Released in 1956, 'Forbidden Planet' opens with the narrator informing the viewer that in the last decade of the twenty-first century man had landed on the moon, reached other planets by 2200, and then light-speed was discovered, which enabled intergalactic travel. Although the writers missed their first prediction by a 100 years or so with the Apollo 11 moon landing taking place July 20, 1969, the creative team's forward thinking about the future created an intriguing, influential science fiction film that saw former B-movie material given first-class treatment.
Led by Commander John J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen), the United Planet's C-57D Spacecruiser is on a reconnaissance mission to Altair IV, 16 light years away, to follow up on the Bellerophon, a ship whose crew was sent on an expedition to colonize the planet, though no one reported back. Once in orbit, they make radio contact with Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who warns them to stay away from the planet. However, the commander has his orders.
The effects work is well done as the ship moves believably through space and down to the planet's surface. The commander and a couple of his men meet with the doctor and his 19-year-old daughter Altaira (Anne Francis, as the song "Science Fiction Double Feature" from 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' states). Her introduction generates a storyline that is a tad silly and dated by today's standards. The writers exhibit a '50s mentality towards the sexes as Lt. Jerry Farman (Jack Kelly) becomes overwhelmingly infatuated with her, and naturally not being around other men before, she is eager to learn what kissing is and swims without a suit.
The doctor reveals an extinct race known as the Krells lived on the planet and they were one million years further evolved than humankind. Although we don't see them, the large triangle-shaped doorframes they devised provide opportunities for the viewer's imagination. The Krells had amazing technologies and once the Commander learns of them like a typical military man he wants to confiscate them on behalf of the United Planets, but Morbius refuses.
This battle of wills places Altira in the middle. Torn between her father and a man she met a couple of days ago who has some mysterious effect on her. Making matters more difficult for all involved is an invisible monster on the loose, only seen when it tries to breach an electric fence, which causes portions of it to appear thanks to the animation wizards on loan from Walt Disney.
'Forbidden Planet' is a good film, though it does get slow and talky in portions. There's quite a bit revealed through dialogue and the action is limited. Some scenes border on being boring and the comic relief involved with the cook (Earl Holliman) and Robby is flat. Shakespeare's "The Tempest" influenced the film's story, which deals with the theme of man and his nature. Likewise, the film and its crew went on to have an influence on science fiction, particularly television series like 'Star Trek,' 'Lost in Space,' and 'The Twilight Zone.' And of course, it introduced Robby the Robot to the world.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Brothers brings 'Forbidden Planet' to high-definition on a BD-50 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. The disc skips menus and goes right to the movie. It is reported to be Region A. All the extras are the same as the 50th Anniversary DVD that came out in 2006.
The video is presented with 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The production design displays a wide palette of solid and consistent colors. The matte paintings look great and remain seamless in high definition, a statement some 50-year-old film effects can't make. The deep blacks and the frequent grays from all the metal help contribute to a sharp contrast and there's good shadow delineation. A natural film grain is evident, as are minor marks and dirt.
There are some issues, though. The worst is the number of times the source reveals its age. Fades just do not work in high definition, highlighting the processes used for optical effects at the time. During the blending of the two scenes, the image loses its sharpness, so just before and right after the transition, it looks like a filter is removed and replaced, respectively. Scenes with animation also suffer the same loss of quality, as when Robby shoots a monkey off the table.
There's limited depth in the shots, possibly to hide the back wall of the studio. This causes flatness. Edges can run soft. There's mild banding as light comes off Altair. There's also some type of error at 29:52 as the image expands horizontally when Robby drives off with the crewmembers.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track sounds surprisingly defect free in contrast to the image. Louis and Bebe Barron's electronic tonalities are outstanding. They're the most prevalent element within the surrounds, sounding eerie and otherworldly, seemingly throughout the film. Otherwise, there's mild to faint ambiance, particularly creating echo in some of the Krells' cavernous rooms.
The dynamics are not consistent, as Pidgeon's voice frequently sounds flat due to ADR. Most of the dialogue is clear as it plays out the front center channel, except one scene when Morbius is playing Krell music, which momentarily plays louder than his dialogue, though I wasn't clear if it was intentional. Sounds are positioned across the fronts and there's good imaging when the Starcruiser moves across the frame as the steel shutters of Morbius' home pop up across the building.
'Forbidden Planet' is a classic science fiction film that comes across pretty well for its age. Sure, it has its quirks, but it has understandably endured for decades because it plays things seriously. While the source limited what could be done in the high definition format, the Blu-ray shouldn't have major detractors. Warner Brothers did a very good job honoring the film's legacy with the special features. While I recommend it for everyone, I would highly recommend it to fans of science fiction and movie special effects.