REVIEW: The Day the Earth Stood Still [1951]

“Klaatu Barada Nikto”

When one thinks of classic films from an age long gone, The Day the Earth Stood Still is one to be included. Just the fact that the movie was made in 1951 and has some nice special effects and intellectual underlying themes, which are still relevant today, makes it something of a phenomenon. Here is a story about worldwide paranoia and a deep-seeded fear of anything not human or of Earth. It is a very important question of how we would react to beings from another world coming to ours. We would like to think we could be accommodating and open-minded to a friendly visitor, but I believe we would most definitely shoot first and ask questions later. The most successful part of this film is the fact that it walks that very fine line with believability. While initially frightened and trigger happy, the US does allow its visitor hospitalization and a voice to explain his motives. However, it is all done with their own interests at hand. They will not let the man walk freely, and while quick to push him away, they call him a menace and danger when he finally escapes their corrupt clutches.

The way in which the government is treated, as opposed to the genius minds of scientists, men willing to look beyond the surface and understand what is truly happening, is a great commentary on politics today. Those meant to protect may be too close-minded to truly see all angles of an intruder, they must fear the worst in order to be ready for it. On the other hand, scientists can see a problem and work it out to all of its ends. They are looking for answers and are willing to except everything as long as it makes logical sense. Klaatu understands that although these geniuses are his only means of communicating to the world, they are also looked upon as crackpots until they are proven wrong. It is not up to him to rectify this problem, though, he has been sent with a warning, whether the people heed it, or decide to not believe until it is too late, does not really concern him. Space’s race of policeman robots does not think past right and wrong. If his own people did wrong they too would be destroyed, thus he can’t think about the good Earth can do, only the bad they are capable of. A warning is the best he can do, and it is up to us to live in peace or risk utter destruction.

This is all a thinly veiled commentary on war and internal annihilation by having an alien come and tell us to get along with each other as they have. Once the universe has a common law and destructive force as punishment, no one has a choice but to live in harmony. While this message is fantastic in the film, and great insight post bombing of Hiroshima (the Atom bomb our own looming Gort), it is the one thing I worry about in a planned remake for 2008. I can see the film being turned into commentary on the Iraq war and as a result losing its universal message. Besides that, though, I still don’t think a remake is necessary because it is all done so effectively the first time.

The Day the Earth Stood Still contains a wonderful script and moving performances to help it succeed. All Klaatu wishes to do is tell the world about the danger of bringing its destructive forces to the universe and then leave knowing he tried to help. Instead he is imprisoned by a government wanting him to be used as a pawn against their enemies, just like those would do against them. Each country is unwilling to put differences aside and Klaatu needs to take matters into his own hands. He goes amongst Earthlings and discovers that amidst the evil and corruption are people willing to work for good and understand the high stakes before them. He ultimately decides to put his own life at risk in order to hopefully save this world for those who deserve to live.

Michael Rennie brilliantly portrays Klaatu with a sense of authority and power, but also a sly smile of enjoyment at times like a child running free in a toy store. Although highly intelligent, his lack of knowledge lends for some nice little moments with young Bobby and Mrs. Benson. Patricia Neal plays Helen Benson as a strong-minded female character with the moral scruples to honor the life of her late husband, who fought for his country, and help Klaatu despite the delusions of wealth and grandeur that her boyfriend has in turning the alien into authorities. One could say that Helen Benson is as strongly portrayed a patriot as you can have, without being involved in war or fighting itself. It is her bravery and gumption that will hopefully save the world before gunfire can even begin.

Sure, some of the special effects come off as cheap and cheesy, but for its time one cannot complain. Gort, the robot, is made of the strongest metal ever seen; yet his limbs bend to show the foam rubber that he is truly made of. One can look beyond this, though, and accept him for what he is. Some stuff is very impressive to counteract that small glitch. The use of stop-motion to show Gort’s power of destroying guns is fantastic. Each cut is seamless as his ray illuminates its target and then makes it disappear—an unfathomable trick that is more successful here than some new movies utilizing computers. Also, the spaceship is successful at being of another world and time. The way it opens is slick and its interior high-tech looking just by its use of light sensors.

You don’t get movies of this kind anymore, a story that is relevant and entertaining at the same time. There is no way a remake can even touch the success shown here.

The Day the Earth Stood Still 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


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