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"My evil self is at that door, and I have no power to stop it!" - and so is The Invisible Boy!,
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This review is from: Forbidden Planet [Blu-ray]  [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
One of the comparatively few A-list 50s sci-fi films and a rare interstellar excursion for MGM in particular, Forbidden Planet still holds up remarkably well as one of the most intelligent and ambitious of its era. Adapting Shakespeare's The Tempest as a sci-fi film was an inspired notion, while the film's underpinnings in equal parts myth, sexuality and psychology adds another layer of depth and complexity that separates it from the pack of invasion and giant bug movies that passed for science fiction for much of the 50s.
Making his entrance in a cloud of dust, Robby the Robot is the breakout star but Walter Pidgeon is the one who truly dominates the film as the Prospero-like Morbius. He may joke about not being the mad scientist of lore, but, like the rest of the cast, Pidgeon plays it admirably straight, in his case as if he were playing Shakeseare in its undiluted form. He's an imposing figure, both in look and voice, but his Morbius is genuinely not a bad man - he doesn't want anyone to get hurt. But he can't control the hidden monsters the all but divine but long extinct Krell have unleashed on his isolated planet paradise and which stir again when a rescue ship finally arrives. And what a monster it is, too. You may only see a plaster cast of its giant claw or catch sketchy animated glimpses of its outline as it tries to break through an electric force field but anywhere in the galaxy this is a nightmare, and one that makes an unforgettable impression.
The rest of the human cast may mostly be made up of studio stereotypes - Leslie Nielson in a rare heroic leading man role before he became one of the industry's smooth villains of choice, Ann Francis as the innocent romantic interest, Jack Kelly's rival suitor, Earl Holliman's comic-relief cook - but the superb screenplay still gives most of them dialogue worth saying and offers one more complex character in Warren Stevens' doctor who finds himself attracted to the planet and tempted to risk his life to discover its secret. He ultimately plays a more decisive role in uncovering the nature of the beast and how it can be defeated than the nominal hero.
The film is certainly a treat for the eyes as well as the mind. While not photo realistic, the stylised special effects, painted background and animation are still strikingly effective today, with director Fred McLeod Wilcox, designers Irving Block (who co-wrote the story), Mentor Huebner and Arthur Lonergan and cinematographer George J. Folsey combining to make great use of the wide CinemaScope format. Its huge influence on the genre is certainly easy to trace: you'll find some shots copied faithfully in Star Wars, whether it's the hologram of Princess Lei or Obi-wan disabling the tractor beam, Gene Roddenberry used elements of it as the blueprint for Star Trek while its big idea - that the real monsters are inside all of us - would find itself cropping up everywhere from Solaris to Sphere without ever having quite the same satisfyingly primal effect it has here.
Although it's perhaps not a necessary upgrade if you already have the DVD, Warners' Bluray release is very impressive with a particularly strong and detailed CinemaScope transfer that hasn't been ruined by the kind of excessive noise reduction that makes the cast of so many older movies look like waxwork Botox victims, as well as a good stereo soundtrack that at times appears to favor the right speaker slightly, though that's largely because Walter Pidgeon is often kept stage left and has a much stronger, clearer voice than any of the other actors.
The extras package from the 2-disc DVD special edition has thankfully been left intact (though some trailers from other sci-fi movies of the 50s that were included on the US DVD have been dropped). The biggest surprise is perhaps that, along with nine minutes of fullframe special effects test footage from a print source, there are also some interesting deleted scenes taken from a workprint of the film, though sadly they only seem to survive in a poor quality letterboxed videotape source. Among them are Nielson speculating on possible forms of alien life ("They could be anything from Archangels to giant spiders"), a couple of scenes underlining why the tiger attacks - Doc Ostrow comparing Alta's calming effect on them to the myth of the unicorn worshipping purity and later coming up with a scientific rationale to support it - Robby driving the crew to Morbius' house against some dodgy backprojection, Nielson packing up a dead crewman's belongings, alternate unfinished versions of scenes with Robbie and the monster's original voices and a bit more dialogue from the end of the film. At times there's more of a poetic, mythical feel to the dialogue that harks back to the source, but they tend to be a little too on the nose about things better left inferred by the film.
Along with the original theatrical trailer (narrated by Marvin Millar, the voice of Robby the Robot) there's a good making of documentary featuring most of the surviving cast and many of the crew and a good 55-minute documentary on the flying saucer scares and sci-fi film explosion of the 50s that helps put the film in context. Robby the Robot also gets his due. Aside from a featurette about his construction, there are also a couple of extracts from the introductions to MGM's anthology series MGM Parade with Walter Pidgeon in costume introducing Robby Robot in the Krell laboratory, an episode from the 1958 Thin Man TV series with Peter Lawford and Robby and Robby's feature film follow-up, The Invisible Boy. Marketed heavily on his starring role, it's not a sequel but an Earthbound `modern day' (well, 1957) story
Where Forbidden Planet began with narration informing us that the space age truly began when man finally reached the moon at the end of the 21st Century, The Invisible Boy was released within a month of it starting in earnest when the Russians launched Sputnik. The budget's a lot lower - black and white with many reused sets and props, including the odd bit of Krell technology, and it's not in CinemaScope either - and the ideas aimed more at the kids who took Robby to their heart rather than the grownups. Here Robby's the robot pal of Richard Eyer, whose dad controls a computer containing the constantly updated sum total of man's knowledge but who can't even teach his son basic fractions. The computer is intended for military use and, this being the 50s, there are fears of `our friends across the Pole' stealing its secrets "because that's they're way of inventing things, isn't it?" (oh how they must have regretted that line when the Sputnik went up), but that doesn't stop dad from using it to boost junior's intelligence. Unfortunately the computer might just be sentient and have its own reasons for `helping' him.
Dialogue like "You put that thing in the garage and you leave it there" when Eyer introduces Robby to the unimpressed family (seriously, what does this kid have to do to impress them?) or "Stop all this nonsense and start behaving sensibly" when he becomes invisible doesn't exactly lend it credibility, though the film does assume a childlike point of view as his father simply thinks his transparent offspring is just doing it to get attention. And there's more than a hint of the more lurid side of childhood curiosity as our hero uses his invisibility to spy on his parents making out. At times there's such a child's dreamlike quality to it all that it's a surprise that Eyer doesn't wake up just before the end credits to find out it's all been a dream. Instead the film turns increasingly serious in the last half hour as Eyer disappears from the story in more ways than one, putting the focus on the grownups as the super computer goes all Forbin Project on them. Robbie does indeed go briefly on the rampage as promised by the posters, though other ideas - not least the tantalising hint that Robbie may have been brought back from the future - are quickly brushed aside. But then this is more about the studio getting its money's worth out of its expensive mechanical star after Forbidden Planet struggled to break even at the box-office than breaking new ground like its predecessor, and as such it's a decent but undemanding bit of 50s sci-fi paranoia. Unsurprisingly it doesn't get the same treatment on the extras front but the original trailer for the film is also included.