The very epitome of a cult SF classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still
is more often referenced than seen, which is a pity since it remains even now one of the most thought-provoking examples of the genre. The title is a misnomer, a mere tease to entice 1950s audiences into the cinema in the expectation of seeing another sensationalist B-movie about murderous aliens (i.e. Communists). In fact, Robert Wise's film of Edmund North's screenplay is a thoughtful Cold War allegory about a Christ-like visitor (Michael Rennie) who comes to Earth preaching a message of salvation for mankind, only to be spurned, killed then finally resurrected (significantly, Rennie's character Klaatu adopts the pseudonym "Mr Carpenter" while on the run from the authorities).
Aside from its philosophical message, the film also boasts memorable imagery--notably the giant robot Gort--a much-quoted catchphrase in "Klaatu barada nikto", and one of composer Bernard Herrmann's most admired scores, featuring the theremin and other electronic instruments that must have sounded very otherworldly back in 1951. The result is a bona fide landmark in cinema SF with a central message about "weapons of mass destruction" that's still uncannily relevant today.
On the DVD: The Day the Earth Stood Still has been splendidly restored for its DVD incarnation from the original 35 mm print, and the results are demonstrated in the "Restoration Comparison" feature. Also included is a fascinating 1951 newsreel showing Klaatu receiving a certificate of merit amid stories of Communist threats, the Korean war and beauty pageants ("Pomp and pulchritude on parade in Atlantic City"). Best of all is an absorbing commentary track with director Robert Wise in conversation with Nicholas Meyer (both men have Star Trek movies on their CV). --Mark Walker
Beginning with a documentary style that immediately hooks the viewer, The Day The Earth Stood Still
, based on the Harry Bates short story 'Farewell To The Master', becomes as much a human interest story as it does a sci-fi B-movie classic. The film soberly depicts the arrival of an alien dignitary, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), who has come to earth with his deadly robot, Gort (Lock Martin), to deliver the message that earthlings must stop warring among themselves or else. After being shot at by ignorant, panicky military guards, Klaatu is brought to a Washington, D.C., hospital, where he begs a sympathetic but frank Major White (Robert Osterloh) to gather all the world's leaders so he can tell them more specifically what he has come 250 million miles to warn them about. Losing patience, Klaatu slips into the human world, adapting a false identity and living at a boarding house where he meets a smart woman with a conscience, Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), and her inquisitive son, Bobby (Billy Gray). Both mother and son soon find themselves embroiled in the complex mystery of Klaatu, his message, and the government's witch hunt for the alien. Made during the cold war when Americans were obsessed with the destructive capabilities of the atomic bomb The Day The Earth Stood Still
, thanks to its beautiful pacing, excellent dialogue, and haunting score by Bernard Herrmann, is still a treat for contemporary audiences.