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Science Fiction and Fact: The Day the Earth Stood Still - A Surprising Short Story

Updated on February 5, 2015

Salvation vs. Destruction

What is your favorite Science Fiction film? Is it new, old, or ancient (perhaps from the silent film days)?

Is your favorite the Robert Wise 1951 classic, The Day The Earth Stood Still, with Michael Rennie (Klaatu), Sam Jaffee (the Scientist), Gort, and Patricia Neil -- or could it be the 2009 remake with Keanu Reeves as the alien visitor Klaatu and Jennifer Connelly as the Scientist? -- Gort the supposed servant-robot is still Gort, only bigger in 2009. In both films, Gort seems to be a helper and a servant of sorts, or even a tool for Klaatu to use.

Gort is famous. Today, a full size replica of the 1951 Gort is part of a permanent exhibit at Paul Allen's Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, Washington. He stands with the robot from TV's Lost In Space and other iconic TV and film sci-fi elements, like Captain Kirk's command chair from the NCC-1701.

Audiences love this film from the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The premise is well known and much copied: a friendly alien appears on Earth to save the planet's populations from themselves and their imminent path of destruction. This is the direct opposite of another beloved science fiction tale, To Serve Man, by Robert Heinlein. Aliens have often been portrayed as either saviors or killers, but never ordinary; and, robots are often involved with them. Sometimes the aliens are robots.

Gort | Source

Who's In Charge Here?

A short story called Farewell To the Master by Harry Bates was released in 1940, before World War II. Even before that time, the first science fiction/futurist clubs and conventions were occurring - about 1935 was the beginning, according to Forest J. Ackerman, whom I heard speak about sci-fi history at a more recent convention.

Thoughts of traveling to the Moon and Mars had already affected people all the way back to the late 1800s and Science Fiction clubs and conventions were a natural outgrowth of these thoughts and dreams. People wanted to leave Earth to see what is "out there." So much mystery and such good stories about the moon were produced through the 1950s.

Our landing on the Luna and Mars almost ruined some of the magic we had enjoyed by finding dust and natural resources and not much else. Readers wanted Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles to be true.Perhaps this desire is from where conspiracy theories about old moon bases grow.

Farewell To the Master focused on a robot in 1940, but a robot appeared on film in the silent movie Metropolis. Other movie robots followed before Harry Bates's robot appeared on screen. They were all controlled by people.

Some of the most profound work in early robotics - automatons - was conducted by the filmmaker Georges Méliès (1861 - 1938), who is featured in the film Hugo as Papa Georges. Much of Méliès's original film work was melted down to make heels for shoes during tough economic times, but a little of it remained for future filmmakers to see and for one of them, Martin Scorsese, to make Hugo.

In the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still, Gort the robot is really a being with immense powers, which we see as he is able to bring Klaatu back from the dead after Americans shoot him. In the 1940 story, the emphasis on Gort's autonomy is even stronger. This is because in the short story, Klaatu is Gort's helper, not the reverse. I recommend seeing the original film and then reading the story afterward.

Klaatu's Warning To Earth

ASTOUNDING, edited by Bates

Farewell to the Master
Farewell to the Master
Published in 1940, this story with a twist in the ending became The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951 and 2008.


Bates was born in 1900 and right away began working in pulp fiction in the early 1920s. He became an editor of publications once called dime novels that became full fledged modern literary magazines of the sci-fi kind.

Bates became pretty well known for his editorial work in Astounding Stories of Super-Science, which became Astounding Stories, joined by the horror magazine Strange Tales.

Mr. Bates demanded higher quality work once the other dime novel companies began to copy Amazing Stories, but he also paid higher rates for the better work. The company still went bankrupt in 1933, even though their publications were very good. Bates had written under pen names and was published in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction that was edited by the famous John W. Campbell during the Golden Age of the genre.

However, from 1933 to 1981, Bates led a secretive life about which no one knew. Many science fiction conventions hold panel discussions on great futurist writers of this period and many speculate in workshops on what Bates did with his last 48 years. It reminds me of Harper Lee, who just never published another book after To Kill A Mockingbird (until 2015).

Some Memorable Quotes from the 1951 Film

Klaatu: The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all, or no one is secure.

Klaatu: I'm impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it.

I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.

— Klaatu

In Popular Culture: Ringo Starr as Klaatu

Gort and Klaatu are loved in many nations.
Gort and Klaatu are loved in many nations. | Source


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      5 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Yes, revenue intake seems a definite factor in the success of the genre and Star Wars was a breakthrough.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      5 years ago

      It seems Science Fiction movies were always around but didn't get much respect until Star Wars proved Science Fiction could make a good profit.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      5 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Yes, I remember Slan as well - also not in 1940.

