Forbidden Planet Blu-ray Review
Warner's engineers gave Forbidden Planet's lush Cinemascope photography a splendidly restored transfer on the old HD release, and Wilcox's sumptuous 2.40:1 image is captured with equal aplomb here for the Blu-ray. Utilising the same VC-1 encode as its predecessor, Forbidden Planet betrays no evidence of DNR or any undue or ugly digital tinkering. That fine smattering of grain that gave texture to the restored SD DVD is intact, possibly even more overt in the higher definition, the image appearing perhaps a touch rougher as a result, though still very pleasing and defiantly film-like. Damage to the print is absolutely minimal though still fairly consistent throughout – consisting merely of specks or a tiny flecks here or there. Contrast fluctuations or other age-related visual pit-falls occur – scene changes, for example – but are not a concern. The image certainly gleams with as much vitality and colour as it did before. The opening credits are bright, fabulously saturated, stable and sharp without any unwanted enhancement and appear against a terrifically black and star-speckled void.
Now, I'll be honest and state that I haven't actually done a full-on comparison between this and the old HD disc. Basically, I just couldn't be bothered waiting for that infernal load-up time (and the clunky old Toshiba might not even work any more, anyway!) but, detail-wise, I'm pretty much convinced that this image is on a par with the previous high-definition transfer. For a kick off there is much worthwhile information available in the backgrounds - such as the dials and readouts on the bridge of the space cruiser, the contents of the fruit bowl in Morbius' house, the very texture of the stone walls (even down to the various colours and hues that decorate them), the little silver/white star of illumination from the beamer on the table, and the exotic vegetation outside in the garden. The tiger is impressively well-presented with a lot of finite attention paid to whiskers, eyes and fangs during the moment when it turns nasty. The face on the little monkey when it arrives to steal fruit is also splendidly clear even from a distance. The Id Monster is terrifically defined with a bizarrely lustrous clarity, as are the multitude of laser bolts flashing across the screen. Robby's mechanisms are bestowed more attention from the transfer, too, really captivating the eye with all their clickings and turnings and inner workings. Panning shots do not suffer from any juddering, with the image remaining blissfully smooth and easy-flowing throughout the action sequences and visual evocations of sets and painted vistas. Fabulously deep blacks add immeasurably to the atmosphere and help to maintain a good contrast that, in turn, delivers an image with plenty of depth and scale. Pebbles and stones, dust clouds and side-arms have all become much more apparent with the clean-up job that the film has received, and the majestic matte paintings seem to blend in with the sets much better and more cleanly than version pre-hi-def could have managed before. The desert landscape is bewitching and the vast Krell underground complex is even more inspiring than ever before, the combination of live-action figures and elaborate paintings hardly convincing to the mind, but certainly blended smoothly enough to captivate the eye.
Clean, sharp edges bring the sets and the characters to colourful life and the film benefits from that warm, well-produced MGM sheen, the same buffed-up, rosy-cheeked health that made last year's The Wizard Of Oz BD-release such a pleasure to view. Colours across the board look “old” but are simply beautiful to behold. Very impressive for a film from the fifties.
Even those who like a bit of three-dimensionality and a true sense of depth and spatiality will be pleased by this image. Look at the swirling dervish-like clouds of dust kicked up by the space-cruiser as it lands – they really seem to be lifting up and almost out of the screen. Plenty of ensemble shots of the crew at work or standing-to around the landing site have this quality too, and the vividness of the sets back at Moebius' house or down in the Krell corridors is also finely and faithfully injected with new life. The Id-attack seems to look more aggressive to me too, the red-etched demon somehow sharper, brighter and with more sheer presence.
The picture for the full-screen The Invisible Boy (presented in MPEG-2) is very good, too. Again, virtually untouched by age - save for a couple of wavering vertical lines of the blink-and-you'll-miss-them variety - this transfer is clean, crisp and displays excellent contrast. There is absolutely no grain to speak of, the image very smooth and very possibly scrubbed, and if there is some occasional hazing on the patterns of certain characters' clothes, then this is compensated for with the overall clarity and robustness of the image.
Now, all you purists out there don't be put off by the new lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. It may not make the most dynamic use of a speaker set-up, but this track still adds a terrific new dimension to the film, beefing up the effects and the weird score and spreading some depth and space to the dialogue and ambience. The old HD edition sported a Dolby Digital Plus mix and, to be honest, this probably doesn't add a great deal more to it. Once again, I haven't actually fired up my old Toshiba to check this out, but I doubt if there is much of a difference.
