Saturday Movie Review – “The Day The Earth Stood Still”

One of the true classics gets its long overdue review
this week.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Michael Rennie as Klaatu

Patricia Neal as Helen Benson

Hugh Marlowe as Tom Stevens

Sam Jaffe as Prof. Bernhardt

Billy Gray as Bobby Benson

Frances Bavier as Mrs. Barley

Lock Martin as Gort

Screenplay by Edmund H. North, based on a story by
Harry Bates

Directed by Robert Wise

Complete information is available from the
IMDB
.

Buy from: Amazon.com
or Amazon.ca

Past movie reviews can be found here.

Premise

A spacecraft arrives on Earth, and human paranoia
makes it difficult
for its passenger to deliver a simple message.

High Point

Klaatu visits Arlington. It’s a different perspective on that location than we normally see on film, and one that really drives the message home.

Low Point

The disturbing plausibility of the human reaction. This is the most depressing and unenjoyable aspect of watching the film. Unlike most low points in our reviews, it’s not hard to watch because the filmmakers exercised poor judgement, but because the film got it right.

The Scores

There were a glut of “Earth is doomed!” movies from this era. This was one of the first, and certainly the best of those I’ve seen, though. It feels original, by telling a story with a powerful message without actually getting preachy. (Well, the last couple of minutes feel preachy, but it was time to be blunt, so that’s acceptable given the way the story played out.) I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects were pretty good for the era.
The spaceship
has transparency issues, mostly likely due to double
exposure film
techniques, but otherwise it works well. The only
other issue was the
obvious presence of the wires when Mrs. Benson is
being carried.
(These aren’t piano wires, these are thick cables,
likely scrounged on
set that day when they realized the actor wasn’t as
strong as they’d
thought.) Those problems are blatant, though,
especially the latter.
I give it 4 out of 6.

The story was obviously regarded by the
filmmakers as the
most important piece of the film. It’s imperative
that the audience
understands Klaatu’s nature, and we do. We see the
world through his
eyes, which gives us a different perspective on things
than we
normally have. The plausibility of the reactions of
the characters in
the film drive the message home better than any speech
Klaatu could
have made. I give it 6 out of 6.

The acting was very well done, only
overplayed slightly in
the “scream queen” scene. These people played their
parts naturally,
and brought the film together. Even the child actor
did a good job.
I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is excellent, even
upon repeated
viewings. We genuinely like the likeable characters,
and have a
distaste for those that make choices the filmmakers
didn’t approve
of. There’s tension in the chase sequences, and an
appropriate sense
of forboding afterwards. Very well made. I give it 6
out of 6.

The production drove the emotional response.
Wise filmed the
characters we shouldn’t identify with from different
angles than the
stars. For example, when Helen and Tom are arguing
about Klaatu
before they know his true nature, the angle puts
Helen’s face on film,
while we can see only the back of Tom’s head. Without
eye contact, we
don’t trust or identify with the character, and
naturally take Helen’s
side. This kind of attention to detail pervades the
film, right down
to care in the lighting and editing process. (The
editing should be
no surprise; the director of this film served as
editor on Citizen
Kane
.) I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, this movie is a great film, whether
you’re a genre
fan or not. See it. I give it 6 out of 6.

In total, The Day The Earth Stood Still
receives 37 out of 42.

Next Week

Join us next week for a review of E.T.. With
a week of vacation, I should have time to compare the
original and rerelease versions.

5 replies on “Saturday Movie Review – “The Day The Earth Stood Still””

  1. Timeshredder says:

    Trivia and more
    This is a classic film of 50s SF, even if Klaatu’s attitude (despite his kindly nature) seems akin to that of many less pleasant imperialists: "do it our way or else."

    Some trivia:

    1) I think every SF fan knows "Gort! Klaatu barada nickto!" the alien phrase for, "Hey, robot! Go get Klaatu and initiate protocol # 21!" Jim Rockford directs them to an oversized thug in an ep of The Rockford Files. Several of the aliens hanging around Jabba’s fortress in …Jedi are named after words in the phrase. They also appear on a sign in Tron.

    2) "Klaatu" was a Canadian band from the 70s with a fondness for SF references. Their biggest hit? "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft."

    3) The story parallels the Christian story: Klaatu, who takes the alias "Mr Carpenter" preaches a message of peace and gets killed, and then resurrected before he ascends.

    4) The Day the Earth Stood Still is the first movie referenced in the Rocky Horror theme song, "Science Fiction Double Feature."

    5) How many other 50s SF films feature a positive portrayal of an extra-terrestrial?

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: Trivia and more
      6)Supposedly, the screenplay originally described Gort as being made of green metal and shaped to resemble a human, with glowing eyes and a loincloth. I think the version in the film works better.

      7)The cover of Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna album takes off on this film.

    • J_W_W says:

      Re: Trivia and more

      This is a classic film of 50s SF, even if Klaatu’s attitude (despite his kindly nature) seems akin to that of many less pleasant imperialists: "do it our way or else."

      Some trivia:

      1) I think every SF fan knows "Gort! Klaatu barada nickto!" the alien phrase for, "Hey, robot! Go get Klaatu and initiate protocol # 21!" Jim Rockford directs them to an oversized thug in an ep of The Rockford Files. Several of the aliens hanging around Jabba’s fortress in …Jedi are named after words in the phrase. They also appear on a sign in Tron.

      2) "Klaatu" was a Canadian band from the 70s with a fondness for SF references. Their biggest hit? "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft."

      3) The story parallels the Christian story: Klaatu, who takes the alias "Mr Carpenter" preaches a message of peace and gets killed, and then resurrected before he ascends.

      4) The Day the Earth Stood Still is the first movie referenced in the Rocky Horror theme song, "Science Fiction Double Feature."

      5) How many other 50s SF films feature a positive portrayal of an extra-terrestrial?

      You forgot to mention "Klaatu barada …nnnii…to" from Army of Darkness.

      • Dave says:

        Re: Trivia and more

        You forgot to mention "Klaatu barada …nnnii…to" from Army of Darkness.

        I think that was "Klaatu barada COUGH COUGH COUGH."

  2. chad says:

    Klaatu Barada Nikto
    These famous three words are all that some people know of the movie. Wikipedia has a bunch of interesting factoids on the subject.

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