Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) (1st 1950’s Sci-Fi review of 3)

         What can I say, I’m a huge Sci-Fi nut, in other words, I’m a big fan of Science Fiction Cinema! The new modern age Sci-fi films like “Independence Day” and “District 9” are always great fun but I also love the classic, old school Sci-Fi’s, and the 1950’s was the great golden age of Science Fiction Cinema. Throughout the 30’s and 40’s horror movies were huge, all the classic horror movie characters were introduced and people were more excited to see those. As for the Sci-Fi genre, it was ignored more than any other category of film. If it was a B movie someone wanted to watch, they would just look at one of the classic horror movies. But then the atomic bomb came up in the 1950’s, and just like that, people were no longer interested in supernatural story’s. They were far more concerned about the dangers of nuclear war, and just like that the Sci-Fi boom of the 50’s was born. There were a lot of films that focused on monsters that were born from nuclear radiation and all kinds of films with anti nuclear messages. This is when Sci-Fi made a big impact on cinema and all the classic sub genre’s like exploring the unknown, science experiments gone wrong and best of all, alien invasion movies made their eternal mark on film. So I thought it would be fun to do three individual reviews of three different 50’s Sci-Fi movies based around these 3 different sub genre’s. I will have a review for a film involving alien invasion, one involving exploration and another involving an experiment gone wrong. Now, let’s begin with the best sub genre of all, ALIEN INVASION!
     Now picking just one alien invasion movie from the 50’s is no easy task because there are so many good ones to choose from including  The War of the Worlds”, “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers”, Invaders from Mars”, the Bloband my personal favorite Invasion of the Body Snatchers. These are all great movies, but of all the films that came from this period, the one that is often regarded as one of the all time greatest and smartest is the 1951 classic “The Day The Earth Stood Stilland that’s what I’m going to review. The film is based on the screenplay of the 1940 Harry Bates' short story "Farewell to the Master". It’s completely different from the other cliched Sci-Fi’s at the time, and still one of my favorites to this day. If you watch any of the other alien invasion movies I mentioned, you’ll see that they were all about aliens killing us for the sake of killing us. This film however does something completely original. A flying saucer lands in Washington D.C. and we meet a humanoid alien named “Klaatu”. He’s come to earth in peace to deliver a warning that an alien invasion force is just a few small light-years away and are ready to go to war with earth. This alien race is frightened about the atom bomb and sees it as a threat to their planet. They will decline from invading only if they invoke in an era of peace and put an end to all major wars. The military doesn’t like the sound of this and treat him with hostility, so he goes into hiding. He makes friends with a small boy, his mother and a scientist. Together they formulate a plan for Klaatu to meet with globally intelligent minds and to give his full message of peace.    
      To prove his power, he will turn off all electricity all over the planet (with the exception of hospitals and plains in flight) for 30 minutes and that’s how we tie in with the title. By this point in the film, you really get attached to Klaato and you want him to succeed in delivering his message of peace. But things aren’t going to be easy, the military are out hunting him, they won’t let anyone near his ship and are ready to kill him. There’s also a selfish jerk who thinks he’ll get a lot of money for turning Klaato into custody, the alien invasion force is up in space, ready to strike and finally when Klaato gets shot down by the authorities, it activates a giant, indestructible robot named Gort, who’s bent on destroying Washington, it’ll make your head explode! Gort is simply the classic gem to put on top of everything, he’s an awesome, giant robot with such a memorable design. He doesn’t have any electronic circuits revealed but he does have a laser shooting eyepiece, that’s awesome! The only thing that can stop him is the command "Klaatu Barada Nikto”.  I’m not entirely sure why, but this has become one of the most famous commands in cinema and has been parodied and celebrated countless times. The biggest tribute to this command was in a 90’s horror movie called “Army of Darkness (a.k.a “Evil Dead 3”), the lead character had to say this command in order to safely remove a book from its resting place.
     This is a very well written story with a strong anti war massage and it’s morals of peace and understanding are still just as strong today. It’s easily more of a “First Contact” story rather than a full invasion flick but there is a good chunk of entertainment and it is essentially about an alien who put the world in a state of panic, just through methods of science, not destruction. The music by Bernard Herrmann is just fantastic, putting you in the right mood just as the film starts. The opening is actually one of the coolest openings to any black and white movie I can think of. There are only two things in this film that people have issues with. First of all is how Klaato is so easily comparable to Christ. I never even thought about that but now that I look back on it, I can see some comparisons. Klaato comes from high above with a message of peace and is killed by authorities, then latter he’s brought back to life through his technology, gives his message of peace and then ascends back to the stars. Fortunately, the MPAA didn’t like this and gave Klaato lines where he mention’s an all mighty spirit and that only he can harness the powers of life and death because the effects off his technology are only temporary. For me, this is just enough to save this character from turning into a Christ impersonator. I really like the character Klaato, he makes for a great educator as well as a character who learns beyond what he was expected. My favorite scene is when he visits the Lincoln Memorial and he begins to read Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. He says his words are beautiful and that he wishes he could have met him. That was such a serial moment for me, I know we often get lines like that from movies like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ( that’s also a great movie) but never before from an alien who was fascinated by a man from earth’s history and wishes he could have had the honor of meeting him.
      The second thing people have issues with is how cheesy it looks. Come on, its 1951, of cores it looks cheesy and out of date. Admittedly, they’re some silly moments like when weapons are destroyed by Gorts eye beam and when the mother is carried off by Gort you can clearly see the strings holding her up. Never the less I think the visuals where ground breaking for their time. There were a few adaptions over the years, it was dramatized as a radio play on January 4, 1954. Most notably, in 2008 there was a remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still with the same title. That to me is really sad because a land mark movie like this shooed never be remade. The only reason it was remade was to enhance the special effects. I honestly can’t stand when great classics like this are remade just for the sake of eye candy, that’s not what made the original so great. It was a fascinating new premise with great characters and was one of the very first Sci-Fi’s to give us a smart story and to examine the human issues of violence and the dangers of the nuclear age, all through the eyes of an outsider, while also giving us a new look at the possibilities of alien life. It’s been praised as a classic for over 60 years and I hope younger generations don’t shy away from this film because it’s so old and cheesy looking, it’s still a wonder of cinema and one of my favorite Sci-Fi movies of all time. 
                   I give the 1951 original of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” 4 stars.                      
        Stay tuned for review number 2, one of the most famous science fiction experiments will go wrong in the 1958 classic, “The Fly”!                    


  1. I agree completely with your take on the recent "remake" with Keanu Reeves. Sure --it was slick but less convincing. As for SFX, "Avatar" FX were just not available. When this movie was released, TV was still fairly new. The story line had to carry the day. The science on the original is interesting as I seem to recall Klatoo revealing the distance to his home galaxy as 250 million miles. That means that Klaato's home planet was nearer to Earth than Andromeda Galaxy which is some 2.5 million light-years; each light year is 186,000,000 miles.

  2. 2.5 Light Years = 14696563432959.02 Miles