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A spaceship lands in Washington, D.C., capturing the attention of the world. But the peaceful alien emissary (Michael Rennie) it brings fails to earn the public’s trust. When a young woman and her son befriend him, they soon realise they may be all that stands between the human race and total destruction.
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"Cinema Reserve" is the title given to Fox's "premium" issues and releases started in February 2006 & are on-going. The blurb inside each tin promises best digital transfers, best audio, best extras, dedicated and unique booklet - and all of it wrapped up in a rather delicious metal tin exterior with slightly altered artwork. The series is numbered on the spine of the tin - from 001 on upwards (see list below). Most are 2DVD sets where the standard issue or Studio Classics issue is often only 1 disc. (Some of the doubles in this series are the 1st UK release of already released doubles in the USA on Region 1.)
I mention all of this because when you type in "Cinema Reserve" into the Amazon search engine, you get only 2 entries - "The Seven Year Itch" and "The Fly". No one at Fox seems to have alerted Amazon of the releases nor provided them with all of the proper artwork. Amazon's system has most of the titles available (not all) but they're not highlighted or recognised as "Cinema Reserve" releases. (The unique artwork is an easy way to spot them). It looks like the series will contain almost 20 titles by the end of the year. I've bought 6 others to date and 2 of them do have stock faults despite the "pristine transfer" claims in the booklet (more of those in later reviews). Still, if most are like this title (superb), then you may want to start saving! And the tin effect looks soooo good too - craftily geared towards the collector in us all!
For those interested, I've compiled an alphabetical list with the Series Number, Film Title, Film Release Date and finally the Cinema Reserve Release Date (including forthcoming titles):
1. Number 003: All About Eve (1950) (26 Feb 2006)
2. Number 013: Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) (12 Feb 2007)
3. Number 007: Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (1969) (22 May 2006)
4. Number 019: Cleopatra (due 2007) - CANCELLED
5. Number 001: The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) (26 Feb 2006)
6. Number 009: The Fly (1986 Remake) (3 July 2006)
7. Number 010: The Hustler (1961) (18 Sept 2006)
8. Number 011: Kagemusha (1980) (27 Nov 2006)
9. Number 004: Laura (1944) (27 Feb 2006)
10. Number 005: Lifeboat (1944) (27 March 2006)
11. Number 018: The Magnificent Seven (1960) (due 2007) - CANCELLED
12. Number 016: Midnight Cowboy (18 June 2007)
13. Number 002: My Darling Clementine (1946) (27 Feb 2006)
14. Number 006: Patton (1970) (24 April 2006)
15. Number 008: The Seven Year Itch (1955) (19 June 2006)
16. Number 017: Some Like It Hot (1959) (23 July 2007)
17. Number 012: Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) (18 Dec 2006)
18. Number 015: Valley Of The Dolls (1967) (14 May 2007)
19. Number 014: The Verdict (1982) (19 March 2007)
Back to this release. The film itelf is on Disc One and is a fully restored print in black and white - and looks just sensational. So good in fact that it's prompted my title for this review. There's a scene where the seven-foot seven Lock Martin (formerly a doorman at a Hollywood Theatre) who plays Gort the Robot has to pick up Patrica Neal in his cumbersome silver suit. It was impossible to do. So they had string pullies yank her up - the restoration shows us the strings as she gallantly lets out one of those blood-curdling screams Fifties women seemed to do in Fifties Sci-Fi movies - which is both funny and cute!
Michael Rennie, superbly majesterial as Klaatu the interstellar messenger, was new to American screens. After being manhandled by the army and jailed by Washington types who take his requests to meet all leaders of the world as being impossible to achieve, Gort blasts a wall and helps him escape. He meets an understanding widow and her family in a boarding house he takes refuge in. Helen (Neal) and her son Bobby (played by Billy Gray - interviewed on Disc 2) say that Klaatu must meet the smartest man in the world, Doctor Barnhardt (veteran actor Sam Jaffe, an obvious ringer for Einstein). The Doctor says the world still won't listen; Klaatu tells them there will be a sign of his race's power; he stops everything at twelve noon one day. Great stuff!
For a movie that could have so easily descended into the clunky and even preachy, all the dialogue was superbly handled. The script was clearly one of the reasons why the film got made. And the great "message" given by Klaatu at the end of the movie about the Human Race growing up or the world will destroy itself could be quoted word-for-word now and not be out of place (dialoue from it titles this review). Throughout the film Rennie calls himself Mister Carpenter and the inference to Jesus was subtle but deliberate by the screenplay writer.
