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Fred M. Wilcox
Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Warren Stevens, Jack Kelly, Richard Anderson, Earl Holliman, Robby the Robot
Writing Credits:
William Shakespeare (play, "The Tempest"), Irving Block (story), Allen Adler (story), Cyril Hume

A dutiful robot named Robby speaks 188 languages. An underground lair offers evidence of an advanced civilization. But among Altair-4's many wonders, none is greater or more deadly than the human mind. Forbidden Planet is the granddaddy of tomorrow, a pioneering work whose ideas and style would be reverse-engineered into many cinematic space voyages to come. Leslie Nielsen plays the commander who brings his spacecruiser crew to the green-skied world that's home to Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), his daughter (Anne Francis) ... and to a mysterious terror. Featuring sets of extraordinary scale and the first all-electronic musical soundscape in film history, Forbidden Planet is in a movie orbit all its own.

Box Office:
$1.9 million.
Domestic Gross
$3.0 million.

Rated NR

Widescreen 2.35:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Monaural

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 11/14/2006

Disc One
• Deleted Scenes
• Lost Footage
• “MGM Parade”
• 2/28/1958 “The Thin Man: Robot Client” TV Episode
Disc Two
The Invisible Boy Feature Film
• “Watch the Skies!: Science Fiction, The 1950s and Us” Documentary
• “Amazing!: Exploring the Far Reaches of Forbidden Planet” Documentary
• “Robby the Robot: Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon” Featurette


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Forbidden Planet: 50th Anniversary Special Edition (1956)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 8, 2006)

What one views as good science fiction seems to depend somewhat on one’s age. For me, I find it hard to take much sci-fi from earlier than the mid-Sixties, and even most of the pre-Star Wars stuff comes across as clunky and silly to me. Some exceptions occur, of course, but the farther back you go, the goofier matters tend to become.

Because of that, I entered my screening of 1956’s Forbidden Planet with some trepidation. The Fifties offered at least one other example of good sci-fi via 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, but I find it hard to think of other quality efforts in the genre. Still, this new “50th Anniversary” DVD sounded enticing, so I decided to give Planet a shot.

Set a couple centuries in the future, we learn that man has developed technology to travel faster than the speed of light and folks have “conquered and colonized” deep space. We meet the inhabitants of United Planets Cruiser C-57D. Led by Captain JJ Adams (Leslie Nielsen), they go to Altair-4 to search for survivors of a scientific party; the Belerephon landed there 20 years earlier.

Once they arrive, they indeed find living folks on the planet. They initiate contact with Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), but he tries to shoo them back home. He warns them of potential problems if they land, but Adams and company persist anyway.

After they land, they meet a metallic emissary: Robby the Robot (himself). He takes Adams, Lt. Ostrow (Warren Stevens) and Lt. Farman (Jack Kelly) to Morbius and the doctor shows them the lay of his homey little spread. Morbius claims that all the other members of the Belerephon died years ago and he remains the sole survivor.

However, the crew soon meets Morbius’s nubile – and man-hungry, apparently – daughter Alta (Anne Francis). All the horny dudes go pretty bonkers over her, and Alta eventually discovers romance. In the meantime, some vicious creature stalks the ship’s crew. The film follows their attempts to stay alive as well as their growing knowledge of Morbius and the planet’s secrets.

Planet signals that it’ll offer something different right off the bat. During the opening credits, we don’t hear music. Instead, we get “electronic tonalities” created by Louis and Bebe Barron. These bleeps, blips and groans give the movie an otherworldly feel that really suits it. The “score” creates an unsettling effect that usually fits the material, as it forms an alien identity to match the planet.

Other aspects of Planet don’t seem quite as unusual, but the movie manages to turn into a pretty effective little action sci-fi experience. Actually, if you think of it as an episode of Star Trek, you’ll know what to expect. Planet clearly influenced Trek, and the film would’ve fit neatly into the original series’ run. Look at it like a lost pilot from a decade before the show aired.

And a good lost pilot at that. Planet has everything we’d want from this sort of mysterious sci-fi adventure. It offers a spooky and seemingly unstoppable villain, lots of interesting technology, and a little romance too. Frankly, I probably could have lived without the Alta subplot, though I suppose she makes matters more personal for the captain. I don’t know how much else she contributes to matters, however.

