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HD DVD Review: Forbidden Planet

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A truly gutsy, out of the ordinary piece of ‘50s science fiction, Forbidden Planet has long been heralded as a classic of the genre. Even with a deep appreciation for the era and its style, it’s hard to see why. Aside from stunning, colorful effects and an iconic robotic creation, this is a flat, dull exercise for genre fans.

A rare serious performance for Leslie Nielsen leads a decent cast in this spin on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Concerning a crew that lands on a distant planet to find supposedly lost men from a previous mission, the exposition is dreadfully dull. This is a movie where absolutely nothing happens for nearly all of its excruciating 98 minute running time.

The new world, Altair, is a green-skied, rock-covered desert. Not until well into the film when the secrets of the planet are revealed is anything of interest presented. The special effects take over to produce stunning images that finally break tedious dialogue sequences, many of which have no bearing on the plot.

Forbidden Planet is fondly remembered for being an inspiration. Star Trek and Star Wars owe a lot in terms of their style and concepts to this Fred Wilcox-directed piece. The colorful world is a marvel when it has a chance to show its beautiful images in full. The same goes for the futuristic technology, including the unforgettable Robby the Robot in his first appearance.

The recently landed crew, aside from Nielsen’s character, is loaded with typical and similar characters who fail to stand out. They all have affection for naïve Anne Francis, daughter of the only surviving member of the previous mission. Her revealing clothing leads to the crew acting like 12-year-olds every time she appears in repetitive fashion by the time the finale rolls around.

That finale does hold the one key worthwhile piece to recommended. After learning about the ancient civilization that previously inhabited the planet and their advanced technology, there was an easier (and mainstream) way out. The Allen Adler (his only screen credit) and Irving Block (a special effects man) script is a thinker. Those accustomed to atomic creatures rampaging through cities and aliens blasting their way to their goals will be surprised by the depth here. It’s out of character for the era in a good way.

It takes a lot of effort to get there unfortunately, and it’s simply not worth the time to find out the secrets of this world. Dialogue is painful and painfully drawn out, not to mention the vast majority of Forbidden Planet is filled with it. Special effects and the ending surprises are not enough to carry this so-called classic.

Mixed is the reaction to this HD DVD. Special effects scenes requiring mattes and multiple passes are barely on the level of a laserdisc. Given the age, print, and expectations, this is acceptable. Non-effects sequences are somewhat grainy, though the colors pop and planetary detail is sharper (you can now clearly see where the stage ends and backdrop begins). It understandably lacks the pop of modern films, though also doesn’t hold up to other films from the '50s or '60s currently available on HD.

Presented in 5.1, the revolutionary electronic instrumentation used for the soundtrack comes through cleanly. Very brief stereo usage is the only modern addition to the audio. Some minor bass activates the subwoofer, though the rest of the presentation is flat.

Extras make this disc worth owning. Invisible Boy, a loose sequel that came a year later, is included in its entirety. While not in HD, the transfer is incredibly clean for a film that doesn’t strive as high as its predecessor does.

Watch the Skies is an hour-long tribute/documentary on the influence of ‘50s sci-fi. Clips from both obscure and classic films are interspersed with interviews from all levels of fans and directors. Amazing: Exploring the Far Reaches of Forbidden Planet is a half-hour look at the impact, making of, and style of the film.

Robby the Robot: Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon spends 14 minutes looking at the creation, design, and influence of the helpful robot featured in the film. A full 20 or so minute Thin Man episode follows which features Robby in a prominent role. The latter is notable as the series has yet to find a way to DVD.

Lost footage and deleted scenes add up to nearly a half hour. The lost footage is intriguing, discovered buried in vault with numerous tests and oddball shots that were nearly lost forever. The film wraps up with a stack of trailers for classic sci-fi Warner films of the ‘50s that can only whet your appetite for a (hopefully) future HD release.

Of note, the set used for the backyard garden is actually a portion of the Munchkin village used in the Wizard of Oz. While obviously dressed up and altered, it’s amazing that the set stayed for 17 years until it was used here.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.