After the movie, there are a few superfluous Movietone News Events of 1951 on Disc 1 that seem irrelevant to the movie really (but part of the movie experience of the time).
However, the real goodies start on Disc 2 with an 80-minute featurette on the Making Of the film. Although short on actual on-set footage, there are stills and fascinating features on each of the actors. Patricia Neal openly admits that she couldn't stop giggling in a lot of scenes at the poe-faced seriousness of it all - but the endlessly patient Rennie took it. There are interviews with the producers about the politically difficult times in which it was made. The downside is that Fox clearly don't have interviews with Rennie or Jaffe or Martin - and footage of the actual shoot is practically non-existent, so many of the interviews are peppered only with a photo of what/whom is being discussed - when you long for more.
Cinema cards, the iconic posters, the cinema stands at the premier are all talked of - even ownership of the prop that was the flying saucer is touched upon. There's the nervous preview-screening where the audience giggled at the opening army shots of trucks rushing to the scene - much to the terror of the film makers who thought they might have a turkey on their hands. There's a bit on the restoration process, a trailer, stills gallery - all very good.
And then there's Bernard Herrmann's score - ripped off by every Sci-Fi movie ever since - a huge part of the scare factor. Astonishingly ahead of its time - and so on the money.
All in all, this is a superb issue of a ground-breaking movie. Sure it'll be boring to some of our CGI saturated kids, but watching it all the way through now - some 55 years after the event - it's astonishing how relevant it was then - and still is.
So puny Earthlings, in the words of your friendly alien, "Klaatu Barada Nikto". Indeed!
PS: The above review was posted in May 2007; it's April 2008 now and many of you will have noticed that numbers 18 and 19 in the series haven't turned up at all - and given the transition to HD/Blue Ray - they're unlikely too. I bought "Some Like It Hot", 17, the last number issued - so it looks like the entire series and its excellent packaging has been unceremoniously dumped. Having said that, if you're still prepared to fork out, I've noticed many of the titles are now available at greatly reduced prices - and all bar "The Lifeboat" (terrible print) are worthy of your attention. I've amassed 15 of the 17 and will try to post reviews of them in the near future. The black and white print on "The Hustler" in particular is spectacular... Also the ltd edition 'tin' that came with original Cinema Reserve issues of "Day" has unfortunately been replaced with a card wrap with the same artwork as above.
So I thought I’d write about this classic film now, as important today as it was when made over 60 years ago.
A UFO is detected in the atmosphere surrounding Earth. U.S. radar and tracking stations around the world are tracing its movements. As it draws closer to the surface many other people around the world are increasingly tense and worried. What is it? Where has it come from? Why is it visiting? What do its inhabitants want? In due course these questions will be answered, but for now anxiety reigns. The terrible Second World War was one thing. So is this ghastly Cold War, a stalemate between superpowers with nuclear weapons in their arsenal. But this is something beyond those crises, something intergalactic and unknown.
The film is clever. It keeps us guessing and wondering for as long as possible, just as it does with persons on Earth in the film. The spacecraft circles the globe, surveying terrain for its best landing site. The Siberian tundra is clearly out. Instead, it lands in Washington, D.C. in the U.S., setting down on several baseball fields in a public park. The spaceship is metallic silver and huge, a saucer-shaped craft the size of Wembley Stadium’s football pitch.
It was patient and silent as it moved through Earth’s atmosphere. It remains silent and patient now as it rests in the park. The U.S. army has surrounded it with armed soldiers, tanks, howitzers and grenade launchers. The D.C. police are out in force as well to keep curious onlookers at bay beyond the protective cordon.
The craft landed in the afternoon. Radio and television broadcasts around the world — in French, Russian, Hindustani and scores of other languages — are covering the event. Two hours pass. Nothing, silence. Then, before dusk, something begins to stir. A faint hum is heard. Cracks in the spacecraft appear. A ramp opens up. Then a door. The crowd is aghast, all eyes on the door. From it an 8-foot metallic robot emerges. He is massive. His name is Gort. The crowd shudders. Gort stands on the ramp, impassive, immobile. Then Klaatu emerges, a thin being with skinny arms and legs (two each). He wears a space helmet, his face obscured. He walks down the ramp and stands on the grass, the first alien being (presumably) to ever set foot on our planet.
