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08 May, 2011

FORBIDDEN PLANET Two-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition Tin Box Set

Title:  FORBIDDEN PLANET Two-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition Tin Box Set

Year of Release—Film:  1956

Year of Release—DVD:  2006

DVD Label:  Warner Home Video






One of the most influential Science-Fiction films of the 1950s, FORBIDDEN PLANET was the high water mark of 1950s Sci-Fi; it had virtually everything on its side.  A wonderful cast, including a young (and surprisingly serious) Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, and a spectacularly lovely Anne Francis; a superior script, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest; cinematography that’s as beautiful as the leading lady; and effects work that was very impressive, at least in 1956.  Add a director smart enough to bring all of these elements into play, then get out of the way and let them work their magic, and you have the ingredients of a great movie.

Directed by Fred MacLeod Wilcox, working from Cyril Hume’s excellent screenplay, FORBIDDEN PLANET was groundbreaking in many ways.  Where most ‘50s Sci-Fi to that time had been based on the premise of aliens coming to Earth, or contemporary astronauts traveling to the Moon or to Mars, FP was set in the future, (the 23rd century), in a time when interstellar flight is a practical reality.  Earth is now a member of the United Planets, an organization whose star cruisers are pushing back the boundaries of explored space.
One of those star cruisers, designated C57-D, under the command of Cdr. J. J. Adams (Nielsen), is nearing the fourth planet of the Altair star system, 16 light-years from Earth.  Their mission is to try to make contact with colonists who landed there 20 years before, or failing that, ascertain their fate.  As they approach the planet, they are contacted by radio, by someone identifying himself as Dr. Morbius, a member of the expedition.  He warns them not to land on the planet, to return from where they came.  Adams replies that that is not possible; they will land.  They touch down on Altair-IV, and are met by a mechanical welcoming committee of one, a robot who takes Adams, Lt. Farman, the ship’s First Officer (Jack Kelly), and Lt. “Doc” Ostrow (Warren Stevens), the ship’s Medical Officer, to meet his creator, the enigmatic Morbius (Walter Pidgeon).  The robot is Robby, an electronic automaton that functions as its creator’s servant.

Morbius receives them coolly but politely, explaining the reasons behind his warning to stay away.  Two decades before, the expedition encountered a mysterious force shortly after landing, a force that killed several colonists and destroyed their ship, the Bellerophon, as most of the survivors attempted to escape.  Only Morbius, his wife (since deceased), and infant daughter Altaira stayed behind, and survived.  The scientist fears that a similar fate might befall the crew of the C57-D if they remain on the planet for any length of time.
The three officers are introduced to Altaira (Francis), who her father refers to with the diminutive ‘Alta’.  A beautiful young woman, she makes a powerful impression on healthy young men who’ve been in space for more than a year—an effect heightened by the revealing nature of her dress.  They begin jockeying for her attention, as is natural for young men in the presence of young women.

Adams is uncertain how to proceed regarding Morbius and his daughter—his instinct is to take them back to Earth, something that the scientist adamantly resists, arguing that his work can’t spare the two years the round trip would take.  Adams decides that the situation is unusual enough to warrant the heroic effort necessary to contact their command base for instructions.  Establishing communications requires the cannibalization of a major part of the ship to build the transmitter, not a task to be undertaken lightly.

Soon however, odd events begin to occur, events that are merely troublesome at first, but rapidly escalate—including a vital piece of equipment that vanishes from the ship, despite the posted guards having seen nothing.  Adams notices that these events are escalating in rough correlation to the awakening of Alta’s feelings of attraction to the crew of his ship—the first men, other than her father, that the girl has ever seen—and her growing awareness of her sexuality.  There is no doubt in Adams’ mind that his crew is aware of that last, especially after he catches Farman teaching her the finer points of kissing.  He chews his First Officer out over this indiscretion, then turns on Altaira.

