Commander Adams and his crew set out to investigate the disappearance
of a colony of scientists on the planet Altair-4. After landing
they discover only two survivors, Dr Edward Morbius and his
daughter Altaira living a surprisingly contented and prosperous
lifestyle attended by their robotic butler. But the monstrous
force which destroyed the rest of the colony has been set
loose once again, while beneath the planet's surface a dead
civilisation still pulses with energy...
release of this 2-disc Forbidden Planet set is greatly
welcomed. Seeing the movie in all its digitally re-mastered
glory makes one conscious of what a superlative achievement
it was, both in the context of its time and in the wider impact
it had on the sci-fi movie genre.
Planet takes as its central theme from the darkest fantasies
of vengeance and retribution buried in the human psyche. What
if those fantasies, unknown to the conscious mind, could take
on physical form, and realise these furious, repressed desires
- even to the point of murder?
themes had already been explored in literature, notably by
Shakespeare in The Tempest - a source acknowledged
by the writers of Forbidden Planet - and by Robert
Louis Stevenson in Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde.
More potently, Forbidden Planet was conceived at a
time when Freudian psychology was at the height of its popularity
in the US. Its central message was that no matter how rational
'scientific' man might think himself, his primitive passions
- his destructive Id - remains buried below the surface of
the mind, fighting a subterranean battle for recognition and
Morbius is thus a complex anti-hero, very different from the
cardboard cut-out 'mad scientist' villains so popular in fifties
sci-fi. It is his subconscious Id which takes physical form
to kill those who threaten his control of the knowledge of
the dead Krell civilisation. And it is his Id which returns
- again without his conscious knowledge - to murder the crew
of the space captain who dares take away his beautiful daughter.
The movie shapes powerfully towards Morbius' climactic confrontation
with his own subconscious as the Id monster batters down the
door to murder Commander Adams.
coruscating drama takes place in an alien environment hardly
bettered for sheer scale and atmosphere even by the effects-laden
sci-fi behemoths of the '70s and beyond.
DVD is a digital transfer from restored picture elements and
conveys the majesty of the original in full force. The planet's
surface, the interiors of Morbius' house and the distant planets
and starfields are all convincingly realised. If you are new
to the movie or have not seen it for some time, prepare to
be awe-struck by the monumental matte work which represents
the subterranean power plants of the Krell - and which makes
the similar sequence in Star Wars pale by comparison.
sense of a truly alien world is enhanced by the movie industry's
first all-electronic 'music' score. It was a bold decision
indeed by MGM to abandon plans for an orchestral score and
give sound designers Louis and Bebe Barron licence to develop
an electronic soundtrack for the full 98 minutes of the movie.
Those familiar with Delia Derbyshire's struggle to create
a few tape loops for the Doctor Who theme in a world
without synthesisers will realise what a staggering achievement
this was. Each tone had to be generated and recorded individually
using oscillators of the type used to test phone lines, then
the tape spliced together manually.
electronic soundtrack in Forbidden Plant has a double
function: to create a constant, all-enveloping soundscape
- rendered the more effective by 5.1 remastering in Dolby
Digital - and to mirror and anticipate the action exactly
as a conventional score would.
fully grasp MGM's sonic and visual achievement with Forbidden
Planet, the viewer needs to remember the context. In 1956,
when the movie was released, sci- fi cinema featured unconvincing
stop-action monsters, cardboard heroes, cheap special effects
and predictable storylines. Movie studios simply did not take
the genre seriously.
decision by a major studio like MGM, then at the pomp of its
Singin' in the Rain glory, to take on a science fiction
theme, meant that something more serious would be attempted
- particularly given the critical and box office success of
its other foray into fantasy worlds in The Wizard of Oz
back in 1939.
It was the glamorous halo of MGM which attracted such strong
character actors as Walter Pidgeon to a genre they might not
otherwise have considered. In turn this meant the movie was
played as a straight tragedy, with convincing characters moving
through their own arcs of self-discovery.
movie's innovation and attention to detail extend to the iconic
robot, Robby. Up to this point in B-movie sci-fi, robots were
generally hostile and crudely realised. Robby by contrast
is an altogether more complex creation: helper, facilitator,
butler, food synthesiser - yet still able to menace when protecting
Morbius' household against unwanted guests.
design is a fine example of form following function. With
essential systems like gyroscopes and sensors clearly on view,
this robot looks like it might actually work. From early drawings
- which can be seen on the Extra's on the DVD - things might
have been very different. A simple 3-piece design animated
by stop-motion was seriously considered.
is clear today that Forbidden Planet shaped profoundly
the visualisation of alien landscapes in movies and TV series
throughout the 1960s and 1970s. One cannot fail to be struck
by how the movie anticipates Star Trek's rock-strewn
planetscapes, phasers, communicators, and the juxtaposition
of strong but vulnerable commander and mentor doctor.
with the re-mastered movie and soundtrack, this package contains
a good fist of extras which help illuminate the gestation
and development of Forbidden Planet. Particularly interesting
are test reels showing sequences before the application of
special effects - which incidentally were realised by one
of Walt Disney's top animators. These include sequences of
the Id monster attacking the compound and the landing of the
spacecraft on Altair 4. Altogether there are 13 minutes of
deleted scenes and ten minutes of lost footage.
the context of Forbidden Plant is a documentary, Watch
the Skies, which looks at 1950s Science Fiction, as well
as documentaries on the making of Forbidden Planet and
on Robby the Robot - although the latter reprises much of
the same material. There are also some hilarious MGM promotional
shorts in which Walter Pidgeon jumps into character to introduce
Robby the Robot and Forbidden Planet.
Finally there are two examples of vehicles starring Robby
the Robot: a feature film, The Invisible Boy, and an
episode from the TV series The Thin Man (Robot Client)
in which the robot takes on a more traditionally menacing