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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Forbidden World

July 19th, 2010

Forbidden World - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Forbidden World is part of an informal trilogy of Sci-fi films produced by Roger Corman in the early 1980s, the others being Battle Beyond the Stars and Galaxy of Terror (the latter of which I just finished reviewing). This is not the best known of the three films, but how well does it stake up to Galaxy in terms of quality?

The Movie

Jesse Vint stars as Mike Colby, a galaxy marshal awoken by his trusty robot from cryogenic sleep when his ship is attacked. He is called to Xarbia to check in on an "incident" there, and he is not happy, as he was supposed to go on leave. But this is an emergency and he has no choice.

Xarbia is home to a genetics lab run by Dr. Gordon Hauser, who is not impressed by Mike's lack of scientific curiosity. Also on this scientific team are Dr. Barbara Glaser, who is more welcoming to Mike's presence, and Dr. Cal Timbergen, who is clearly not in the best of health. The science team also includes Tracy Baxter, who is a research assistant. Also on Xarbia are two security personnel, Earle and Brian, and then there's Jimmy, the poor schmuck that has to clean up the petting zoo massacre, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The genetic experiments being performed on Xarbia are designed to prevent a galaxy-wide food shortage. They discovered a DNA strand called Proto B, which allows for an incredibly efficient metabolism and any lifeform with this DNA spliced into its genes will grow faster using less energy. Plants would grow faster by absorbing more energy from the sun, animals would grow faster on less food, etc. They spliced this DNA into a wide variety of hosts, but one such host, Subject 20, got loose and killed all the others, as well as one of the scientists working there and is now cocooned in the lab. This is where Mike comes in; he's been brought in to clean up the situation. His solution is simple: kill the creature and go home. (He was due to go on leave before the emergency call came in.) However, the lead scientist refuses, as the genetic work they are doing could save the galaxy. Plus, there's more at stake here, and more than a few secrets he wants to keep.

But before you can say, "Don't stick you head in that!" Jimmy the janitor becomes the latest victim of Subject 20. The latest, but not the last, as it's on the loose and looking for food.

The quickest way to review this movie is to compare it to Galaxy of Terror, for which you can read the review here. I can confidently say that while both films are clear Alien rip-offs, this one is a ... different Alien rip-off. I don't mean that in a bad way, or a good way. Seriously, while watching these two movies, I went back and forth on which one was the better film. Galaxy of Terror has better production design, while Forbidden World has better and gorier special effects. Forbidden World has better humor in it, while Galaxy of Terror builds atmospheric horror better. The acting is better over there, I like the music better here. (I do like Fox Harris as Dr. Cal Timbergen, but the characters are underwritten.) Both movies have very memorable scenes (here it's Dr. Cal Timbergen's surgery scene, while Galaxy has the maggot death scene). If you go into B-movies just looking for Boobs and Blood, then Forbidden World wins the tie-breaker on that front. It also has a completely unnecessary space battle at the beginning and a couple of attempts at artistic shots that fall flat.

It is really too close to call.

The Extras

Disc one of this two-disc set features a 34-minute long making-of featurette / retrospective with a lot of the crew (but only Jesse Vint representing the cast). It's very in-depth and the people involved have a lot of stories to tell. Next up is a six-minute interview with Roger Corman. The final featurette is a 14-minute interview with John Buechler, who did the special effects make-up. There are also a couple of image galleries.

The second disc has the director's cut with an audio commentary track featuring the director, Allan Holzman, and moderator, Nathaniel Thompson. When the film was first made, Allan Holzman wanted to combine the horror elements with comedy, which was coming into vogue at the time. However, Roger Corman hated combining comedy with horror, as it usually meant lower box office numbers, so he cut it all out, thus leaving the theatrical release five minutes shorter. The director's cut has never been released before, likely because the original material is lost. This version is hurting. It's in 4:3 aspect ratio, while there are tons of issues, etc. It is really nice to have, while the audio commentary track is a real selling point.

The DVD also comes with a pamphlet with essay and images.

I do not have the Blu-ray, yet, but it does not appear to have an exclusive extras. It also only costs about $5 more, which is a reasonable additional cost. If its technical presentation is solid, then it could be the better deal.

The Verdict

Forbidden World is in many ways the quintessential low-budget B-movie horror / Sci-fi film. It takes a popular movie of the day (in this case Alien) and borrows elements of the plot while lowering the budget and increasing the Boobs and Blood. If you are a fan of these films, then this is a solid example that offers plenty of both. The DVD and the Blu-ray have better special features than most similar releases, including the never-before-released director's cut, and if you are a fan, it is worth picking up, but until the Blu-ray arrives, I can't say for sure which format is worth picking up over the other.

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