Some nice effects are things such as the blast shutters at the Morbius household thudding shut across the frontal array, the bubbling of the electronic score from all around the set-up and the impressive weight afforded the frantic crackling and humming of the huge Krell machinery. The score has a great many moments when it allows its high pulses to reach almost searing proportions and the track certainly handles these without distortion or crackling and straining at the limits of its range. You still can't hear Alta's animal whistle, though! Voices track the speakers around the room, although this can sound a little bogus sometimes, with certain portions of dialogue coming over as falsely booming all of a sudden. Having said that, though, the echo and enhancement of Adams' voice when he gives orders over that little belt-attached loud-hailer is quite well rendered. The “big breathing” that the sentries hear seems to be a little clearer and more ominous than I remember it ever sounding before, and the rears, with the exception of a couple of effects, are merely used to bolster the ambience and carry basic elements of the score. But the overall sound design has received a Krell-like boost – bass is very satisfying during the rock-rumbling Id-attack and the intense finale - and the results are beneficial in the main.
The Invisible Boy's mono track poses no problems with its transfer, either. Again, very clear and crisp and producing a fine level of dialogue, a warm musical score and some firm weight behind the effects and bombastic moments.
Basically, Forbidden Planet sounds terrific, although understandably restricted in terms of viewer-immersion.
There is nothing here that is uniquely and new to this Blu-ray edition, folks. But although I'm still disappointed that there isn't a commentary track - I'm sure a retro-chat from Leslie Nielson would have been a hoot - this release really does the fans proud. A lot of you will already have the Ultimate Edition that came in the tin, with the great little Robby The Robot figure and the art-cards, and even if these are missing from this BD release, all the main ingredients of a very generous banquet are still readily available. So, if the additions of The Invisible Boy and the episode of The Thin Man weren't enough when it comes to clever and completist ploys, we also get three documentaries and a plethora of Deleted Scenes and Lost Footage.
First up, we have the Deleted Scenes (13.08 mins). Culled from a workprint of the film, the sequences shown here were either entirely removed, or were later re-tooled. We are treated to some rough, or alternate takes of scenes without FX and to some good extended cuts that reveal deeper levels of character and, in one particular case, adds some important dialogue that explains one of Cmdr. Adams' slightly confusing remarks to Jerry Farman during the approach to Altair-IV. Some of these scenes are in poor shape and have the Lap Dissolve cards in place to signify the edits to be made. It's all nice to see, though.
Then we get the Lost Footage (9.15 mins) Here we are presented with some very rare test footage dug out from MGM's vaults. With explanatory notes describing what we are looking at and the film's wacky score playing over the top, there is some excellent stuff on display. The space scenes look wonderful even in their unfinished state, and you can clearly see where Gene Roddenberry got his visual influences from for the Enterprise's transporters and planetary fly-bys.
MGM Parade has two segments which, with a Play All option, run for 6.14 mins. Walter Pidgeon introduces black and white excerpts from MGM's promotional footage reels and offers a somewhat lazy narration about the forthcoming film and supplies some on-set reporting, including an introduction to Robby.
The Thin Man: Robot Client TV episode (25.30 mins). Presented in full screen 1.33:1, and in extremely good, clear condition, this shows a story in the long-running and popular series of screwball investigations in which our hero, Robby the Robot appears to be behind some nefarious goings-on. If you are into The Thin Man, you'll have a blast. If not, hey ... there's still Robby the Robot to enjoy.
There is a Theatrical Trailer Gallery which is a full-on cavalcade of rip-roaring 50's sci-fi classics that you can view with a Play All option, or individually. This is terrific stuff, folks. As you know, I am a major fan of these movies and some of my absolute favourites (which I've already covered in the old Retrofest series) are hauled out with lots of portentous voice-overs, scratchy prints and copious OTT editing. Barring the trailer for The Thing From Another World (my overall favourite sci-fi movie from the era) which comes over as terribly overdrawn and tedious, this is marvellous fun. The end of the world has never been so exciting. For the record the trailers are for The Thing, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Forbidden Planet, The Invisible Boy, Them! (another total classic - see separate DVD review), The Black Scorpion and The Time Machine (original DVD also reviewed).
Then, as well as the film The Invisible Boy, we are graced with three cool documentaries.
TCM Original Watch The Skies!: Science Fiction, the 1950s and Us is 55 mins long and has 12 chapters. Narrated by Mark Hamill, this feature takes an emphatic, but enjoyable look at the political and philosophical values of the films released in this audacious and creative decade. With input from Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott and James Cameron, we discover the rather frightening representation that these films gave to the paranoia of the Cold War times and the dawning of the Atomic Age, and how movie-makers translated such fears into monsters, mutations, madcap effects and plentiful metaphor. All our favourites get a good mention, including The Day The Earth Stood Still and the terrific Invaders From Mars. Great feature, folks, and I loved every minute of it.