Parts of Planet age poorly while others hold up quite well. To my surprise, many of the visual effects still look good. The animated monster seen late in the film is still scary, and many of the matte paintings create a convincing sense of place.

Planet loses some points due to its oddly unsophisticated attempts at futurism. Mankind can travel faster than the speed of light but they’re dazzled but a clunky-looking robot? And isn’t it funny how people in the 23rd century look and act a lot like the inhabitants of the Fifties? It seems that no attempts were made to divorce the look and behavior of the characters from then-modern trends, and that tends to date the flick.

Despite these issues and a second act that stalls a bit, Forbidden Planet remains an enjoyable experience. It earns points simply as a forefather of so much later science fiction; it takes little effort to see its influence elsewhere. But Planet’s draw doesn’t come solely from its historical merit, as it continues to entertain.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus A-

Forbidden Planet appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A mix of highs and lows left us with an inconsistent presentation.

Sharpness caused some of the concerns. Many shots exhibited good delineation, but plenty of others came across as rather soft and undefined. Overall, I thought the movie lacked the consistent crispness I’d like. Jagged edges and shimmering created no concerns, and I detected no signs of edge enhancement. Source flaws were fairly minor. Occasional examples of specks and blemishes occurred, but these remained reasonably infrequent.

Eastman Color tended to hold up poorly over the years, and that became an issue during Planet. The hues rarely exhibited much life. Instead, they usually came across as a bit bland and flat. I wouldn't call them terribly off-kilter, but they failed to deliver the expected vivacity one would normally get from this sort of adventure. Blacks were decent, at least, as they exhibited fair depth and presence, while shadows appeared acceptably concise. In the end, the issues with sharpness and color meant that I felt the transfer merited a “C+”.

Similar ups and downs came from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Forbidden Planet. On the positive side, audio quality was usually good. Speech sounded somewhat brittle at times, and I noticed occasional muddiness as well. Still, the lines were always intelligible and without significant concerns. The “electronic tonalities” were full and distinct. They showed good life and breadth throughout the film. Effects followed suit, as they were clean and pretty powerful. The handful of louder segments demonstrated nice depth and impact.

Some parts of the soundfield succeeded. I thought the “tonalities” spread well across the front and rears to create a reasonably immersive presence, and effects featured good localization. Various elements popped up in appropriate spots and blended together pretty well. Surround usage wasn’t heavy, but the back speakers added to the sense of place.

Since I’ve related so much praise for this 50-year-old audio, you may wonder why I gave the track a “C+”. I did so because of problems with the speech. Planet often localized dialogue but it did so poorly much of the time. In particular, lines that should have emanated from the left tended to bleed to the right. Centered speech was decent, and material from the right was acceptable, though some mushiness also came from there. The left side offered the majority of the problems, however, and created a real nuisance. Because so much of the dialogue came from illogical spots, many distractions occurred. Frankly, I’d rather have a mono track than this one since the localization often did more harm than good. There’s enough positive for a “C+”, but the speech issues caused a disappointment.

While prior DVD releases of Forbidden Planet lacked substantial extras, this two-disc “50th Anniversary Edition” packs in many components. On DVD One, we start with 12 Deleted Scenes. Taken together, they fill a total of 13 minutes and 11 seconds. Fans who hope to find anything major will feel disappointed, as these bits and pieces are pretty inconsequential. The most significant shows some interpretation of Alta’s effect on animals. I’m sure Planet aficionados will be delighted to see these clips, despite their forgettable qualities.

In addition, we get nine minutes and 15 seconds of Lost Footage. We see various clips of test footage. These include various effects elements. I suppose the Planet buffs might dig them, but they bored me.

Two clips show up under the banner of MGM Parade. We get excerpts from Episodes 27 and 28 of a mid-Fifties series by the same name. Together the two snippets add up to six minutes, 11 seconds. Walter Pidgeon hosts these pieces and gives us a look at Planet. “27” is essentially just a promo for the flick, but “28” offers a cute little chat between Pidgeon and Robby. These are worth a look for their fun archival value.

For more televised fun, we go to the 2/28/58 Episode of The Thin Man. Entitled “Robot Client”, this TV program runs 25 minutes, 32 seconds and appears here because it features Robby the Robot. Starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk as Nick and Nora, the Thin Man series ran for two years; this one came about two-thirds of the way through Season One. Frankly, Lawford and Kirk don’t seem right as Nick and Nora, and “Client” isn’t a very interesting show. It’s great to have for its use of Robby, but the program itself is silly and not too entertaining.

