Plot: What’s it about?
J.J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen) is the commander of a ship headed for Altair 4, with a mission to learn about the fate of Bellerophon. The ship Bellerophon was on an expedition from Earth, but contact was lost twenty years back and never regained. Adams and his crew are charged to find any survivors and gather what intelligence can be found about the ship’s status. Once Adams’ ship reaches Altair 4, a transmission comes through that demands the crew turn back. The voice belongs to Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), a crew member of the Bellerophon, the ship’s communication expert. Morbius does not seem pleased to have been found, to the point that he warns the crew not to land. If they do land, he tells them he cannot be responsible for their safety, but of course, Adams isn’t going to back down. After the ship touches down, the crew is greeted, but not by Morbius, instead by a robot that introduces itself as Robby. Robby proves to be an advanced creation, even beyond the highest level of human technology, even guiding the visitors to Morbius’ home. Morbius then spins the tale of the Bellerophon, as the survivors were taken one by one, by an unseen force. Morbius and his family were spared, though even he himself cannot explain why. Is Morbius’ story the truth and even if so, what dark force is at work on Altair 4 and will Adams his crew escape with their lives?
The sci/fi of the 50s is usually regarded as low rent, weak storyline, pie pans on strings type cinema. And to be honest, a lot of the films fall in line with that reputation. Forbidden Planet defies that reputation and proves that 50s sci/fi can be awesome. The movie has an epic scope, for the time anyway and presents the world it takes place in with realism. I mean by realism by 50s standards, but the visuals and production design are solid even now, very impressive for the time period. The special effects are leaps above most other sci/fi from this time, both in terms of appearance and application. The visual effects aren’t just thrown in to add excitement, they’re part of the story and there for a reason. A lot of modern sci/fi films could take note of that practice and do it more often, as it really adds a lot to the experience. The storyline is a good one, not the usual sci/fi matinee stuff of the era, but a well crafted and well executed tale. The cast is good too, with solid work across the board, led by Leslie Nielsen and Walter Pidgeon. The influence of Forbidden Planet is far reaching, the obvious Star Trek and Star Wars, not to mention countless other productions.
Video: How does it look?
“Forbidden Planet” made its HD debut on the now defunct HD DVD format so why it took Warner three years to finally release this on Blu-ray is anyone’s guess. It looks pretty much identical to the VC-1 HD transfer they used for the HD DVD and, having said that the image looks pretty darn good. Colors pop and for a science fiction movie in the 50’s (are there any better out there), the image is consistent and clean overall. There are a few chinks in the armor, a few scenes are a bit soft and flesh tones tend to look a bit on the baked side but apart from that, fans of “Forbidden Planet” will find little, if nothing, to complain about here.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio sounds about the same as the HD DVD’s Dolby Digital Plus track, but this DTS HD Master Audio track does have a little extra “oomph” that was lacking on the previous uncompressed track. Again, this is a science fiction movie from the 50’s so don’t expect too terribly much. Vocals are very strong and some of the sound effects are engineered but I’ve heard a lot of newer films sound worse. It’s a good effort and an improvement over the previous HD DVD.
Supplements: What are the extras?
If you own the HD DVD or the special edition DVD of “Forbidden Planet” you won’t get any new material here as all of the supplements have been ported over. Up first is “Watch the Skies!”, a documentary that runs just under an hour and covers the wonderful world of 50s sci/fi. This piece examines a wide scope of sci/fi movies from this era, with comments from George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and others. Watch the Skies! looks at the different styles and how real life influenced the filmmakers in the productions. You can also watch a piece on Robby the Robot and a new documentary titled “Amazing!”, which offers an in depth look at the world of Forbidden Planet. If that’s not enough, how about some deleted scenes and lost footage? Perhaps you want more Robby? You can check out Robby in an episode of The Thin Man television series or in The Invisible Boy, a feature length film. Yes, Warner has included a complete feature film as a supplement. In the movie, Robby joins forces with a child to head off an attempt to control the world live via satellite. To be honest, the movie isn’t that good and isn’t on the same line as Forbidden Planet, but it makes a terrific bonus inclusion. Rounding out the extras is an excerpt from The MGM Parade show, as well as a collection of sci/fi trailers. It would have been cool to port over some of the extras from the Criterion LaserDisc, but maybe Criterion will come out with their own version? Additionally, the supplements are not shown in HD, as was the case with the HD DVD.