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
A non-threatening alien (Michael Rennie) comes to Earth in 1951 with a message of peace, but he is shot and wounded by nervous troops. His ten-foot robot, Gort, immediately renders all Earth weapons useless while the alien delivers an ultimatum to the world: stop fighting or be destroyed.