The Day The Earth Stood Still

Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Julian Blaustein
Written by Edmund H. North
Harry Bates (story)
Starring Michael Rennie
Patricia Neal
Billy Gray
Hugh Marlowe
Sam Jaffe
Frances Bavier
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Leo Tover
Editing by William H. Reynolds
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date September 28, 1951
Running time 92 min.

Phew! It’s only the second day into this project and I only just made my self-imposed deadline. It would have been quite an inauspicious way to start this thing by not be able to keep up with the premise of watching and writing about a movie a day.

The truth is that I was up at 1am this morning watching The Day The Earth Stood Still before I turned into bed. After waking up this morning I went about doing my usual Saturday things and it wasn’t until about half an hour ago that I decided to finally do this write-up. Talk about cutting things short.

I bought the definitive 2 disc version of The Day The Earth Stood Still a couple of weeks ago from JB Hifi for $13 but I saw it there today for just $10. I really recommend this DVD not just to Sci-fi lovers but to everyone who loves good films, and $10 is a real bargain for such a brilliant and entertaining film. I don’t know if I should have already of pointed this out or not but the film that I watched is the 1951 original version and not the crappy remake from 2008 that features Keanu Reeves.

The basic premise of The Day The Earth Stood Still is that a space ship lands in Washington DC and its pilot, Klaatu emerges declaring that he is visiting Earth on a mission of goodwill. He presents a small device that is meant for the President, but is shot by one of the onlooking soldiers. This action causes Gort, an 8 foot tall robot to emerge from the spaceship and disintegrate all of the weapons that the surrounding soldiers are armed with. Klaatu orders Gort to stop, before he is taken away to have his wounds tended to in the military hospital.

Klaatu then meets the President’s secretary Harley, and explains that he has a message that he wants all the people of Earth to hear. He would like to address all the leaders of the world in one place, which Harley explains to him would be impossible. Klaatu tells Harley that he would be able to better understand humans if he was to live among them incognito, but Harley says that this would be impossible and places Klaatu under protective custody.

When Klaatu escapes custody and lives at a boarding house there is a lesson that we can learn from in today’s society. It is here that he meets ordinary people and sees first hand how the mass media can demonize things that are different to the norm with their propaganda. When the occupants at the boarding are listening to the radio we hear the shock jock brand Klaatu a monster, even though nobody knows anything about the alien. It just shows that some things don’t change at all.

Klaatu befriends a widow, Helen, and her son Bobby. He agrees to babysit Bobby, who takes Klaatu, who has assumed the alias Mr. Carpenter, around Washington. They visit Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial, where Klaatu asks Bobby who the greatest living person is. Bobby suggests the scientist Professor Barnhardt, who resides in Washington. Bobby takes Klaatu to Prof. Barnhardt’s house but the professor is away. Klaatu decides to leave a message for the professor by completing a complex mathematical problem that is left on a blackboard. Klaatu then leaves his address with Barnhardt’s housekeeper.

Eventually Klaatu meets Professor Barnhardt, after being escorted to the professor by a government agent. Klaatu reveals himself to the professor and warns him that the Earth has been under surveillance from other planets, who are dismayed that the humans have developed atomic power. They have noted the disregard humans have for their fellow human beings and fear that it will only be a matter of time before the people of Earth turn their attention to the rest of space. Klaatu tells Professor Barnhardt that he wishes to address the people of Earth with a message of utmost importance and if his message is rejected it would spell the ultimate destruction of Earth. Klaatu then promises to show the professor a demonstration of his power to serve as a warning. Later that night when he returns to his spaceship to implement this plan he is unaware that he has been followed by Bobby, who later tells Helen and her fiancé Tom about what he has seen.

After being told about who Mr. Carpenter really is, the scheming Tom goes into Klaatu’s room and discovers a unique diamond. Meanwhile Klaatu has gone to Helen’s workplace to speak to her. They step into an elevator which suddenly stops. Klaatu tells Helen that he is the cause of this, and we soon learn that all the power on the earth has stopped, except for that used on aeroplanes in mid-flight or in operating theatres. This action brings the entire world to a standstill.

After the blackout finishes a manhunt begins, as the army decides that Klaatu has evaded them long enough and that they will get him one way or another, either dead or alive. Tom spills the beans to the authorities and they soon spot the alien and the woman in a taxi on their way to meet the professor who has gathered outside the spaceship with a group of eminent scientists. Klaatu tells Helen that if anything should happen to him it could spell the end of the world, as Gort would try to avenge his death. The only way to stop the robot is to say the words, “Klaatu barada nikto.” As he flees the taxi Klaatu is shot in the back by one of the soldiers and dies.

Helen runs to the spaceship to see Gort has awakened and killed two soldiers who were guarding the spaceship. Helen passes Klaatu’s message to Gort who then carries her into the spaceship. He then retrieves Klaatu’s corpse and revives the spaceman.

Klaatu then steps out of the ship to address the awaiting scientists. He tells them of the rest of the universe’s concerns about Earth’s disregard of life and how destructive the people of Earth can be. He warns them that if they continue with their destructive ways then robots like Gort, who have been created to protect the universe, will come and destroy the entire Earth. His final words before stepping into the spaceship and leaving are, “The decision rests with you.”

I found The Day The Earth Stood Still to be quite a fascinating film. Bernard Herrman’s score gave the movie, especially the opening sequences when the flying saucer first arrives on Earth, quite an eerie feeling. The acting is all first rate and the special effects are very good for a movie released in 1951. The most interesting aspect of the film is how some of the messages still resonate today, almost sixty years after the film’s release. As I mentioned earlier, we can see how the media can manipulate the feelings of their listeners/viewers even when they have no idea what they are talking about. The truth of a story is not as important as getting people worked up about it. Does this not sound like the way News Limited journalists go about their business.

The other message is to show that humans are very reactionary and that if they do not understand something then they must destroy it. We see this when the soldier shoots at Klaatu at the beginning of the film, and again when the general declares that he doesn’t care if Klaatu is taken dead or alive, just as long as he’s taken. It shows just how intolerant and selfish we can be. I enjoyed watching this film very much.

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