      The remedy of destroying Earth if humans won't stop fighting is cliché and ineffective, isn't it? I think it might be engrained in our culture, though, since it seems many people feel aliens are coming to destroy us. Maybe Orson Welles had something to do with that with his radio broadcast (at Halloween?) of "War of the Worlds" in the 1930s. That's when sci-clubs were beginning to bloom, according to Frederick Pohl.

      So much Universe, so little time to understand it while we are on Earth.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I've seen "The Day The Earth Stood Still" several times on TV, and always enjoy watching it. But it's always struck me that the aliens' remedy for humanity's predilection toward violence is the threat of destroying an entire world. A bit inconsistent, that. BTW, the cover of Astounding you show features "Slan," which I remember reading and enjoying (but not in 1940!).

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      MickeySr - YES! I've written about Melies and watched what pieces of his films are left, saved from recycling into shoe heels. Hugo is a fantastic film and if not for The Artist, would have won at least one Oscar. A few sites have the pulp stories online in whole, so I read them whenever I can; and I agree that the 1951 version of The Day is best.

      ajwrites57 - Robbie the Robot doing Data. That is a scream!

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ Long 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      There's an interesting interview with Brent Spiner (Data) on close- upfilm's website. He said he approached playing Data as Robbie the Robot would have. Interesting interview.

    • MickeySr profile image


      7 years ago from Hershey, Pa.

      I've long loved the work of Georges Méliès - if you know of Méliès and the wonder and significance of his work and you've not seen Scorsese's "Hugo", you need to see it.

      And, the cover art for the old 'Amazing Stories' magazine, by guys like Frank R. Paul, remains strikingly influential . . . you can look at covers from well over 80 years ago and easily see the origins of the contemporary steampunk fascination and the influence on the superhero comic book art of the 60s that has engulfed Hollywood just now.

      Wise's 1951 "The Day The Earth Stood Still" is the only real "The Day The Earth Stood Still" . . . Michael Rennie as Klaatu is as flawless a piece of perfect casting as Ronald Colman's Sydney Carton in the greatest screen version of "A Tale Of Two Cities" (heck, it's the greatest movie period).

      Klaatu barada nikto.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      That maks me laugh in appreciation, thinking of Data owning a person. That would change the world.

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ Long 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Yes--seems like Japan is in the forefront of this technology. I've seen a few demonstrations of the robots they have produced on the web and TV but they haven't met my expectations for one I'd own. If it was one like Data, he might own me--unless the Three Laws worked! I love reading, watching, thinking, dreaming of science fiction.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Bicentennial Man! - What a wonderful film. I must read The Positronic Man soon.

      Supposedly, in Japan in the 1980s - 1990s, they had very human-looking androids all ready to go, but their brains were the size of houses. If the brains can become more compact, you may yet see an android. I want one of Data fro STTNG.

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ Long 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I'm with you all--the 1951 version is re-watchable--2009 version is not. I just saw "Hugo" the other day and enjoyed it so much I' m planning to see it again soon. The robot stories I have devoured are Issac Asimov's with the Three Laws (of Robotics). Wasn't too happy with "I, Robot" with Will Smith (2004) but loved "Bicentennial Man" with Robin Williams (1999) based on another of Asimov's works "The Positronic Man" (written with Robert Silverberg). I hoped I'd have robots like these in my lifetime--probably not...Thanks for the Hub Patty Inglish, MS!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I'm happy to hear that we like some of the same works! I lived Sacha Baron Cohen's part in "Hugo" - the wounded soldier that received a leg brace that worked, from Georges. wonderful!

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 

      7 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Patty, this is one of my favorite sci-fi films along with Forbidden Planet, with Robbie the Robot. I also love Hugo and I admire Georges Melies' work very much. Voted Up and Interesting.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Hi drbj - I've seen the 1951 version several times, but the new version - once was enough.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      I have seen many, many films, Patty, and most of them I would not care to sit through again. One of the few exceptions to that rule is 'The Day the Earth Stood Still," the '51 film with Michael Rennie. The remake with Keanu Reeves was foolish. Thanks for reminding me.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I'll have to try to look that one up. I don't know what years Michael Rennie lived, but I enjoyed his acting. Thanks for commenting!

    • Austinstar profile image


      7 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

      Wonderful movie that I have seen many times. I seem to recall that Michael Rennie did a Star Trek cameo with Kirk. Maybe I'm confused about that one though.


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