Forbidden Planet [Blu-ray]
by Director: Fred M. Wilcox (as Fred McLeod Wilcox)
Review by Charles Mohapel
Warner Home Video Blu-ray ISBN/ITEM#: B0019NB9A2
Date: 27 November 2010 List Price $24.98 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: IMDB.com - Forbidden Planet / The Invisible Boy / MGM Parade - Episodes / The Thin Man - Robot Client / Show Official Info /
Director: Fred M. Wilcox (as Fred McLeod Wilcox)
Cyril Hume (screenplay)
Irving Block (story) and Allen Adler (story)
William Shakespeare (play "The Tempest") uncredited
Cast overview, first billed only:
Walter Pidgeon ... Dr. Edward Morbius
Anne Francis ... Altaira 'Alta' Morbius
Leslie Nielsen ... Commander J. J. Adams
Warren Stevens ... Lt. 'Doc' Ostrow M.D.
Jack Kelly ... Lt. Jerry Farman
Richard Anderson ... Chief Quinn
Earl Holliman ... Cook
Robby the Robot ... Himself
George Wallace ... Bosun
Robert Dix ... Crewman Grey (as Bob Dix)
Jimmy Thompson ... Crewman Youngerford
James Drury ... Crewman Strong
Harry Harvey Jr. ... Crewman Randall
Roger McGee ... Crewman Lindstrom
Peter Miller ... Crewman Moran
Following the end of World War II when war against the Japanese, Germans, and Italians had allied the United States, Great Britain, and their allies with Russia, this alliance quickly changed into a Cold War with the Russians as the new menace to freedom. The majority of Science Fiction films in this period featured all sorts of post-nuclear giant ants, spiders, and other mutated lifeforms menacing poor humans, all presented in stark black & white. At that time MGM was still in its glory and when they committed to making Forbidden Planet, they made two key decisions. First, they committed to making Forbidden Planet in the same first class fashion as their normal films. Second, they decided to film it in color, as opposed to the norm of black & white.
Having never seen or read William Shakespeare's play "The Tempest", I can't personally prove or disprove that it was indeed the basis or inspiration for Forbidden Planet, but after viewing the actions of Dr. Morbius, the old adage about "Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely" leaps to mind like the tiger in the film.
Regarding Forbidden Planet on Blu-ray, I can only say that the long wait was worth it -- it was like seeing a brand new copy of the film before it had become nicked and scratched in the projector.
Most people think that William Shatner was the first Canadian to play the captain of a starship when he took the helm of the USS Enterprise in 1966, but they would be dead wrong. Ten years earlier in 1956, Leslie Nielsen played Commander John J. Adams, captain of the United Planet Cruiser C57D.
BEHIND THE STORY has three absolutely marvelous featurettes, my favorite of which is "Watch the Skies: Science Fiction, the 1950s and Us" with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron, four of the foremost directors of Science Fiction of our time and filmed in 2005 by Turner Classic Movies. Here they talk about seeing Forbidden Planet, as well as other genre movies of their time, and how they were sometimes awestruck and sometimes terrified, but how they became inspired to make Science Fiction movies of their own. Normally I mention that I wish certain featurettes had lasted longer since they were so amazing but at just short of an hour, this featurette was quite satisfactory from a time standpoint.
"Amazing! Exploring the Far Reaches of Forbidden Planet", filmed in 2006 was nearly as enjoyable and informative as we were treated to the thoughts and words of cast members Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, Earl Holliman, Richard Anderson, and Warren Stevens, Bebe Barron who composed the score for Forbidden Planet, and Robert Kinoshita, Co-Designer of Robby The Robot. We also heard from Visual FX giants as Dennis Muren, John Dykstra, and Phil Tippett, as well as movie directors Joe Dante, John Carpenter, John Landis, and William Malone, plus Theater Director Geoff Elliott and Ben Burtt (Sound Designer, Star Wars), talking about how they were so strongly influenced by Forbidden Planet. Here we heard how art director Arthur Lonnigan had sets built that were way bigger than what was budgeted for and halfway completed before the budget department realized what was happening – this forced their hand and the elaborate sets were completed. Seeing the concept sketches for the Id Monster was awesome, as was the actual animation of the monster drawn by Josh Meador, which MGM borrowed from Disney. I was surprised to learn that Gene Roddenberry had tried to get the rights to make Forbidden Planet into a TV series and when he was unable to get the rights, used it as inspiration for Star Trek. I know there is considerable friction between fans of Star Trek and Star Wars -- perhaps they all should be made to sit and watch Forbidden Planet, as well as both of the above featurettes -- they would be shocked to learn that Forbidden Planet inspired both Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas, meaning they have more in common than they thought.
"Robby the Robot: Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon" was the third part of the trio of marvelous featurettes, also from 2006. From actors Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, and Earl Holliman, to Robert Kinoshita (Co-Designer, Robby The Robot), Fred Barton ("Robby" Replica Builder), and Professor Maja Mataric (Co-Director, USC Robotics Lab), plus other luminaries, we hear how Robby the Robot was conceived and built. Robby cost $100,000 when custom built in 1955, a fortune for those times when you consider that you could still buy a loaf of bread for 10 cents in 1960. And if you think that the robot from Lost In Space TV series (1965-1968) looks a lot like Robby, that's because he too was designed by Robert Kinoshita.
Of the TRAILERS for Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Invisible Boy (1957), the former made me want to see it in a theater while the latter didn't do much for me.
ADDITIONAL FOOTAGE features "Deleted Scenes" and "Lost Footage", both shot in 2006. "Deleted Scenes" was taken from the work print used as a reference during post-production. While these scenes won't really be missed from the film, being able to view part of this work in progress is wonderful, even with all the scratches, etc. "Lost Footage" features some test footage that was locked away in various vaults for 50 years and it was great being able to finally see this footage.
When it comes to EXTRAS, I had neutral expectations regarding The Invisible Boy, the so-called "sequel" to Forbidden Planet. I don't know whether Edmund Cooper who wrote the story or Cyril Hume who wrote this screenplay has to take the majority of the blame but The Invisible Boy, shot in black & white, is a disappointing sequel. Not only was the supercomputer intent on world domination, he eventually wanted to exterminate all organic life. Was he the inspiration for V'ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture?
Excerpt from "MGM Parade" Episodes 27 and 28 with Walter Pidgeon were entertaining snippets from the TV show which aired from from September 14, 1955 to sometime in 1956 (IMDB.com has some gaps in its info). According to IMDB.com, the show let the viewers see the inner workings of a film studio, a wonderful promotional tool and I'd even say the precursor for all those "Making of ..." TV shows that I and others so loved in the days before bonus features became commonplace on DVDs and Blu-ray Discs.
Although I had never even heard of The Thin Man TV series (1957-1959) before this, I immediately recognized Peter Lawford, the male lead as a brother-in-law to the Kennedy clan, as well as a member of the famous Rat Pack which included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, and Sammy Davis Jr. "Robot Client", the 23rd episode of Season 1, may have been shot in black & white, but it was loads of fun and served as a fine conclusion to Forbidden Planet on Blu-ray.
Forbidden Planet is a prime example of what you get when you pair groundbreaking visual effects with an excellent script, something notably missing in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the first Star Trek film and one universally despised by the disappointed fans. Although it was filmed by MGM, Forbidden Planet is now part of the Turner Classic Movie collection and you can tell that it was superbly restored when compared to the "work print" with all its scratches. Warner Brothers did justice to this film -- do yourself a big favor and buy it on Blu-ray.