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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Drama > Nuclear War > Cold War > The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951/Fox Blu-ray)

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951/Fox Blu-ray)


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



I am no fan of the work of Robert Wise and even consider his best works problematic.  The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) is one of his better films, his breakthrough work and its still drags and has aged in uneven ways.  Some of it is pandering, some of it tired, some of it boring, but when it kicks in, it has some very memorable and visually iconic moments.  It is also celebrated for being one of the rare Sci-Fi films (especially of the era) that had intelligent, peaceful aliens (though still dangerous if they needed to be) and it took the use of the electronic instrument the Theremin (first used to great effect as a representative of paranoia in Hitchcock’s 1944 classic Spellbound) and made it iconic in Sci-Fi music language for decades.


The story begins with the extraordinary event of a spaceship arriving in Washington, D.C. and an alien (fluent in English!) comes out of it talking in a forward manner.  Unfortunately, this is too ambiguous and one of the military soldiers gets surrounding the landing (along with hundreds of shocked observers) fires his gun when the visitor pulls out a device that he is unsure about.  Then comes a second visitor, who zaps and vaporizes guns, tanks and worse.  The remainder of the film becomes a struggle between good and evil within the human race, the individual, the other and the result is a film we still talk about 57 years later as the remake arrives in theaters.


Though the film is not endlessly inquisitive, Edmund H. North, who later co-wrote Patton with a young Francis Ford Coppola, delivers a screenplay (based on Harry Bates book) that has more than its share of moments.  You can also feel Wise still feeling his way as a director long after his days as an editor at RKO and that helps him at some points here.  Michael Rennie is terrific in his defining role as Klaatu, who helped to permanently establish the idea of the serene, super-intelligent alien with nerves of steel.  As good as the cast is, he steals just about every scene in the film and rightly so.  He would repeat this in the darkest way possible as a more vicious character on the TV classic The Invaders and appropriately lent this tone to the villain The Sandman on the Adam West Batman.


Other casting includes Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe (Gunga Din, Ben-Hur (1959)), Billy Gray (Bud on Father Knows Best, Werewolves On Wheels) and Frances Bavier just more than a decade shy of playing Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show.  Sadly, the flying saucer never visited Mayberry and it’s too late for Ron Howard to direct that one.



*The 1.33 X 1 digital AVC @ 26 MBPS, black and white, High Definition image can be uneven with some footage looking poorer than others and showing its age, yet there are many shots here that are some of the best black & white we have ever seen anywhere.  It may not be as consistent as the 1.33 X 1 Casablanca transfer or print, but you can see some improvements in monochrome stocks ten years later, plus the Fox look versus the Warner Bros. one.  It is also more consistent than the Fox Blu-ray for Young Frankenstein, but that 1974 film is trying to look more like 1934, so that does not always work as a comparison.  It does look better than the Blu-ray for Fox’s 1962 hit The Longest Day, but the champ of consistency for later black and white films on Blu-ray is Warner’s Jailhouse Rock, despite the distortion CinemaScope lenses add.  It is also less grainy than the three black and white Ray Harryhausen-effects-laden films Sony just issued on Blu-ray from their Columbia holdings: Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, It Came From Beneath The Sea and 20 Million Miles To Earth, but part of that grain is from the way effects were processed and from the way Columbia monochrome was versus Fox.  Longtime Director of Photography Leo Tover did some of his best work here on Day and much of this disc does great justice to that; that should put our picture rating into perspective.


The original theatrical monophonic sound is here in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono as it has appeared before on DVD, but the DTS HD Master Audio (MA) lossless 5.1 mix is an upgrade that is here is better with some occasional stereo separation that is not bad for its age.  However, the sound still shows its age and monophonic origins, but Fox did a nice job here.  Bernard Herrmann continued the innovative use of the Theremin that Miklos Rozsa first used to great effect in Hitchcock’s Spellbound as a sound representing paranoia and the mysterious in his great scoring here, but instead of reducing it to a genre convention as too many would later, Herrmann uses it in conjunction with an effective thriller score.  This is more obvious when you play the film back with its isolated music track, which we recommend after you watch the whole film this way.


Though menus are usually fine as they stand or even annoying, I have to make special note of the unusually clever menu they came up with here.  If you like the film or this kind of filmmaking, you’ll get a big kick out of it.


Extras include the feature length audio commentary by Wise & Nicholas Meyer from the DVD, the Blu-ray exclusive Interactive Theremin that lets you create your own sounds from the classic electronic instrument, all-new feature length audio commentary by film and music scholar/historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg & Nick Redman, Isolate Music Score Track, trailers, stills, interactive pressbook, 1951 Fox Movietone newsreel on the film and more new featurettes including The Mysterious, Melodious Theremin, Main Title live performance by Peter Pringle, a making of featurette, Decoding “Klaatu Barada Nikto”: Science Fiction as Metaphor, A Brief History of Flying Saucers, The Astounding Harry Bates, who wrote the short story this film is based on, a reading of that story, Race To Oblivion documentary short, Edmund North: The Man Who Made The Earth Stood Still and a sneak preview of the 2008 remake that you can read more about at this link:





All in all, Day is a classic that is a must for any serious Blu-ray collection or collector.  Fans of the film and genre will be particularly happy with the all-around upgrades Fox has added.  We hope more films will get the same A-level treatment from all the studios.  For more on this original film, you will want to check out its analysis in one of our earliest reviews, when the film was issued on DVD:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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