The Day the Earth Stood Still

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

After the end of World War II, the world began to turn its attention back to normal life, until a spacecraft lands. This ship touches down in a playground in Washington, D.C., but no one emerges and as such, tension begins to mount. As thousands look on, the military surrounds the craft and the wait begins. When the door finally opens, a human-like being comes out and is dressed in a silver outfit. As he prepares to address the masses, he reaches into his suit and that sparks a chain of events into motion. A nervous soldier fires on the being, known as Klaatu (Michael Rennie), thinking he was trying to pull out a weapon of some kind. As Klaatu lies wounded, a massive robot steps out of the ship and retrieves his injured master. This robot, known as Gort, has immense powers and could even melt a tank with ease, so Klaatu has ample protection. It turns out Klaatu was trying to take out a gift for America’s president, one which would have expanded man’s knowledge, but instead, a rift is created. Klaatu is taken to a hospital, but he manages to escape and takes shelter with a woman and her young son. The woman’s name is Helen (Patricia Neal) and she lost her husband in the war, so she is raising her son on her own. Klaatu is able to keep his true identity unknown, but when outsiders begin to suspect him, he is forced to use Gort’s power as a threat, to hold off his pursuers. With the entire fate of the world in the balance, will Klaatu’s message be heeded, or will the world perish instead?

A landmark in science fiction cinema, The Day the Earth Stood Still has influenced countless filmmakers, even Star Wars pays tribute to this classic. When you talk about 50s sci/fi, people think about bad special effects and hamhanded performances, projects now known as B movies, with only cult audiences. But in the case of The Day the Earth Stood Still, the sci/fi angle isn’t all about special effects and monsters, instead it is used to bring a message, though entertainment isn’t sacrificed to do so. So yes, this movie has aliens, robots, and such, but you can also find deeper, more relevant subtext in the material. Even so, taken just as a fun sci/fi movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still more than holds its own. It seems like few movies can deliver a social message, but also provide solid entertainment, as filmmakers tend to overfocus on one of the two, creating an obvious imbalance. The pace is slow by modern standards, but the story unfolds at a proper rate and no dull stretches can be found. Although social commentary doesn’t always hold up well, this movie’s topic is just as important in this era, to be sure. So even after five decades, The Day the Earth Stood Still is just as potent, both as a social commentary and as well crafted sci/fi. As such, this special Fox Studio Classics edition is highly recommended.

Of course, the robotic Gort is the most famous character in this movie, but as far as performance, I think Michael Rennie shines the brightest. As I mentioned before, sci/fi from the 50s has a reputation as bad cinema, as if no good performances or credible productions were crafted within the genre at the time. This movie shatters that line of thought however, as the cast is excellent and across the board, the performances are terrific. Rennie’s is my personal choice as the best of the lot, but there’s several notable efforts. He is tasked to be human in appearance, yet have an otherworldly presence, no simple assignment. But Rennie buckles down and gives it his all, which results in a powerful, effective performance. He is able to balance the role well, having both human and alien textures, which is crucial in this scenario. A top level effort in all respects, Rennie’s performance here is one for the ages. Other films with Rennie include The Robe, Soldier of Fortune, Island in the Sun, and The Devil’s Brigade. The cast also includes Patricia Neal (Stranger from Venus, Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Hugh Marlowe (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, All About Eve), and Sam Jaffe (The Dunwich Horror, Gentleman’s Agreement).

Video: How does it look?

The Day the Earth Stood Still is presented in full frame, as intended. As this film has been restored and remastered, we have a stellar visual presentation here, one so good, fans will rejoice from the hilltops. The print is gorgeous in this treatment, very clean and free from all but the most minor defects. I saw no issues with grain, while debris and marks are minimal, with no serious instances to mention. If you’ve ever seen this movie on cable, then you know how bad the materials looked, so this was a masterful restoration effort. The image still retains some softness and grain, but these are natural and should be there, as this is a 50s sci/fi movie after all, not some brand new blockbuster motion picture. The contrast is smooth throughout, with accurate and well balanced black levels at all times. This is a prime example of how good older movies can look, so kudos to Fox for this impressive presentation.

Audio: How does it sound?

I would have to assume some restoration was also done on the film’s soundtrack, as the included mono option is excellent. This track has a solid presence to it, with more body than most mono options, especially those from this time period. In this case however, hiss is never an issue, distortion is absent, and its as if a shot of magic was pumped in, as this sounds much better than a 50s mono soundtrack should. The superb musical score is in full force here, while the sound effects come across in effective fashion also. I heard no hiccups with the dialogue either, as vocals were crisp and clear from start to finish. This disc also includes a stereo option, French and Spanish language tracks, and subtitles in English and Spanish.

Supplements: What are the extras?

I don’t think any of the supplements here were newly created, but even so, its a nice assortment of bonus materials. I am sure most were included on the laserdisc release, but they’re top notch extras, so I’m glad to see them return here. Yes, a new commentary or some fresh interviews would have been welcome, but this is still a terrific overall package and as such, I won’t bemoan the lack of new supplements. An audio commentary with director Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer starts us off, as the two discuss the film’s finer points. Meyer is chock full of information, while Wise recalls production stories and in the end, the two offer a new blend of insights and this track is a great inclusion. A Movietone newsreel is also found on side one, while the rest of the extras have been placed on side two of the disc. This includes a restoration comparison, a look at the film’s shooting script, a total of five still photo galleries, and the film’s theatrical trailer. But perhaps the most substantial extra is Making the Earth Stand Still, an extensive documentary that chronicles how the movie became such a classic. This seventy minute piece was created in 1995, so there’s been ample time for those involved to look back and reflect. A well crafted and highly enjoyable program, this is a great supplement to wind up the disc with.

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