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Published: Thursday, 11/9/2006

'Forbidden Planet': Science-fiction fun from the '50s

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Robbie the Robot, shown in Forbidden Planet, is an endearing symbol of science fiction. Robbie the Robot, shown in Forbidden Planet, is an endearing symbol of science fiction.
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Even now, even with a knockout new Forbidden Planet: 50th Anniversary Edition (Warner, $26.98, available Tuesday), if you haven't seen it already, I imagine it's hard to convince you a science-fiction take on Shakespeare's The Tempest is anything but pure '50s kitsch gone wild. Imagine the studio executive who fielded it: "OK, you want to make Prospero a mad scientist, the island an abandoned planet, the sprite Ariel becomes a Robot, and the beast Caliban is not even a thing but a what - an energy creature made of Freudian id?"

That's an art house picture.

Not the most iconic, shiny-spaceship sci-fi picture of an era that continues to define what we think of when we think of sci fi. Yet, Forbidden Planet, with its green skies and fluorescent sands, remains the most entertaining of 1950s space pictures.

Warner has outdone itself with this two-disc package: The picture has a vibrant cotton-candy luster compared with previous discs. Among the extras is a reel of special effects never used, found by the studio simply labeled "Saucer Footage." There's a neat piece on the creation of Robbie the Robot (still an endearing symbol of science fiction itself); and the charming Turner Classic Movies documentary Watch the Skies, with no less than George Lucas and Steven Spielberg reminiscing over the era's impact. For $59.98, an "Ultimate Collectors Edition" will get you an additional toy Robbie and some lobby cards. But save your cash.

Instead, pick up a copy of the film's spooky soundtrack (sold separately) from electronic music pioneers Louis and Bebe Baron. The disc gets a dizzying new digital mix but listen to the soundtrack alone (a CD should have been included) and hear a hint of melancholy indie bands like Yo La Tengo and Cat Power.

Incidentally, also known for creating sounds that wouldn't be out of place on another planet, the Pixies are back with yet another reminder of their revival, Loudquietloud: A Film About the Pixies (MVD, $19.98). The title refers to the band's signature sound: soft verses that alternate with explosive choruses (which Nirvana, among other acts, later appropriated). The movie finds the Pixies on their surprise blockbuster 2004 reunion tour. But the title could also refer to the band members themselves, seen going through middle-aged lives only to find themselves (apprehensively) on stage again, then back to quiet.

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UGLY BETTIES: Having run through a catalog of international and studio classics, the Criterion Collection is probably most intriguing when it takes on the forgotten and barely seen. A first-rate edition of The Third Man (already available) is a no-brainer, but Criterion also delves into other films British director Carol Reed made with Graham Greene.

The Fallen Idol ($29.95) comes from a Greene short story about the friendship between a boy and his butler (Ralph Richardson) and the dark twists it takes. Reed was briefly a darling of the British cinema, and even knighted. Vaguely prissy and always droll, he fell out of favor, but the stark Criterion transfer reveals a master of restraint with an almost Dickensian macabre.

Hitchcock without laughs.

Solo con Tu Pareja ($29.95) is the welcome American debut of a master still very much in play. The first picture from Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, who would later shoot Y Tu Mama Tambien and the best Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Solo con Tu Pareja was never given a serious theatrical release in this country.

Which is ironic because Cuaron is the most mainstream of Spanish-language imports. Solo con has the tip-toeing feel of a director finding his voice but very much in line with Y Tu Mama - both, for example, open with a blunt scene of sex and a Lothario overdue for his comeuppance. His formula, if you could say a director so eclectic has one, is mainstream genres (sex comedies, children's flicks, the upcoming sci-fi epic Children of Men) in debased formats given an unexpected poignancy.

As for Harry Potter fans:

This time, go fly a kite.

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EVERYTHING I KNOW I LEARNED FROM NPR: "They were quiet and fast, produced no exhaust, and ran without gasoline," is how the narrator (Martin Sheen) begins Who Killed the Electric Car? (Sony, $26.96). The same, oddly enough, could be said of the subjects of Wordplay (IFC, $24.98), an unpretentious little documentary about crossword puzzle obsessives - and New York Times puzzle master Will Shortz in particular. A sort of Spellbound without emotional resonance, it's less engaging during its visit to a puzzle championship but absorbing as a quirky profile of people who know how to fit words together.

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SHADY PEOPLE: As much as I hate to admit this, as big a fan as I am of this show, without The Sopranos: Season Six, Part One (HBO, $99.98) I might have trouble remembering what happened when season 6.5 begins early next year. War is about to break out between the Jersey families and the New York clans. I think. I thought so two seasons ago. What is undeniable is a family in decline. Next season they might even run into a few characters from the big-screen edition of Amy Sedaris' Strangers With Candy (ThinkFilm, $27.98). It's not so big a stretch.

Sedaris plays Jerri Blank, a 47-year-old high-school freshman, freshly sprung from jail - "a boozer, user, and a loser." Actually, though assisted by Stephen Colbert (who co-wrote and co-created the show with Sedaris and Paul Dinello), Sedaris' character might be too innocent for Tony and the crew. The Opus Dei, on the other hand, would make an inspired Soprano foe.

If our Jersey boys would keep a straight face, that is. Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code (Sony, $29.96) is like a man on a street corner screaming. Sentences don't match and the logic goes bonkers. I sat through this thing with two studio-hired security guards at my side to discourage my pirating it, then taking home my own copy and watching it night after night. Ha! Now I can! Awesome.

The two-disc set includes the usual featurettes on music and how exciting it is to meet the author. The $80 "Special Edition Gift Set" includes a replica of the cryptex in the movie, though not a clue to what actually happens.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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