When I was about thirteen, I was sound asleep on a weeknight when my mom came in and gently shook me awake. She told me there was a movie coming on – "PLANET something, with Robby the Robot?" – and asked me if I wanted to get up to watch it.
Now, I'd already been reading Starlog magazine for a couple years, so I knew that she had to be referring to FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) – one of those old movies that the magazine frequently referenced between articles on STAR WARS, STAR TREK and SPACE: 1999, and one that I desperately desired to see. Of course, back in those pre-home video days, you couldn't just watch a movie whenever you wanted, you had to wait for it to come on television. In this case, it was airing on the CBS LATE MOVIE... on a school night.
Absolutely amazed that my mom would make such an a offer, considering the lateness of the hour and my scholastic responsibilities of the next day, I nonetheless quickly sprang from my bed and headed for my parent's room, where I sat silently on the edge of their bed while they slept, watching in rapt attention as the wonders of Altair IV (in the constellation of Aquilae, some 17 light years from Earth) unfolded before my eyes.
There was Robby, of course, and the sinister Doctor Morbius (Walter Pidgeon, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA). There was his daughter, the lovely and innocent Altaira (as portrayed by Anne Francis, HONEY WEST) and square-jawed Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen, THE NAKED GUN) on a mission to discover the fate of a lost Earth colony. But most astounding of all, there were the spectacular Krell laboratories, buried deep in the heart of an alien world with eerie green skies, and the terrifying, unseen "Id Creature!"
As directed by Herman Hoffman and written by Cyril Hume, FORBIDDEN PLANET is genuinely thoughtful science fiction, produced on a huge scale and treated with respect by the filmmakers. It is an indisputable classic, both of the genre and of cinema itself.
Over the years, I've owned the film on VHS (in pan & scan) and the had the first DVD from MGM, which sported rather faded colors, and was incorrectly framed. In 2006, Warners re-issued the title as a remastered Special Edition, but I couldn't afford to pick it up at the time.
Last week, Warner Home Video released FORBIDDEN PLANET on Blu-Ray, with a stunning, HD 1080p 2.40:1 widescreen transfer from the 2006 remastered source material with HD-DTS Master Audio and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. It looks and sounds astounding.
The Blu-Ray edition also includes pretty much all of the features from the Special Edition DVD (in standard definition), including: deleted scenes, "lost" effects footage, two excerpts from the MGM PARADE TV series with Walter Pidgeon, two follow-up vehicles starring Robby the Robot: the 1958 MGM feature film THE INVISIBLE BOY (either the worst kid's movie I've ever seen, or the most brilliant; I'm still undecided) and an episode of THE THIN MAN TV Series (with Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk), called "Robot Client," two retrospective featurettes and a TCM documentary on 50s sci-fi films, and the theatrical trailers for FORBIDDEN PLANET and THE INVISIBLE BOY.
To today's audiences, FORBIDDEN PLANET may seem slow or cheesy, but to me, it will always have a special place in my movie-loving heart. Beyond the nostalgia factor, it's a smart, stylish, science fiction classic on an unprecedented epic scale, both thoughtful and suspenseful. The look of the film is pure 50's pulp, and the "electronic tonalities" that comprise the film's background score are still eerily chilling today.
Plus, it has Robby the Robot. And there has never been a cooler automaton.
BUY: Forbidden Planet [Blu-ray]