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Movie Review: The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

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The plot of the film The Day The Earth Stood Still revolves around an alien who comes to earth with a message to an untrusting and fearful humanity. The message is ‘don’t go out to the stars and bring your violence and death with you’, which is a good message to preach, and humanity really needed it back then when the Cold War threatened to kill us all in a big fireball.

The film, directed by Robert Wise, stars Michael Rennie as the alien, Klaatu, who comes down to make the world a better place and Billy Gray as the Standard ’50s Child (all “gee, mister” and “no foolin’?”) that he befriends while he’s there. Michael Rennie (who is the standard human alien of the piece) has one of those faces in that he looks like someone you may have seen in that thing a while back, or it could be somebody else entirely.

The very similar Plan 9 From Outer Space tried to use the same basic plot but didn’t succeed due to a great many problems, such as the narrator seemingly being confused about when the film takes place (“Future events such as these will affect you in the future…”) — and of course, being directed by the notorious Ed Wood.

Much like the kid’s use of the words ‘gee mister’ which are now thought of as a cliché of the time, the language standards of the time made themselves known in other ways too. For instance, some of the first words of the film are ‘holy mackerel’ and ‘holy Christmas’. Even in 1951 (when the movie was made), nobody would actually exclaim ‘holy Christmas’, at least not when they weren’t being censored fiercely. (Mind you, I wasn’t there. I could be wrong.) Speaking of gibberish, the movie is also, incidentally, the origin of the phrase ‘Klaatu Barada Nikto’, which was appropriated by the Star Wars expanded universe and the Tron film, among others.

Normally movies from the ’50s and early ’60s don’t tend to age too well when compared with the films of today, due to our superior film quality, sound quality, and the fact that most of them are in black and white. However, if the film is good enough, as with The Day The Earth Stood Still, it doesn’t really matter how good the cosmetic stuff is. The same message that this movie preached is still relevant today (in fact, especially so, as our weaponry and methods of delivering said weaponry have vastly increased since the ’50s). It’s one of the classics because it really makes you think about how things could’ve gone differently back then, and how we could’ve done with a real Klaatu to help us along the way.

This film was remade in 2008 starring Keanu Reeves, with the central message of the film changed to encourage people to be green to make it more relevant to the people of today. They didn’t have to do that though, as while we’ve cooled down a bit since the Cold War (nice pun), we are still a primitive and warlike people as Star Trek would put it, and part of me suspects it will always be so.

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About Scott Varnham

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Scott, you missed what for many of us is the most intriguing aspect of this film: it’s a Christian allegory. Think about it. The central character descends from the heavens and takes the name Carpenter. He performs the miracle of stopping every mechanical activity on Earth to impress upon his hosts that he has supernatural powers. He insists on preaching his message of world peace, even though the authorities first try to stop him and eventually kill him. Then his lifeless body is carried by his robot back to their flying saucer, where Klaatu is resurrected, rising from the dead to reappear before a stunned humanity one last time before ascending whence He came. It’s the Gospel According to Gort.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Sort of gives new meaning to the opening cries of “Holy Mackerel” and “Holy Christmas,” doesn’t it?

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “Normally movies from the ’50s and early ’60s don’t tend to age too well when compared with the films of today, due to…the fact that most of them are in black and white.”

    Huh?! Sorry but I completely reject that unfounded premise. Please name one film that hasn’t aged well because it was shot in black and white.

  • http://Scottv2.wordpress.com Scott Varnham

    Wow, I did not notice the Christian Allegory thing at all, good point. (And no, it doesn’t give new meanings of the phrases to me, I will always think of that bit as corny :) )

    And I was saying (obviously did not make this clear) that if you compare the HD picture quality and the spectrum of colours available for our viewing pleasure to the black and white films of the day, then some viewers could feel disappointed at the difference between the two. So no, films don’t age badly because they’re filmed in black and white, but what I was trying to say is that viewers should overlook that and get it anyway.
    Thank you for the comments :)