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Blu-ray Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

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The Film

Just in time to be compared with its vastly inferior remake, the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still arrives in a new special edition DVD, and for the first time in high definition. Robert Wise’s documentary-style indictment of Cold War paranoia and nuclear proliferation remains remarkably potent today, without much of the dated elements or tacky special effects found in most sci-fi films from the era.

Michael Rennie stars as Klaatu, the visitor from another planet who comes to warn earthlings of the dangerous ramifications of their penchant for violence. Confirming his reason for coming, military troops shoot Klaatu soon after he steps out of his spaceship.

Klaatu hides out in a room rented to him by Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), and spends time touring Washington D.C. with her son Bobby (Billy Gray) after his attempts to facilitate talks with the leaders of the world are rejected.

The Day the Earth Stood Still stands the test of time because it’s a seamless blend of science fiction and message movie. The special effects are dated, but the film barely depends on them, and though the anti-violence implications are rather blatant, it manages to not feel forced.

Unfortunately, most modern audiences will only think of a lifeless Keanu Reeves, mediocre special effects and a halfhearted condemnation of the evils of carbon emissions when they think of The Day the Earth Stood Still, but hopefully this new DVD and Blu-ray release will introduce a new audience to the original classic.

The Blu-ray Disc

The Day the Earth Stood Still is presented in high definition with a full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The high-def picture is frequently stunning for a film of its age. The picture has been cleaned up significantly, and the images are sharp. Some scenes appear slightly washed out, but the majority show a vibrant distinction between the black and the white. Black levels are inky and deep. This is a fantastic Blu-ray presentation, and a great example of what the format can do even for films more than 50 years old.

The sound is presented in Dolby DTS-HD, which is probably overkill for this dialogue-driven film, but the sound is clean and unwavering. There are no problems with effects drowning out dialogue or vice versa, and Bernard Herrmann’s eerie, theremin-centered score sounds great.

Special Features

There’s no skimping on the special features with this new release, many of which were previously unavailable.

The original commentary track with director Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer, director of Star Trek II, is here, along with a brand new commentary track by film and music historians.

Seven new featurettes are found on the disc, with topics ranging from the theremin score to the history of flying saucers to the key players in the making of the film.

In addition, there is also a previously available short documentary on nuclear weapons, a reading of the short story on which the film is based, and movie newsreels from the ‘50s.

Blu-ray exclusive features include an interactive theremin that allows you to create a 30-second section of score, and a side-to-side shooter game. Both are mildly entertaining, but have little replay value.

The Bottom Line

The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the best science fiction films ever made, and probably the best from its era. The new Blu-ray presentation does the film proud, and is easily a better purchase than a movie ticket to the remake. Stay home, and enjoy a real film instead.

About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.