DVD One ends with a collection of theatrical trailers. We find promos for The Thing from Another World, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, Forbidden Planet, The Black Scorpion, The Invisible Boy and the 1960 version of The Time Machine.

When we shift to DVD Two, the prime attraction comes from The Invisible Boy. This 1957 feature film lasts 89 minutes and 22 seconds. Why does the flick appear in this set? Because like “Robot Client”, it features Robby.

Boy stars Richard Eyer as Timmie Merrinoe, an underachieving kid with a scientist dad (Philip Abbott) who doesn’t spend much time with him due to all his work. Timmie gets access to abandoned robot Robby and uses him as his personal slave and buddy. When Timmie desires to disappear, Robby literally makes the kid invisible. This spawns many goofy adventures as Timmie takes advantage of his status.

Essentially, Boy acts as a combination of Afterschool Special, horror flick and goofy Disney comedy – with a little Cold War tension thrown in for good measure. While Forbidden Planet manages to work pretty well after five decades, Boy dates badly and comes as a serious product of its era. It produces a few decent chuckles and is cool to have due to Robby’s presence, but it’s not a good movie.

In addition to Boy, DVD Two includes three separate documentaries. First comes the 55-minute and 27-second Watch the Skies!: Science Fiction, The 1950s and Us. Narrated by Mark Hamill, it mixes archival materials, movie snippets, and interviews. We find notes from filmmakers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron. The program examines the significant sci-fi flicks of the 50s and how they reflected their era. We also look at a mix of trends in the genre, and we learn about how the movies dealt with science fact and used different elements as metaphors.

The presence of four legendary filmmakers helps “Skies” to an enormous degree. They give us excellent notes about the flicks that informed their views of the genre as kids, and they provide lots of insights into the era and its material. We also find many good representative clips from the films; those help illustrate the information. This is a very enjoyable and useful program.

Next comes Amazing!: Exploring the Far Reaches of Forbidden Planet. It goes for 26 minutes, 30 seconds and features filmmakers John Landis, William Malone, Joe Dante and John Carpenter, visual effects artists John Dykstra, Phil Tippett and Dennis Muren, actors Anne Francis, Earl Holliman, Warren Stevens, Richard Anderson and Leslie Nielsen, novelist Alan Dean Foster, science fiction historian Bob Burns, film historian Rudy Behlmer, theater director Geoff Elliott, author Bill Warren, robot co-designer Robert Kinoshita, composer Bebe Barron, and sound designer Ben Burtt.

“Reaches” looks at the state of cinematic sci-fi prior to Planet and how that flick altered the genre. We then go through MGM’s aims for the film, the story’s development and Shakespearean influence, characters, performances and the tone on the set, the design and creation of Robby the robot, visual effects and other production elements, the flick’s innovative score and other audio, the film’s depiction of its monster, and the flick’s reception at the time and later.

Almost inevitably, “Reaches” occasionally devolves into frothy praise for Planet. However, given the movie’s influence and how much it impacted those involved with the program, I can easily excuse that tendency. It makes clear how important Planet became for filmmakers and it also throws out many good notes about the production. Granted, it’d be nice to get more details from the participants, but this still acts as a good little documentary.

Finally, we locate Robby the Robot: Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon. This 13-minute and 40-second show presents remarks from Dante, Nielsen, Foster, Burtt, Holliman, Behlmer, Malone, Carpenter, Kinoshita, Dykstra, Francis, author/science writer Steven Kotler, USC Robotics Lab co-director Professor Maja Mataric, and Robby replica builder Fred Barton. The show covers the design and creation of Robby. It expands on the notes found in the prior documentary and gives us more details about all things Robby as well as other robotic topics. We also get a nice close-up look at the original Robby. This turns into a pretty informative and interesting look at the mechanical legend.

It’d be good enough if Forbidden Planet merited attention solely due to its influence over 50 years of science fiction. However, the movie also continues to entertain. The DVD presents fairly mediocre picture and sound but packs in a very nice set of extras. Though the visual and auditory issues mean I can’t call the set a slam-dunk, it still manages to earn my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5454 Stars Number of Votes: 11
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main