He removes his helmet. He looks like a man, a human being. But his voice is flat and monotonal, free of inflexion. He says he has come bearing a message. He intends it to be heard by all people on Earth. He states he wants the heads of all states to assemble to hear him speak. As a token of goodwill and peace he removes an object from his breast pocket, holding it in his hand. But he does not tell the jittery soldiers what it is. Suddenly the object springs open and makes a noise. A nervous soldier fires. Klaatu drops to the ground, bleeding. Thus his first encounter with mankind is violent. He may have come in peace, but he is gunned down before he can bring it.
Klaatu delivers a command to Gort. The robot’s visor opens. A powerful laser from Gort destroys the army’s violent weapons: its rifles, tanks, artillery. The display is awesome, unbelievable. Gort is ready to destroy more, but Klaatu commands him to stop. Thereafter Klaatu is taken to Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington for examination and treatment.
The doctors are amazed to see how similar his anatomy is to that of humans. The X-rays reveal few anomalies. A bullet is removed from his shoulder. He’s in bed a day or two. But after this, astonishingly, his wound completely heals. How? Klaatu has brought his own medicine, in this case a salve with miraculous healing properties.
Gort stands inert, harmless. The spacecraft is sealed tight again. Engineers examining its design and texture can find no seams in the surface of the craft. They are baffled. They cannot explain the ramp and door openings. Chemists on the scene are also startled by the composition of Gort’s outer layer, a metal alloy so strong it seems completely impenetrable. No metal found on Earth is comparable.
An assistant to the U.S. President, Secretary Harley, visits Klaatu in hospital. Harley asks him the standard questions posed in paragraph 2 above. Klaatu says he can say nothing at this point. What he has to say cannot be shared with any individual. He must speak to all residents on Earth. Harley says it will be difficult, if not impossible. Tensions are high on Earth, the political situation unstable. It’s unlikely the nations of the world will agree to come together quickly and peacefully for talks. Impatient with Harley, Klaatu says:
“I won’t speak to any one nation or group of nations. I don’t intend to add my contribution to your childish jealousies.”
Harley tells him to be patient. Klaatu replies:
“I’m impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it.”
Security at Walter Reed is not as tight as it should be. Klaatu vanishes. How he escaped nobody knows, but he’s gone, at large. The media discovers this. Radio and television broadcast horror stories of an alien monster on the loose. Newspapers carry caricatures of Klaatu, none of them accurate, the head and eyes too large.
Where is he? The manhunt is coming up empty.
Klaatu has gone undercover. A dry-cleaning tag on the arm of a blazer he has stolen and wears says, “Carpenter”. So this becomes his name: Mr. Carpenter.
Room for Rent says the sign on a quiet suburban house in Washington. Klaatu as Mr. Carpenter investigates. Mrs. Benson is a war widow. Her husband died at Anzio and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington. She has a 10-year-old son named Bobby, named after his father Robert. Carpenter takes the room. Bobby is precocious, inquisitive, curious. Carpenter recognises his young intelligence. They become fast friends. Carpenter seems to be a New Englander, and he confesses to Mrs. Benson and others who visit the Benson household that he doesn’t know Washington well. On a Saturday Bobby offers to show Carpenter the local sights. They visit Arlington, the Lincoln Memorial and of course the alien spacecraft. A large crowd is still gathered behind a cordon of police and military personnel that surrounds the spacecraft. Gort has stood motionless outside the craft for two days now.
Bobby is a little puzzled by Carpenter. The stranger knows a lot about science, physics and mathematics, but little about anything else. Carpenter wonders if all those buried at Arlington were soldiers and he doesn’t know who Abraham Lincoln was. He also has no money and has never seen a movie. But he does have diamonds in his pocket, although Bobby fails to understand why this should be so even when Carpenter tells him they are a means of universal exchange. Bobby begins to wonder if Mr. Carpenter is a bank robber, jewel thief or spy.
Carpenter wants to meet Professor Barnhardt, a local physicist and mathematician. The actor Sam Jaffe plays him. In those days he was old and lined and had long frizzy hair like Albert Einstein. The casting was unmistakable, and indeed Barnhardt seems to be as intelligent as Einstein. But not quite. Bobby and Carpenter visit the Barnhardt home. He isn’t in. Through a large window on the terrace they gaze into his study. In it they see a big blackboard with equations scattered across it. The door is locked and Bobby walks away. But when he turns he sees Carpenter entering the room, the door now mysteriously unlocked. Bobby watches him as Carpenter goes over the equations, chalking a check mark against those that are correct. Then Carpenter adds a few equations of his own.
