There are certain films that seem to stay with us for our whole lives. As we grow up they are still favorites it is just our appreciation that may change over the years. For me one such film has always been ‘Forbidden Planet’. Growing up in the fifties I watched this flick every time it came on TV. At first the film was just a great science fiction just right for a young boy. There was a space ship; a robot and an alien menace, everything that a young growing mind needed to inspire the imagination. As I grew up I began to understand just how incredible and ground breaking this movie actual was. Based on Shakespeare’s last play, the Tempest, the theme of power and redemption is portrayed against the backdrop of the universe. The robot I enjoy so much as a child was actually one of the most expensive film props at that time. The sound track was completely electronic, common place today but back in 1956 it was far before it’s time. Although younger viewers make think that this is a cheesy old movie this new DVD release offers an opportunity to see where so much of what you take for granted started. Many young people in the fifties and sixties were also influenced by this movie, people like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry for example. For those spoiled by the fantastic special effects we are used to now this film was a large part of where it all started.
The film opens in the year 2200, aboard and inter-stellar space craft commissioned by the United Planets. On board is the Belerephon expedition lead by the staid Commander John Adams (Leslie Nielsen). The crew is on a 378 day mission out into the depths of space to locate the sole survivor of a previous deep space mission. Over two decades before a research ad colonization group had lost contact with Earth and I suppose bureaucracy never changes and they just got around to sending some help. As the crew of the Belerphon arrives on Altair IV they find only two survivors, philologist Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his young daughter Altaira (Anne Francis). There is also an advanced robot named Robby (voiced by Marvin Miller) who severs Morbius as a domestic major domo. Morbius tries his best to convince Adams and his senior staff, 'Doc' Ostrow (Warren Stevens) and Lt. Jerry Farman (Jack Kelly) to leave immediately. Adams is curious as to how the doctor and his beautiful young daughter have managed to survive for so long and demands an investigation of their living arrangements. Reluctantly Morbius agrees to show them around his luxurious home. He explains that the planet was once inhabited by a now extinct race called the Krell. The Krell were masters of all aspects of science including the harnessing of unthinkable amounts of energy. Morbius takes the space men on a tour of a vast underground complex built by the Krell. In one room there is what seems to be an endless array of meters, each one gauging a power of ten more than the previous. As Morbius explains his uses manage only a slight tweak of the lowest meter, the potential sinks into Adams, the energy here is vast. While this is happening back at the ship danger is present. It seems that an unseen force is killing the crew one by one. This is exactly what happened to the original settler of the planet, all died by this force except for Morbius and his daughter. The Krell did more than explore the physical universe; they explored the inner workings of the mind. The force creature was actually a manifestation of Morbius’ dark id. Wanting to be left alone to continue his work he has subconsciously tapped into the energy of the Krell.
This film works on so many levels it is amazing. Unlike so many science fiction films of the mid fifties it still holds up today and remains a classic in truest sense. The main reason for this are the many themes explored here that would provide the basis for films over the following five decades. First, there is the connection to Shakespeare. His plays are timeless because they posses such human stories that each generation can retell the tale in its own image. Morbius is Prospero with magic and sorcery replaced by the focus of the fifties, science. Altaria is the modernized Miranda, the representation of beauty and innocence. The helpful spirit Ariel has been changed to Robby while the id creature represents Caliban. Instead of harnessing the power of the spirit world Morbius hopes to become as powerful in science as they now long gone Krell. The theme of innocence lost is explored as Altaria receives lessons in kissing from the handsome young Lt. Farman. This outrages Morbius who wants his daughter to always be untouched by the lusts and desires of humanity. The concept of a space ship operated by a group of colonized planets has become the Federation of Planets well know to all Star Trek fans. Commander Adams is the prototype for James Kirk, handsome, bold and devoted to duty. The idea that man would one day reach out peacefully to the stars has driven science fiction and this film is one of the earliest examples. The special effects are tame by today’s standards but back then they were cutting edge. Robby was an amazing for 1956. It was the dream of the fifties that one day robots would take over the mundane tasks we all have to endure.
Adding to the lasting quality of this film is the cast. Walter Pidgeon was not your typical science fiction actor. His long career featured roles that would have him twice nominated for an Oscar. He took his talent in drama and used it to provide a realistic and complex presentation of Morbius. Decades before Leslie Nielsen who ask people not to call him Shirley he had a career as an aspiring leading man. This film demonstrates just how skilled Nielsen is in his craft. He is steadfast and sure of himself as the commander. He represents the stability that the United Planets holds for the future of mankind. One cast member in this film has had a long and illustrious career both in films and television. Robby the Robot has been in everything from the classic TV series Lost in Space to the flick, Gremlins. Now, some fifty years after his creation his career is still going strong.
The previous release of this film on DVD was marred by a lack of dedication to its classic status. The original MGM release and the first Warner Brothers DVD where woefully badly done. The video and audio was little better than a transfer from an old video tape. Now, to honor the fiftieth anniversary of this film Warner Brother has thankfully decided to do it up right. The video and audio have been completely re-mastered. Replacing the muddy video of the discontinued versions is a brilliant anamorphic 2.40:1 video. The color palette is better than it has been since it first appeared fifty years ago. There are almost no signs of artifacts at all. The contrast is crisp and clear. Instead of the tired old two channel audio there is now a full Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. The channel separation is distinct; the rear speakers pull you into the action. There are two variation of this film now offered by Warner Brothers. You can opt for the single disc release that contains in addition to the film the 1958 television episode of the Thin Man, ‘The Robot Client’ featuring Robby. This disc also has rare deleted scenes and previously unseen footage of the film. If you can shell out an addition twenty dollars you can get the deluxe edition. While many DVDs claim to be deluxe few take the term as serious as Warner Brothers does here. This edition has a second disc with the 1957 film ‘the Invisible Boy’ again featuring Robby. You also get the Turner Classic Movie’s science fiction documentary ‘Watch the Skies’. There are also featurettes exploring science fiction of the fifties and how Robby was created. As an added bonus you also get a replica of Robby himself all in a metal case. This is a dream collector’s item for any true fan of the film. This is perhaps one of the most important science fiction films around and now you can finally see it the way it should be seen. Thank you Warner Brothers for doing this!
Posted 10/22/06 Posted 01/01/2019