are no splicing problems and even fades and wipes are without problems or discoloration. Add to it the brutal level of detail that is entirely free of grain and once again you will never look at "old" movies the same way.
The film is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio that brings forth the expansive vistas the movie's beautiful photography has captured for the viewer in all their beauty. The color reproduction and added detail that comes with it is staggering and on many occasions you will suddenly notice things in the film that you have probably never seen before. Whether it's the undulating water in the pool in the establishing wide shot of Morbius' mansion, the radiant color of Anne Francis' eyes or the lush set pieces, everything springs to life in this presentation.
I really have no words for the quality of this transfer. It is picture perfect and, hands down, the reference to which all other HD-DVD titles will have to aspire to.

"Forbidden Planet" comes with a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus audio track in English, as well as monaural tracks in French and Spanish. The audio is also remarkable for its ability to belie its age. While the production has certain qualities that give away the movie's age, audio is never harsh in this version. Dialogues are well integrated and free of sibilance or unnatural equalization. The mix is balanced and also helps bring out the best in the electronic score that accompanies the film. Next to Theremin sounds, this score 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.

But as if this weren't enough, Warner has stuffed this HD-DVD to the brim with extras. First and foremost there is an entire additional movie on the disc – in 480p standard definition, however, but still. It is "The Invisible Boy," a follow-up movie to "Forbidden Planet" that starred Robby The Robot. This black and white feature film is accompanied by the episode "Robot Client" from "The Thin Man" TV series, which also stars Robby The Robot. Both are in excellent shape, though evidently have not received in the same deluxe restoration treatment as "Forbidden Planet" itself.

Also included are a selection of additional scenes as well as lost footage. This is a wonderful assembly of clips and footage that will make the hearts of science fiction fans beat a bit faster. We have rare footage here that most of us never thought we would have the chance to see. Especially some of the unused starfield shots are mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful.

To cover the history and significance of the movie itself, Warner Home Video has also produced the new featurette "Amazing!" that is included on the disc. It is mostly an interview featurette offering insight into the film by cast members, as well as other modern-day filmmakers.

"Engineering A Sci-Fi Icon" takes a look at the creation, origins and stature of Robby The Robot.

The third featurette on the disc is the original TCM feature "Watch The Skies!: Science fiction, the 1950s and Us." This 55-minute documentary is hosted by Mark Hamill as he discusses the history of science fiction in movies. The documentary features interviews with many genre luminaries, such as George Lucas, Ridley Scott, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg. It is a heartfelt piece that tries to uncover the fascination of science fiction, the themes, the ideals and the wonder that makes up this genre.

To round out the release you will find an excerpt from "The MGM Parade" TV series hosted by Walter Pidgeon as well as a science fiction move trailer gallery.

"Forbidden Planet" will leave you speechless, no doubt. The presentation quality is amazing and the bonus materials are so rich that they will keep you enthralled for hours… and I loved the disc's menu.

Considering how bad "Forbidden Planet" look in previous home video incarnations, including the DVD versions, my expectations weren't too high for this release. But gone are the dodgy black levels and the gray veil that covered the entire picture. Out of all the classic films I have seen in high definition so far, "Forbidden Planet" is easily the one that impressed me the most. It shows what love for a movie can really do in terms of restoration and presentation. This is clearly a HD-DVD disc that belongs into every collector's library. It is awesome and it is impressive! Warner Home Video deserves an award for this release… and here it is – our Gold Seal Of Excellence!