You have to understand that I’m in command of eighteen competitively selected, super-perfect physical specimens with an average age of 24.6, who have been locked up in hyperspace for 378 days.  It would have served you right if I hadn’t … and he … go on, get out of here before I have you run out of the area under guard—and then I’ll put more guards on the guards!

Part of Adams’ problem is his obvious attraction to, and growing affection for, the young woman; a situation not lost on, nor appreciated by her father.  Neither is her reciprocation of those feelings.

When Adams confronts Morbius regarding the sabotage, he leads the officers into a secret chamber beneath his home, and introduces them to the wonders of the Krell, the long-dead inhabitants of Altair-IV.  Extinct for 200,000 years, the Krell had reached the pinnacle of evolutionary development before vanishing in a global cataclysm virtually overnight.  Their giant machines still function, even after 2,000 centuries, and Morbius has deciphered enough of their language to begin to grasp how they operate.  His use of the machines has even boosted his intellect to the level of a somewhat retarded Krell child.  He wants to continue his study of the Krell, and being called home to Earth would be a very unwelcome interruption.

 As he and Adams are arguing over the disposition of the Krell knowledge, word comes that Chief Quinn has been murdered, by an intruder who was able to slip past all their defenses.  Without Quinn, the sabotage can’t be repaired, and the transmitter can’t be finished.  It’s now a fight for survival against an invisible foe that can come and go at will.  By nightfall, the crew has deployed two massive ray cannons outside the ship, anticipating another attack.  When it comes, it’s sudden and brutal, the creature outlined in the glow of the ray impacts.  Several of the crew, including Farman, are killed in the battle, though the attacker is successfully driven off.  This leads to the ultimate confrontation between Adams and Morbius, as the last secret of the Krell is finally revealed.

Though long regarded as a classic of the 1950s Science-Fiction genre, FORBIDDEN PLANET has a special place in the Unimonster’s heart, as it was a powerful inspiration to Gene Roddenberry while he was conceiving what would become Star Trek.  Connections to the series are easy to spot for devoted Trekkers; even the NCC (Naval Construction Contract) number of the Enterprise (1701) is taken from a line in the film.  Beyond this obvious appeal, however, is the fact that this is a great movie, in every way that counts.  For the first time, humanity was depicted traveling to the stars on ships of human design, and this event was treated as a matter of course.  The crew of the C57-D hadn’t been kidnapped, abducted by some alien beings intent on conquering Earth.  They were out there by choice, part of a greater service, doing their jobs.

It also marked the first time that a robot was depicted as a character in a film, a character with dialogue and a personality, not just a collection of scrap metal clunking across the screen.  Built by Robert Kinoshita at a cost of $125,000, Robby saw much service in both film and television in the latter half of the ‘50s and ‘60s, including the 1957 film THE INVISIBLE BOY (S.O.S. SPACESHIP) [included in this edition of the DVD].  A redesigned variant was used as the robot on the 1960’s television series Lost in Space, where it did battle with the original version in the first season episode “War of the Robots.”

Warner Home Video went all out in an effort to give fans of this movie a fitting tribute for it’s 50th anniversary.  Not only is this release the best I have ever seen this film look, it’s hard to imagine a bonus feature that they might have neglected to include.  From deleted footage, to the obligatory “making-of” featurette, to the inclusion of the aforementioned THE INVISIBLE BOY feature film and an episode of The Thin Man television series from the 1960s guest-starring Robby, the video content alone is surprisingly bounteous.  Add in a sheaf of reproduction lobby cards and poster art, along with a 3-inch tall replica of Robby the Robot, and encase the whole in a beautiful collector’s tin box, and you have a very ‘needful thing’ for any fan of the movie.

With a list price of $20.98 for the set, this one is a definite “buy” recommendation, but even that low price can be beat.  Amazon currently lists the set at $17.99—a steal for such a wealth of material on such a great movie.  If you have any fondness in your heart for this film, you should have this set in your collection.

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