Blu-ray Review: FORBIDDEN PLANET; Absolute classic that changed the face of sci-fi forever

From the opening 'chords' of the decidedly hypnotic electronic score (a cinematic first), crisp confident special effects and smart narrative undertones that faintly evoke Shakespeare's 'The Tempest', 'Forbidden Planet' eludes science-fiction sophistication. It was generally considered the first serious 1950s sci-fi film, and one that ditched the rudimentary 'Cold War' paranoia preoccupation for something with a little more spark and originality; a psychological tale concerning mysterious monsters lurking in the hazy subconscious. It's not a stretch to say the movie single-handedly changed the face of sci-fi forever; without it there would be no 'Star Trek' or 'Star Wars', no '2001: A Space Odyssey' and certainly no 'Alien', 'E.T' or even 'Avatar'. Heck even the term 'hyperdrive' is first coined here and the use of a teleportation device that beams the crew around the ship makes Scotty look like an intergalactic plagiarist. The mission of space cruiser C577-D is clear from the outset: to search for survivors of the spacecraft Bellerephon, which crashed on deserted planet Altair-4 a couple of decades ago. Commander Adams (a straight faced Leslie Nielsen) and his crew arrive to discover the planet is home to brainy but arrogant scientist Dr Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), his virginal nature-affiliated daughter Alta (her friends are animals you see) (AnneFrancis) and versatile android companion 'Robby' (Robby the Robot - debuting!). But there is a mysterious ambiance surrounding the trio. We soon learn Altair 4 was previously occupied by a pre-historic super race, the Krell, who have left behind large laboratories that the good doctor has been tinkering away in. Then events turn eerie when a benevolent invisible force attempts to attack the ship and does away with various crew members. But where does this creature stem from and what us Dr Morbius keeping from Captain Adams and his crew? All the elements that make for familiar but intriguing sci-fi are here: cutting edge special effects and cavernous sets, iconic appeal of a robot character with personality (Robby is surely an ancestor of C3PO), a thought-provoking ideology that explores the inner struggle between heart and the thrust for knowledge, a creature creation whose aesthetics are largely left to the imagination (predating 'Alien'by a couple of decades) and the concept of a militarised Starfleet (no doubt influencing 'Star Trek'). And that's not mentioning the fascinatingly ambitious scale of the production design - the Krull's laboratories are so beautifully expansive it teases the mind with limitless scope and possibilities. While the film's topic, concerning the plight of humanity over technology, remains startlingly prescient even today. There are faults of course, including corny dialogue (mostly delivered by Nielsen who is impossible to take in any 'serious' role without sniggering, given hindsight) and (bar Pidgeon) wooden acting but this is outweighed by some considerably knowing digs at events and character. Locked up in hyperspace for 378 days the crew's libidos are set racing by Francis' soul female character; a considerable distraction all too known by the commander who warns that he will have her "run out of the area under guard - and then I'll put more guards on the guards!" While the suggestive competitive interplay between crew members on an 'IQ' machine, where the commander struggles to 'get it up' (metaphorically speaking of course!) certainly suggests that the director wasn't taking events too seriously which helps to buy into all the interplanetary hokum. 'Forbidden Planet's' already triumphant aesthetic merits are beautifully enhanced in Blu-ray; the translucent colours are notched up to pleasing kaleidoscopic levels of cinematic indulgence while the equally innovative sound design is given audio justice in Dolby Digital 5.1.


Narrated by Mark Hamill 'Watch the Skies!: Science Fiction, 1950s and Us' is a TCM doc from 2005 where an impressive line up (including Ridley Scott, James Cameron, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg) talk about some of their favourite 1950s sci-fi films; analysing specific scenes that inspired them, their fascination with the expanses of the genre and how they played on very real fears of nuclear paranoia and meddling with science and nature. The documentary is great at placing 'Forbidden Planet'within a suitable context; with resourceful clips that also include such arcane entries' The Space Children' and 'Teenagers from Outer Space'. When they reach 'Forbidden Planet' it provides an interesting commentary exploring its Shakespearian themes and how certain elements influenced these assembles talking heads. Particularly interesting is learning how'Invaders from Mars', with its unsettling parental torment, 'knocked Spielberg€™s children nerves'; a film he subsequently dubs "The Groundhog Day of science-fiction. " In 'Amazing! Exploring the far reaches of 'Forbidden Planet' such rudimentary figures as John Carpenter, Joe Dante, John Landis, Dennis Murren (Visual Effects Supervisor on 'Star Wars' & 'E.T.' amongst others) and cast members Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis discuss the impact of the film that Landis later dubs as a 'masterpiece of space opera'. While the third documentary 'Robby the Robot: Engineering a sci-fi Icon' goes on to explore the iconic allure of our friendly computer-chipped cast member, who was strangely misconceived as a 'monster' character in the original promotional posters. Not content with presenting you with three lengthy documentaries, you are also given an additional movie with the 1957 sequel of sorts The Invisible Boy and an episode of The Thin Man which both serve as follow-up vehicles for our beloved 'Robby the Robot' star, (adding to the fury as to why Paramount Home Entertainment didn't include the prequel 'Space Seed' 'Star Trek' episode in their recent Blu-ray release of 'Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan'). Completing this Blu-ray package are scratchy original transfers of various deleted scenes (included a hilariously bad 'Robby ride' scene, complete with crude back-projection that completely clashes with the rest of the film and an original id monster with strange lion roar) along with lost footage 'from the vaults', which include additional innovative planetary space shots among other noteworthy 'finds' involving the crew of space cruiser C577-D. Warner Bros' release of 'Forbidden Planet' has to be the most impressively extensive package I have yet to witness on Blu-ray; if only other studios followed suit there would be validity in replacing your entire classic DVD collection with this enhanced format and give complete justice to all your favourite movies. Forbidden Planet is available on Blu-ray from today.

Oliver Pfeiffer is a freelance writer who trained at the British Film Institute. He joined OWF in 2007 and now contributes as a Features Writer. Since becoming Obsessed with Film he has interviewed such diverse talents as actors Keanu Reeves, Tobin Bell, Dave Prowse and Naomie Harris, new Hammer Studios Head Simon Oakes and Hollywood filmmakers James Mangold, Scott Derrickson and Uk director Justin Chadwick. Previously he contributed to and has had other articles published in Empire, Hecklerspray, Se7en Magazine, Pop Matters, The Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle and more recently SciFiNow Magazine and The Guardian. He loves anything directed by Cronenberg, Lynch, Weir, Haneke, Herzog, Kubrick and Hitchcock and always has time for Hammer horror films, Ealing comedies and those twisted Giallo movies. His blog is: