Forbidden Planet appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A mix of highs and lows left us with an inconsistent presentation.
Sharpness caused some of the concerns. Many shots exhibited good delineation, but plenty of others came across as rather soft and undefined. Overall, I thought the movie lacked the consistent crispness I’d like. Jagged edges and shimmering created no concerns, and I detected no signs of edge enhancement. Source flaws were fairly minor. Occasional examples of specks and blemishes occurred, but these remained reasonably infrequent.
Eastman Color tended to hold up poorly over the years, and that became an issue during Planet. The hues rarely exhibited much life. Instead, they usually came across as a bit bland and flat. I wouldn't call them terribly off-kilter, but they failed to deliver the expected vivacity one would normally get from this sort of adventure. Blacks were decent, at least, as they exhibited fair depth and presence, while shadows appeared acceptably concise. In the end, the issues with sharpness and color meant that I felt the transfer merited a “C+”.
Similar ups and downs came from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Forbidden Planet. On the positive side, audio quality was usually good. Speech sounded somewhat brittle at times, and I noticed occasional muddiness as well. Still, the lines were always intelligible and without significant concerns. The “electronic tonalities” were full and distinct. They showed good life and breadth throughout the film. Effects followed suit, as they were clean and pretty powerful. The handful of louder segments demonstrated nice depth and impact.
Some parts of the soundfield succeeded. I thought the “tonalities” spread well across the front and rears to create a reasonably immersive presence, and effects featured good localization. Various elements popped up in appropriate spots and blended together pretty well. Surround usage wasn’t heavy, but the back speakers added to the sense of place.
Since I’ve related so much praise for this 50-year-old audio, you may wonder why I gave the track a “C+”. I did so because of problems with the speech. Planet often localized dialogue but it did so poorly much of the time. In particular, lines that should have emanated from the left tended to bleed to the right. Centered speech was decent, and material from the right was acceptable, though some mushiness also came from there. The left side offered the majority of the problems, however, and created a real nuisance. Because so much of the dialogue came from illogical spots, many distractions occurred. Frankly, I’d rather have a mono track than this one since the localization often did more harm than good. There’s enough positive for a “C+”, but the speech issues caused a disappointment.
While prior DVD releases of Forbidden Planet lacked substantial extras, this two-disc “50th Anniversary Edition” packs in many components. On DVD One, we start with 12 Deleted Scenes. Taken together, they fill a total of 13 minutes and 11 seconds. Fans who hope to find anything major will feel disappointed, as these bits and pieces are pretty inconsequential. The most significant shows some interpretation of Alta’s effect on animals. I’m sure Planet aficionados will be delighted to see these clips, despite their forgettable qualities.
In addition, we get nine minutes and 15 seconds of Lost Footage. We see various clips of test footage. These include various effects elements. I suppose the Planet buffs might dig them, but they bored me.
Two clips show up under the banner of MGM Parade. We get excerpts from Episodes 27 and 28 of a mid-Fifties series by the same name. Together the two snippets add up to six minutes, 11 seconds. Walter Pidgeon hosts these pieces and gives us a look at Planet. “27” is essentially just a promo for the flick, but “28” offers a cute little chat between Pidgeon and Robby. These are worth a look for their fun archival value.
For more televised fun, we go to the 2/28/58 Episode of The Thin Man. Entitled “Robot Client”, this TV program runs 25 minutes, 32 seconds and appears here because it features Robby the Robot. Starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk as Nick and Nora, the Thin Man series ran for two years; this one came about two-thirds of the way through Season One. Frankly, Lawford and Kirk don’t seem right as Nick and Nora, and “Client” isn’t a very interesting show. It’s great to have for its use of Robby, but the program itself is silly and not too entertaining.
DVD One ends with a collection of theatrical trailers. We find promos for The Thing from Another World, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, Forbidden Planet, The Black Scorpion, The Invisible Boy and the 1960 version of The Time Machine.
