At first glance, the original 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still is a simple, perhaps na´ve motion picture portraying our views and understanding of extraterrestrial life before humans had actually launched any spacecraft to study the universe.
Actually, it's an intelligent, thought-provoking film, not to mention a great story with wonderful acting. The marvelous storytelling from director Robert Wise is what has made this movie such an enduring classic; it's a movie with a message of how we should deal with each other, no matter our differences. In anticipation of the release of the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, 20th Century Fox has issued a two-disc special edition of the original movie, and Klaatu and Gort have never looked so good.
Watching this movie, it's fun to see life in the '50s as it really was - the cars, the clothing, incessant smoking (even by doctors lighting up on the job), and the quaint lifestyle of the boarding house. It also includes a traditional flying saucer, robot, shiny spacesuit.
The story is beautiful in its simplicity: an alien, Klaatu (British actor Michael Rennie), lands with his flying saucer and robot Gort on the Mall in Washington, DC. While Klaatu says his intentions are peaceful, a trigger-happy solider shoots the alien, who is only wounded and recovers quickly, perhaps in spite of the care he receives by U.S. physicians. Klaatu wants to meet with all the leaders of Earth's nations, but the paranoia of the 1950's atomic bomb scare is reflected by the response of leaders not willing to come together to hear what Klaatu has to say.
Klaatu easily escapes from his "detention" by U.S. armed forces, wanting to go out among the people in the city to find out what humans are really like. Obviously having a good command of the English language (he can read and write) and human customs (he knows what to wear and can find his way around the city with no problem - perhaps he has an internal GPS!), Klaatu comes to a boarding house, complete with staple actors from the time such as Francis Bavier (Aunt Bea from The Andy Griffith Show), and is befriended by widowed secretary Ellen, (Patricia Neal), her son, Bobby (Billy Gray), and Earth's greatest scientist, Dr. Barnhart (Sam Jaffe).
To demonstrate his powers and the importance of the world's leaders getting together, Klaatu makes the Earth "stand still" for 30 minutes, cutting all electrical and mechanical power across the Earth except for essential services like hospitals or planes in mid-air (although in a gaffe, a boat is moving through the water in the scene from London). While politicians still aren't willing to meet, scientists from around the world (who seemingly are above political divisions) come together to meet at the spaceship.
However, Klaatu is discovered before the meeting and is killed by the military. Here's where the famous words come to play: "Gort: Klaatu Barrada Nikto!" Klaatu has told Helen if anything happens to him, she must say those words to the robot Gort so he doesn't destroy the world. Gort revives Klaatu, and he delivers his message: people of Earth must live peacefully or be destroyed as a danger to other planets.
While the scientific accuracy is suspect (a spacecraft in orbit would need to travel at 17,500 mph, not 4,000 mph), the metaphor-filled film has a lasting message that is pertinent even today.
I'll reiterate again - The Day the Earth Stood Still is just a great story. While it seems that almost all the old movies are being re-made, today's filmmakers should take a cue from this and other classic pictures: You don't have to blow up everything in sight make a great movie and get a message across.
Extras for this special edition release include an extra-long preview of the new 2008 TDTESS movie, as well as commentary by film and music historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg and Nick Redman, a "The Making of The Day the Earth Stood Still," a featurette called "Decoding 'Klaatu, Barada, Nikto': Science Fiction as Metaphor," a portrait gallery, and much more. The extras provide a fun look at this classic that still has legs more than half a century later.
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