A lady servant of Dr. Barnhardt arrives, finding Bobby and Carpenter in the professor’s study. She is irate and says she’ll call the police. Carpenter advises against it. He also tells her it would be unwise to erase anything he has written on the blackboard. The new equations are meant to help the professor, not hinder him. Carpenter writes down the Benson home address and invites the professor to contact him.
He does. Actually, someone from the government fetches him and brings him to the professor. Barnhardt is astounded by Carpenter’s intelligence. The professor had laboured for months over the equations. But now the solutions look so simple. How had he not grasped the way forward before? Carpenter explains where he went wrong. Barnhardt thanks him but concedes his ideas are only theoretical. Carpenter confirms they are correct.
“How can you be so sure? Have you tested this theory?”
“I find it works well enough to get me from one planet to another.”
Barnhardt’s eyes widen. He looks breathless.
“I am Klaatu.”
Barnhardt takes the lead in contacting the government, urgently requesting a meeting of all heads of state on Earth. Only he knows what Klaatu means to say to his fellow inhabitants of Earth.
But how can Klaatu convince them that total earthly cooperation is needed? His answer: He will make Earth stand still. At precisely noon the following day electricity and other energies will cease to function for 30 minutes.
The demonstration is carried out. Almost everything comes to a stop: transportation, printing presses, broadcasts, home appliances. A complete, worldwide brownout.
Clearly, the power at Klaatu’s disposal is immense. This should be self-evident now. But fear still reigns, not reason.
Even so, the meeting is duly arranged. It will be held in Washington tomorrow night. Yet through a series of events Klaatu’s cover as Carpenter is blown. The army, placed on full alert, is ready to recapture him.
The following night a taxi is headed downtown. In it Carpenter and Mrs. Benson are seated. They are going to the meeting together. She knows who he is now. Yesterday he was forced by circumstances to tell her the truth. She knows it was he who made the earth stand still.
As they head downtown they notice a build-up of army personnel along the route. The taxi driver does too and is nervous. Klaatu tells Mrs. Benson he’s worried about Gort. Only Klaatu knows Gort’s destructive powers. He knows what Gort will do if anything happens to Klaatu. And so he teaches Mrs. Benson perhaps the most famous alien words in the history of sci-fi cinema:
“Gort, Klaatu barada nikto.”
She repeats the words to herself, committing them to memory.
They are intercepted. Klaatu runs from the vehicle. The army opens fire. He is shot and killed.
Mrs. Benson hurries to the spacecraft. Gort has already killed the army guards standing duty. He will try to kill her now too. But as his visor opens she utters the fateful words to him:
“Klaatu barada nikto.”
His visor closes. He picks her up and carries her into the spacecraft. Then he departs. Implausible though it may be, he then finds the body of Klaatu and carries it back to the ship. Thereafter follows the famous Christ-like resurrection scene where Gort places Klaatu on a machine that restores him to life, however temporary it will be.
The meeting that was to be held downtown is shifted to the foot of the spacecraft now. Dr. Barnhardt is at the podium and means to address the assembled foreign dignitaries. But he barely has a chance to speak as the ramp of the ship slides down and the door opens. Gort emerges first, then Mrs. Benson with Klaatu. Gasps from the crowd. Klaatu lives! He was dead. He’s eternal, or seems to be. Christ-like indeed.
The whole point of the film is summed up in the long, eloquent speech Klaatu makes to the crowd at the end. It’s long but had to be for him to say everything worth saying. He solemnly says:
“I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly.
The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group anywhere can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all or no one is secure. This does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly.
Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We of the other planets have long accepted this principle. We have an organisation for the mutual protection of all planets, and for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority is of course the police force that supports it. For our policemen we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking this action it too terrible to risk.
The result is, we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war, free to pursue more profitable enterprises.
We do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet. But if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder.
Your choice is simple. Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”
So, the age-old question:
Does the world end in fire or ice, in the heat of a runaway greenhouse climate (as on Venus) or in the deep-freeze of nuclear winter? Choices remain open for us, but for how long?
We have been warned.
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