The Day the Earth Stood Still: Review
The Day the Earth Stood Still - more than just a great movie
I'm a true fan of classic films and this is one of the favorites in my collection. When I first saw it - on television when I was just a kid - I thought it was a great story about an alien mini-invasion. And it is,of course. But it was only when I watched it as an adult that I realized it also has a very strong message.
It has all the ingredients a good science fiction film needs
A stylish spaceship, a human-looking alien, a huge silver robot, a pretty girl, a little boy ... and lots of American soldiers. It's almost formula for sci-fi movies-to-come.
The aliens are the good guys
An excited television announcer tells the nation that a flying saucer has been identified in the skies above America. The spaceship lands in Washington D.C and is surrounded immediately by heavily armed US soldiers. Typically, human beings assume that aliens are malevolent. It doesn't occur to the nation that the mission from space could actually be a positive encounter.
Fear of the unknown
However, this alien - his name is, rather wonderfully, Klaatu - is here to warn the planet that we are heading towards our own destruction due to the fact that mankind had developed atomic power. It seems that the powers-that-be in the universe needed to warn us that it would lead to the end of the world.
A timely message
This film was released in 1951, just six years after the Second World War. Bear in mind too that the audiences in those days had only the most rudimentary knowledge of the universe. It was more believable to audiences in those days that an alien invasion could take place. We have to remember that, watching this film today.
You'll remember that it was only a dozen years previously that War of the Worlds had been broadcast on the radio leading to a mass panic throughout America as people thought that they were listening to a genuine news report and that the country was really in the throes of a Martian invasion.
A message from a higher being?
One of the clever aspects of this film is that the viewer is also given a subliminal impression that this is a message, not from aliens, but from another being who is 'up there'. Here are a few of facts about the Klaatu character:
- He had come from above to save the world
- Needing an American name as an alias, he chooses to be Mr.Carpenter
- His alias' first name was J, giving him the initials JC
- He is 'fatally' shot but is brought back to life by the robot, Gort
- He explains that his return to life is temporary because Gort's powers are limited - only this is temporary, he says that only 'The Almighty Spirit' has full power
- After his resurrection he takes off in the spaceship, rising to the sky
I have often wondered if this is coincidence, an unconscious act by the writer or a clever subliminal message to the audience. Carpenter, JC, resurrection, rising to the sky...
Coincidence? What do you think?
When I told himself what I was writing about, he said:
'Klaatu barada nikto!'
You can tell that a film has made a strong impression when someone remembers the alien language.
This really is a fabulous and iconic film.Strangely, it one of those movies that will never date - even though it's from another era.
So many films are based on novels or short stories and this one is no exception. It contains other stories too and sci-fi from those days seems rather weird to us today. Even watching old time ideas of what the twenty first century would be like is a study in itself.
As I wrote above, it's hard - if not impossible - for us to imagine how audiences in those days reacted to thoughts of the future and of other worlds. After all, we ARE living THEIR science fiction. Philip K. Dicks was a prolific science fiction writer in those days and it's such good fun to see what the genre was like in those days.