Monday, January 3, 2011
The 50th Anniversary of Forbidden Planet
Released in 2006 in conjunction with the film’s 50th anniversary, the Forbidden Planet Ultimate Collector’s Edition DVD boxed set rarely disappoints. Housed in a shiny red and green metal alloy case, with the typically deceptive painting of Altaira in Robby’s arms gracing the cover, the two-disc extravaganza comes packaged with a 3.5 inch Robby the Robot toy (which doesn’t speak, unfortunately), a mail-in movie poster offer, and a nifty packet of Forbidden Planet and The Invisible Boy lobby card reproductions. The set looks great on the shelf of any hardcore fan, but less devoted viewers can feel safe picking up the standard edition, which contains all the disc content of its more collectible counterpart.
Disc one contains a new digital transfer of Forbidden Planet (looking and sounding beautiful), lost footage from the film (including a wobbly C-57D space cruiser), excerpts from The MGM Parade (featuring Walter Pidgeon talking to Robby), trailers from seven sci-fi classics, an episode of The Thin Man starring a sinister Robby the Robot (he was frequently less than hospitable outside of Forbidden Planet), and deleted scenes. It’s easy to see why the deleted scenes in question were excised from the final cut of the film, but it’s fascinating to watch what might have been: Dr. Ostro waxing philosophical about unicorns; Robby taking the “space wolves” on a ridiculous looking ride in his atomic car; and, far less egregiously, the C-57D nearly overheating as it approaches Altair-IV.
Disc two is home to The Invisible Boy, a black-and-white thriller from 1957 that shares two things in common with the main feature: Robby the Robot and screenplay writer Cyril Hume. The film does have its share of absurdities, such as the dad trying to spank his invisible kid, who, we are told, fools his father by wearing his pants backwards (ouch!). However, it does boast an unusual concept for the time: that of a super computer achieving sentience and planning to take over Earth. In a sense, The Invisible Boy is a precursor to Terminator 2, complete with a boy commanding his machine pal to do his bidding. Even better, the movie features Robby in a relatively action-packed role as he battles the Army and blasts off in a rocket.
The second disc also contains a trio of documentaries. Amazing! Exploring the Far Reaches of Forbidden Planet has the cast key cast members (minus Pidgeon, who died in 1984) and other genre giants (John Carpenter, Alan Dean Foster, John Landis, etc.) sounding off on the greatness of the film and its importance to movie and TV science fiction. One of the more fascinating aspects of the doc is the interview with (and accompanying photos of) Bebe Barron, who composed the film’s electronic score. Robby the Robot: Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon lives up to its title, giving viewers an insider’s look at the famous creation that Morbius “tinkered together.” Finally, Watch the Skies!: Science Fiction, the 1950s and Us, which was first seen on the Turner Classic Movies network, takes a more general approach to the subject of sci-fi films and culture.
A few months prior to the release of the Forbidden Planet DVD set, I attended Comic-Con International 2006 in San Diego, which played host to the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking film. Richard Anderson, Warren Stevens, and Earl Holliman were on hand to sign autographs, talk with fans, hand out photos, and answer questions. At one point, a fan asked each actor what role they were the most proud of. Anderson chose Major Saint-Auban in Paths of Glory, Stevens picked Kirk Edwards in Barefoot Contessa, and Holliman selected Sergeant Bill Crowley in Police Woman. The gentlemen seemed to enjoy (or at least tolerate) the attention, but were perhaps a little baffled with all the hoopla surrounding Forbidden Planet. Regrettably, Lesley Nielson didn’t make the con, and neither did Anne Francis, but I did meet the lovely Ms. Francis at a Fort Worth film festival a few years ago. She was gracious enough to sign a number of items that I had brought along and sweet enough to put up with my effusive praise.
So, the question remains: Why the ongoing fascination with Forbidden Planet? From a personal standpoint, it’s one of my favorite science fiction films of all time, right up there with The Time Machine, Planet of the Apes, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and War of the Worlds. Unlike those movies, however, I didn’t see Forbidden Planet as a young child. Rather, I stumbled across it rather serendipitously at an older friend’s house one Saturday afternoon during the mid 1980s. I was a 16-year-old Star Trek and Star Wars fan and was blown away by the obvious influences Forbidden Planet had on those two franchises. At the time, I didn’t realize that the film was based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but I was struck by the film’s glorious production values and leisurely pace, the latter of which gave viewers plenty of time to ogle the rich colors and lush terrain of Altair-IV, the technical marvels of the mysterious Krell, the gee-whiz gimmickry of Robby the Robot, and, let’s face it, the gorgeous legs of Anne Francis.
It’s clear that Forbidden Planet is a beloved classic of sci-fi cinema. It has stunning visuals, a literate (if sometimes goofy) script, an out-of-this-world musical score, a virginal beauty to end all virginal beauties, and the coolest robot ever. If the movie fails to generate the same level of interest for another 50 years, film fandom’s “space pay” should be docked indefinitely.