Amazing! Exploring The Far Reaches Of Forbidden Planet is only 26.31 mins long but packs in an awful lot of reminiscences from the likes of Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis (who still looked lovely even when this doc was made!), Earl Holliman and Richard Anderson about their experiences making this classic all those years ago. But the real meat of this feature are the contributions from the film's many illustrious fans. People such as John Carpenter, who was surely influenced by the film's electronic score, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippet and John Dykstra who developed a passion for special effects after being wowed by the film's visuals, Star Wars sound engineer Ben Burtt loved the Id monster's aural menace, novelist and film-tie-in-specialist Alan Dean Foster, movie historians Rudy Behlmer and Bob Burns and then the likes of Joe Dante and John Landis, both of whom have finally pulled their fingers and actually made movies again instead of merely contributing to retrospective making-ofs. Landis has the historical horror-com, Burke And Hare, and Dante has dark family fantasy of The Hole. Check out the great conceptual artwork for the monster from the Id, especially the one that depicts Morbius' head on top of a two-legged monstrosity - very reminiscent of the gruesome guises adopted by The Thing in John Carpenter's version. Too brief by far - I could watch this stuff all day and never get bored - this is still packed with fascinating titbits, and even if it ultimately comes across as more of a fan-fest than a fully-fleshed retrospective, there is enough genuine love and affection for the film to make it worthwhile. It is also nice to hear from Bebe Barron who, along with her husband, created the wonderfully weird electronic score - or tonalities, as it is credited in the film.
Robby The Robot: Engineering A Sci-Fi Icon is 13.44 mins of cut and paste snippets from the same interview sessions already featured, although this is all new material and provides more air-time for Joe Dante, Behlmer, Holliman, Burtt, William Malone and John Carpenter. We do get to hear from Robby's creator, Robert Kinoshita and get to see lots of different conceptual designs and early posters. It is quite cool to finally see the man who got to wear the robot suit, a little fellow called Frankie Darro, who had to have his face painted black so that it wouldn't show from inside Robby's chest. And we get to see Robby as he is today - still in good nick, just like Anne Francis - and have a recap of his career so far. But what is really interesting is hearing from Fred Barton, who has made a living out of building and selling Robby The Replica, and we get to see the finished, full size model in action too. Outstanding.
Very enjoyable all round, folks.
All in all, this is an exemplary package of features for the grandfather of all sci-fi movies. Very worthy, fact-packed and fun. Just when will they get round to doing one of these all-singing, all-dancing special editions for The Thing From Another World, or Them! though?
Fans should note that this edition still comes with the mail-away advert for a full-size (that's 7 feet!) animatronic replica of Robby that we all drooled over from the previous releases – only this time, it also offers us replicas of those “formidable looking” side-arms, the blaster-rifle and even the space-cruiser, itself. Well, you're talking a big lottery win for the full-size Robby, but, you know what, I'm going to plump for one those guns!
First rate, folks. We've enjoyed the HD version of Forbidden Planet but, like the Krell, themselves, that is part of a dead race … so this fabulous BD incarnation is an extremely welcome arrival. It sports the same overall package that we've seen before, and supplies the same wonderful transfer of the classic film, albeit now boasting a lossless 5.1 audio track. There's certainly nothing here that will disappoint. The film looks fabulous and those extras are a fan's wet dream. I know there's still no commentary, but just look at all the other goodies on offer. The fun deleted scenes and lost footage make up for a slightly superficial making of, and the additions of The Invisible Boy and The Thin Man are a delight for completists, just like me.
Forbidden Planet will always be regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made and a truly magnificent and stimulating experience it remains – wonder, awe, fear, humour … it's got the lot. But the real pleasure is found deeper than those scintillating visuals. Just as the vast Krell machinery sits beneath the surface of Altair IV, the magic of Forbidden Planet lurks, Id-like, in the darker, more intimate recesses of the subconscious. Its ambition is colossal, but unlike so many otherwise inventive SF offerings, it reaches the very heights that it strives for, literally attaining a startling level of intelligence and maturity.
A personal favourite of mine, a fondly recalled classic and a darling of the critics, as well. I can't recommend it enough. Unless you can happily live with the old HD version, Forbidden Planet on Blu-ray is absolutely essential.
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