There’s hardly a quiet moment in Forbidden Planet, the viewer assaulted by an eerie, otherworldly score for most of the film. This generates a sense of being out of place, certainly not of Earth, and the fear of the unknown.
Altair IV is a special place, investigated years ago by another scientific expedition, a second crew traveling there now to learn of their fate, Commander J.J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen) in the lead. What they find is not typical of the era, other films showcasing dinosaurs, aliens, or other ferocious beasts living on these off-beat worlds.
Forbidden Planet is more calculated than that despite the workmanlike direction from Fred M. Wilcox. It covers its scientific bases no matter how ridiculous, a previous civilization known as the Krell producing unheard of levels of technology. Robby the Robot is surely the highlight, a creation so advanced as to create any material just by studying it.
Robby’s countless moving parts, from his typewriter-like mouth to various spinning gadgets are the epitome of ’50s sci-fi, a wonderfully goofy and iconic design utilized well into the ’80s (Joe Dante’s Gremlins paying homage).
For a film that in reality, remains quite dark, distressing, and serious, it carries all of the hallmarks of lavish MGM productions. The Eastman color is a joy to behold, Altair IV given a bright green sky and deeply hued plants to deliver the depth of the landscape. Jaw-dropping matte paintings, the ventilation ducts in particular, give the film a scale that is nothing short of magnificent. The film’s unheard of $2 million budget is on screen.
Most importantly, it’s the barriers Forbidden Planet broke. It’s obsessed with its fiction, not just in the dialogue but its creations. It’s more than laser beams, and despite a pseudo-inclusion, goes beyond the ’50s standard of a giant monster. There’s nothing wrong with the giant bug genre or awakened dinosaur flick, but everyone needs a break. The revelation Forbidden Planet provides is staggering, completely unexpected and even out of place.
It opened doors to creations where anything was possible, not just physical or visual things. It was a kick to Hollywood that audiences are a bit smarter than they gave them credit for, and still remained engaged. Forbidden Planet makes you feel like you’re learning about some historical culture; it’s that well written. All the while, it’s providing the romance and style of a forgotten era of Hollywood.
Warner issues Forbidden Planet on Blu-ray with a highly similar transfer to their HD DVD release, likely the same exact one. This remains a VC-1 encode, a bit overly compressed, and not using the extra space provided by the BD-50 format. As a result, the grain is a tad noisier than it probably could be, chroma noise seeping in a bit as well. A few spikes, such as the one at 46:29, cause faces to appear mildly distorted.
The one thing that can be said for Warner is their care with their deep, rich catalog. There’s no doubt the film was lovingly restored for its hi-def debut, the results of which remain here, dated compression or not. Print specks, dirt, and scratches are leveled off to a minimum, barely an issue even during the various effects (barring the fade-in/fade-outs, dimmed by the tech of the day).
Sharpness is maintained and impressive. There is no attempt to manipulate the image in a negative way, the Eastman Color process producing some bold, saturated colors at their prime, flesh tones especially vibrant. The landscape of Altair IV quite gorgeous, going along with the plant life around Morbius’ (Walter Pidgeon) home.
Direction here leads to a number of close-ups that can be counted on one hand. The camera sits back, leaving the actors in the mid-range for much of the film. While this static style leaves a limited amount of facial texture, other aspects of the image do come through. The couches inside Morbius’ living room carry a distinct pattern, some kind of glitter and the individual stitches come through cleanly. Leading into his house is some impressively designed grass, while the other plant life benefits greatly as well.
All of the matte paintings and backdrops are lively, brush strokes visible and clean. Black levels are deep enough to satisfy, and the contrast is rich to deliver a dimensional image.
An upgrade is given to the audio, increased from a Dolby Digital Plus effort to a DTS-HD track. The differences, if any, seem minimal. The wholly electronic score is complex enough that any tweak in fidelity would render it ear-piercing, but this is a fine reproduction. The various twangs and pings are crisp, well defined, and free of distortion. Laser beams and their subdued screech are likewise free of problems.
Dialogue is especially well-rendered, so well in fact that its age never actually shows. Fidelity is fantastic here, well beyond the expectation. There is even some stereo work, most effective as the invisible creature moves into the ship around 40-minutes in. The guard’s chatter is clearly tracked into the left front, although it doesn’t quite make it into the surround.
Nothing does catch in those rears, not that there was much expectation in the first place. This film is perfectly suited to a typical stereo mix, and Warner took that a step further with the center. It’s hard to find fault in that.
Nothing has been truncated from the HD DVD, beginning with the superb documentary Watch the Skies!, a nearly hour-long look at the sci-fi of the era. Exploring the Far Reaches of Forbidden Planet is a making-of that runs nearly a half-hour. A selection of deleted scenes and some test footage is included, along with two snippets from the MGM Parade series.
An episode of The Thin Man which features Robby is on the disc, along with the “sequel” for Forbidden Planet, The Invisible Boy. The latter remains in SD. Trailers are the final piece. Sadly, the Ultimate Collector’s Edition, with reproduction lobby cards and small Robby the Robot figure has not been released on Blu-ray.