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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951/Fox DVD)

The Day The Earth Stood Still


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: A-     Film: A-



In her 1965 essay “Imagination of Disaster,” Susan Sontag condemns science fiction films as intellectual and artistic failures, employing cheap genre tricks that militate against any critical thought.  Although Sontag’s perspective echoed throughout the film studies discipline for the next couple of decades, numerous films scholars, such as Vivian Sobchack and J.P. Telotte, have recently revisited the science fiction genre, arguing that many of these films require intellectual examination.  Robert Wise’s 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still has benefited greatly from this renewed interest in science fiction.


Like many of its contemporaries, The Day the Earth Stood Still couches an otherworldly narrative with present day political and social concerns.  Produced only six years removed from the first atomic explosion, the increased tensions of the Cold War coupled with the rapid proliferation of nuclear weapons presented the real possibility that humans were capable of inviting their own extinction.  The Day the Earth Stood Still follows the story of Klaatu (Michael Rennie), an alien visiting Earth on a mission of peace.  The film opens, given the time, with a rather impressive sequence where Klaatu’s flying saucer lands in Washington D.C.  Misreading his actions as hostile, Klaatu is shot by the military, who, in turn, are attacked by Gort (Lock Martin), Klaatu’s guardian robot.  Taken to the hospital, Klaatu informs a government official that he has an urgent message that can only be delivered to an assembly of all the nations of the world.  With great resignation, the diplomat enumerates the impossibility of such a request, given the current political climate of mistrust and aggression.  Confused by the response, Klaatu escapes the hospital determined to better understand the human race.  What follows is a now commonplace, fish out of water narrative where Klaatu befriends a widow (Patricia Neal) and her son (Billy Gray), who help him get to Gort and the United Nations meeting to ultimately save the human race.


Presented for the first time on DVD by the Fox Studio Classics series, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a must see for those interested in the development of science fiction, or just 1950s film in general.  It touches on some interesting themes and religions imagery, which would be trite if made today, however, the film does provide insight into the dangers of continued nuclear proliferation.  Like the other films in the series, it is complete with an informative documentary, the shooting script, trailers and stills.  The DVD also contains Movietone Newsreels from 1951, which is rather ironic given the message of the film and the rhetoric used by the news stories.  Filmed in full frame black and white, the restoration demonstration illuminates the improved quality of the transfer.  Even though the explosion of special effects, especially in the science fiction genre, has created a more cynical audience, the film ages rather well.  The special effects, while dated, are not hokey and are reminders of a less technologically dependent filmmaking era. 


The most informative special feature is the commentary track, an interview/conversation between filmmakers Robert Wise and Nicolas Meyer.  They discuss the difficulty of making a pro-peace film in the midst of the Cold War and how the War Department refused to support the production with equipment, a similar problem faced by Stanley Kubrick with Dr. Strangelove.  The most disappoint part to the commentary centers on the discussion over the political message of the film.  There is an ironic twist to the end of the film regarding its larger message that Meyer asked about, which could be fertile ground for discussion, yet Wise’s retort was somewhat dismissive and underwhelming.  Additionally, Mr. Wise has a tendency to mumble at the end of his sentences, especially during his anecdotes, which makes for difficult listening.  Yet, they do delve into a conversation on the craft of directing, which any film buff would find interesting.  Overall, given the low cost of the Fox Studio Classics, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a wise investment.



-   Ron Von Burg


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