By Brad Cook | November 14, 2006

Warner Home Video continues its streak of excellent classic DVD releases with this 50th anniversary two-disc edition of “Forbidden Planet.” As it did recently with “The Maltese Falcon,” the studio didn’t simply slap a restored transfer on a disc along with a couple trailers and a cursory documentary. This two-disc edition of the seminal 1950s sci-fi film features deleted scenes and lost footage, three documentaries, and two later vehicles for Robby the Robot: the feature film “The Invisible Boy” and a episode of the “The Thin Man” TV series.

”Forbidden Planet” is mandatory viewing for any self-respecting movie buff, especially those of us who grew up on “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.” The story evokes Freud and Shakespeare as it reveals the secrets of its titular world, where Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis), have lived for two decades. When a spaceship captained by J.J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen, providing a template for William Shatner) arrives to investigate what happened to Morbius’ original companions, they find themselves attacked by an invisible “Id Monster.”

Adams’ quest to learn the truth behind the goings-on, despite Morbius’ wishes that he simply leave, forms the final act of the story. While it may not dig incredibly deep, “Forbidden Planet” was a cut above the schlocky fare that dominated the theatrical sci-fi circuit of the 1950s, and I dare say it provides more meat to chew on than many of today’s bloated, effects-heavy “event films.” The understated special effects still hold their own, and they look better than ever, thanks to Warner’s digital restoration. Even the film’s music, which consists of “electronic tonalities,” as they’re called in the credits, seems cutting-edge in a climate where bombastic scores rule the day. What was old is new again.

Unfortunately, there’s no commentary accompanying the film, but disc one does include a treasure trove of materials, with even more to be found on the second platter. Hardcore fans of the film will appreciate the 13 minutes of deleted scenes from the workprint, along with nine minutes of footage that had been locked up in the vault for 50 years, unseen until now, according to Warner. The deleted scenes include stuff that was cut from the film, as well as scenes that include alternate dialogue and sound. We even get to hear Robby the Robot’s voice from the workprint; it’s obvious why they changed it for the final version of the film.

The lost footage includes unused shots of planets and starfields, a different view of the spaceship’s approach to Altair IV, the fight with the Id Monster before the special effects were added, and so forth. Warner included title cards before each deleted scene or piece of lost footage, so you’ll understand the context of everything. It always bugs me when DVD producers simply throw such video onto a release without explaining how it was originally supposed to fit into the movie.

Disc one also includes two promos from something called “MGM Parade,” which I assume was shown on TV during the 1950s. They run about six minutes total, and they’re in black-and-white, with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Walter Pidgeon, who played Morbius, introduces footage from the film and interviews Robby the Robot, who is using his workprint voice.

A February 1958 episode of the TV series “The Thin Man” starring Robby the Robot, along with theatrical trailers for a smattering of 1950s sci-fi films, round out this disc. Disc two leads off with the cheesy 1957 film “The Invisible Boy,” a black-and-white piece of fluff about a super computer that gets a boy named Timmy (Lassie ran away, I guess) to help it take over the world, with an assist from Robby the Robot. Supposedly “The Thin Man” and “The Invisible Boy” included Robby simply because Warner wanted to amortize the cost of building the expensive robot for “Forbidden Planet.”

Honestly, I think both of those archival pieces could have been simply addressed in the 13-minute “Robby the Robot: Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon” featurette also found on disc two, with healthy doses of footage from each one. But I suppose they’re important to people who collect artifacts of 1950s sci-fi, no matter their quality. Robby caused quite a sensation during the 1950s, garnering the kind of attention that no other robot received until C-3PO and R2-D2 came along, and that phenomenon is covered in “Engineering a Sci-Fi Icon,” which includes interviews with “Star Wars” sound designer Ben Burtt (who’s now at Pixar), director Joe Dante, Leslie Nielsen, and others.

Many of those same folks show up in “Amazing: Exploring the Far Reaches of Forbidden Planet,” a 26-minute piece that also includes Anne Francis, ILM effects guru Dennis Muren, science-fiction author Alan Dean Foster, John Carpenter, John Dykstra (who originally ran ILM before his falling out with George Lucas), and others. It covers the movie’s genesis in the context of 1950s Hollywood, the influence of Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” on the story, and so forth.

The film’s impact on poplar culture is also covered in “Amazing,” of course, and the final documentary on disc two, the 55-minute Turner Classic Movies production “Watch the Skies: Science-Fiction, the 1950s and Us,” delves deeper into that phenomenon. In addition to “Forbidden Planet,” Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron discuss many classic, and not-so-classic, films of the era. From “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to “Teenagers From Outer Space,” this documentary highlights all of them. Mark Hamill narrates.

This is a no-brainer purchase for fans of “Forbidden Planet,” sci-fi buffs, or even those who simply like their DVD collections to include various highlights from film history. While some studios have gotten half-assed in their presentation of movies on DVD, Warner Bros. continues to give lots of love and attention to its classics.

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