When we shift to DVD Two, the prime attraction comes from The Invisible Boy. This 1957 feature film lasts 89 minutes and 22 seconds. Why does the flick appear in this set? Because like “Robot Client”, it features Robby.
Boy stars Richard Eyer as Timmie Merrinoe, an underachieving kid with a scientist dad (Philip Abbott) who doesn’t spend much time with him due to all his work. Timmie gets access to abandoned robot Robby and uses him as his personal slave and buddy. When Timmie desires to disappear, Robby literally makes the kid invisible. This spawns many goofy adventures as Timmie takes advantage of his status.
Essentially, Boy acts as a combination of Afterschool Special, horror flick and goofy Disney comedy – with a little Cold War tension thrown in for good measure. While Forbidden Planet manages to work pretty well after five decades, Boy dates badly and comes as a serious product of its era. It produces a few decent chuckles and is cool to have due to Robby’s presence, but it’s not a good movie.
In addition to Boy, DVD Two includes three separate documentaries. First comes the 55-minute and 27-second Watch the Skies!: Science Fiction, The 1950s and Us. Narrated by Mark Hamill, it mixes archival materials, movie snippets, and interviews. We find notes from filmmakers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron. The program examines the significant sci-fi flicks of the 50s and how they reflected their era. We also look at a mix of trends in the genre, and we learn about how the movies dealt with science fact and used different elements as metaphors.
The presence of four legendary filmmakers helps “Skies” to an enormous degree. They give us excellent notes about the flicks that informed their views of the genre as kids, and they provide lots of insights into the era and its material. We also find many good representative clips from the films; those help illustrate the information. This is a very enjoyable and useful program.
Next comes Amazing!: Exploring the Far Reaches of Forbidden Planet. It goes for 26 minutes, 30 seconds and features filmmakers John Landis, William Malone, Joe Dante and John Carpenter, visual effects artists John Dykstra, Phil Tippett and Dennis Muren, actors Anne Francis, Earl Holliman, Warren Stevens, Richard Anderson and Leslie Nielsen, novelist Alan Dean Foster, science fiction historian Bob Burns, film historian Rudy Behlmer, theater director Geoff Elliott, author Bill Warren, robot co-designer Robert Kinoshita, composer Bebe Barron, and sound designer Ben Burtt.
“Reaches” looks at the state of cinematic sci-fi prior to Planet and how that flick altered the genre. We then go through MGM’s aims for the film, the story’s development and Shakespearean influence, characters, performances and the tone on the set, the design and creation of Robby the robot, visual effects and other production elements, the flick’s innovative score and other audio, the film’s depiction of its monster, and the flick’s reception at the time and later.
Almost inevitably, “Reaches” occasionally devolves into frothy praise for Planet. However, given the movie’s influence and how much it impacted those involved with the program, I can easily excuse that tendency. It makes clear how important Planet became for filmmakers and it also throws out many good notes about the production. Granted, it’d be nice to get more details from the participants, but this still acts as a good little documentary.
Finally, we locate Robby the Robot: Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon. This 13-minute and 40-second show presents remarks from Dante, Nielsen, Foster, Burtt, Holliman, Behlmer, Malone, Carpenter, Kinoshita, Dykstra, Francis, author/science writer Steven Kotler, USC Robotics Lab co-director Professor Maja Mataric, and Robby replica builder Fred Barton. The show covers the design and creation of Robby. It expands on the notes found in the prior documentary and gives us more details about all things Robby as well as other robotic topics. We also get a nice close-up look at the original Robby. This turns into a pretty informative and interesting look at the mechanical legend.
It’d be good enough if Forbidden Planet merited attention solely due to its influence over 50 years of science fiction. However, the movie also continues to entertain. The DVD presents fairly mediocre picture and sound but packs in a very nice set of extras. Though the visual and auditory issues mean I can’t call the set a slam-dunk, it still manages to earn my recommendation.