Forbidden Planet (Cert PG)
2 Discs DVD/Blu-ray Combo (Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment) Running Time: 98 minutes approx.
Warner Brothers have decided to raid their massive archive of classic films and give them the HD treatment in a series of dual-format releases under the umbrella of the Premium Collection. Among the first batch of titles is this sci-fi classic which has a marked influence on some of the most successful titles in the genre, not in the least a certain TV show which boldly went where no man had been before…
Originally titled Fatal Planet, this riff on Shakespeare’s The Tempest is set in the 23rd century, where Starship C-57D is on a mission to find out what happened to a previous expedition to the distant planet Altair IV 20 years earlier. After making contact with one survivor Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), Commander John Adams (Leslie Nielsen) ignores the warnings to turn back and lands on the planet.
Adams and his party learn that the only people on the planet are Morbius, his 19 year-old daughter Altaria (Anne Francis) and their robot servant Robby. They live in an expansive technologically advanced compound with its own lagoon and small forest where wild animals roam. But there is something else lurking on the planet and it might not let Adams and the crew of C-57D live another day.
Yes, this film introduced the world to Robby the Robot who went on to become an instantly recognisable and iconic figure in the Sci-fi genre. Crossing over into popular culture with appearances in mainstream TV shows of the day, Robby also had his own film a year later the low budget cash-in The Invisible Boy, which can be found in its entirely in the Blu-ray extras of this release.
Forbidden Planet can also boast a lot more than Robby the Robot with a number of firsts to its credit. It is the first film to use an electronic musical soundtrack, the first sci-fi film set entirely on another planet and features the first screen appearance of the mini skirt! And for viewers of a certain vintage it offers the unthinkable sight of irreverent comedy legend Leslie Nielsen not only with dark hair but also in a straight role.
Very much a product of its time, this is quite a garrulous film in its middle section as Dr. Morbius goes into exposition mode covering the entire backstory of the Krell, super-intelligent beings that inhabited the planet of Altair IV 200,000 years prior before being wiped out. Similarly, a disaster struck the original expedition from which only Morbius, his now late wife and Altaria survived.
Morbius discovered the Krell technology and after taking a brain test, found his IQ double overnight and attain immunity from any illnesses or physical harm. Adams is naturally suspicious of this but can’t put his finger on his concerns, suspecting Morbius when their spacecraft is broken into one night. Morbius and Robby both had alibis leaving the culprit a mystery but not for long.
Sci-fi and special effects go hand in hand and at the time, this film saw the visual achievements in cinema take another step forward. Modern viewers won’t appreciate their simplicity but in 1956, they were to be marvelled at, and this new HD transfer actually does them justice rather than date them.
The mysterious creature was actually animated by Disney and works for that reason while the painted cyclorama backdrop makes for a convincing alien planet. A full-scale model of half of the spacecraft was built to create a tangible external base for the actors, similar to the interior of Morbius’ base. Arguably the greatest achievement is Robby, who may be a man in a suit (Frankie Darro, with the voice supplied by Marvin Miller), lumbering around awkwardly but it feels totally real and credible.
A staple of sci-fi, which either dates the product or incurs inadvertent hilarity, is the prediction of how the future looks. This film plays it safe whilst laying the foundation for other evergreen facets such as portable communication devices and computerised systems. The interior decor of Chez Morbius, glittery bold coloured but sterile furniture, bears all of the hallmarks of the 60’s and 70’s aesthetic – perhaps it was prescient after all!
One thing that hasn’t aged so well is the treatment of Altaria as the lone female of the film. Because she has lived alone under her father’s strict guidance she knows nothing of romance and the like aside from what she has learned from literature. So when a crew of twenty-something males deprived of female company see a nubile young woman in a mini-dress, you can guess the rest.
In an uncomfortable scene Adams berates Altaria for her provocative attire and demands she dresses more conservatively. In essence, Adam’s is smitten with the girl himself and is being gentlemanly, protecting her modesty around the more lascivious crew members. In 1956 this suited the prudish nature of the era but to modern sensibilities it comes across as judgementally presumptuous.
Politically correct divisions aside the script by Cyril Hume makes up for this through its interesting psychosomatic basis behind the plots central conceit, adding a rare depth and intelligence to what had previously been concerned with presenting malevolent aliens and flying saucers. It leads to a sadly bathetic and rushed denouement but this approach marks a turning point in sci-fi script writing.
While the film may not seem so impressive or engaging to today’s audience weaned on fast paced CGI spectacles, what makes this fascinating viewing is to spot the areas where its influence has been the most profound. As alluded to earlier, Star Trek is the immediate beneficiary from the visual presentation and the philosophical elements of the story, with the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and later Star Wars paying their own respects to it.
Forbidden Planet is a solid, slightly bloated film that won’t excite the younger generation but its progressive ideas and innovation cements its status as a seminal milestone in sci-fi cinema.
English Language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Castellano
English HOH Subtitles
French, German, Castellano, Spanish, Portuguese and Norwegian Subtitles
The Thin Man TV Series Episode: “Robot Client”
Excerpts from The MGM Parade TV Series Eps 27 and 28
Theatrical Trailers of Forbidden Planet and The Invisible Boy
Limited Edition Art cards
Watch the Skies! Science Fiction, The 1950s And Us
Featurette: Amazing! Exploring the Far Reaches of Forbidden Planet
Featurette: Robby the Robot: Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon
Feature Film “The Invisible Boy”
Rating – ****
Man In Black