Science fiction isn’t all about spaceships, aliens and ray guns. Sure Robert Wise’s 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still has all of them – plus a robot, vanishing people and a military standoff – it’s about so much more. Made at the time as a plead for international peace, its message should still ring true today where the world picture is more complex and, in many ways, more splintered and dangerous.
When a flying saucer lands in the middle of a neighborhood baseball field in Washington, D.C. the planet stands by and ponders what’s in store. Will it be war or will it be peace. It comes down to who you talk to. The adults in the film’s world seem to think the danger is very real and steps should be taken to ensure the safety of the world. But when you talk with the youth, there’s sense for optimism and hope.
Klaatu (Michael Rennie) emerges from the ship and his status as to whether his intentions are good or bad fuel the plot of the film. The Day the Earth Stood Still remains tense to this day in large part because there’s so many parallels that still exist. The only thing is, the paranoia Klaatu creates can just as easily be created a town over or even across the street as we’re now in an age where literally anything can happen at any time. But like Klaatu suggests, we shouldn’t let paranoia dictate our every move. He argues instead for a proactive approach filled with open communication and warm fuzzies.
There are many unintentionally laughable moments in The Day the Earth Stood Still, mostly because of the cheesy costumes and clunky special effects. Yet Wise is still able to overcome these with a tight and relevant story and excellent acting on all fronts.
Although the threat of the Cold War may no longer exist, the call for peace and for the world’s nations to work together are timeless concerns of the modern world, concerns that haven’t disappeared in the more than 50 years since the film was first released and still show no signs of going away.
The Day the Earth Stood Still Blu-ray Review
Released to coincide with the theatrical opening of the 2008 remake, The Day the Earth Stood Still becomes one of the first black and white classics released in the format. The full screen print (1.33:1 aspect ratio) is magnificent, providing a crisp and sharp update to the nearly 60-year-old film. Audio is in English 5.1 DTS-HD, English mono, and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles are offered in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin.
Two commentary tracks both educate about the film, but do so with very different approaches. The first is with director Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer, the director of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The two are very conversational, going into the background of the making of the film and its impact. The second is film and musical historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg and Nick Redman. As one might expect, it’s quite academic, albeit in a fascinating manner. There’s also an isolated track of the movie’s original score.
Speaking of music, it factors greatly in other special features as well. “The Mysterious, Melodious Theremin” is a nearly six-minute look at the odd-sounding instrument, how it works, its history and its impact on listeners. In a separate feature, Peter Pringle does a live performance of the film’s title sequence. For fun, there’s an interactive therein that allows users to create their own 31-second mystical masterpiece.
The written word is also given the spotlight in the extra features. “The Astounding Harry Bates” talks about the author of the original story and his place in pulp writing. Jamieson K. Price does an audio reading of Bates’ short story “Farewell to the Master.” The film’s writer, Edmund North, also gets his own featurette. North’s documentary short Race to Oblivion is also included. Made in 1982, it shows some of the world’s dangers visually, creating a call for peace.
“The Making of The Day the Earth Stood Still” is more than 20 minutes in length and focuses largely on how the film opted for a route of realism rather than fantasy. “Decoding ‘Klaatu Barada Nikto’” discusses one of the film’s central metaphors. It’s done intelligently, providing a brief history of the world’s peace scene in the early 1950s and how the film called for cooperation among nations to avoid a third World War. “A Brief History of Flying Saucers” takes the bonus features more on an X-Files direction, looking at our collective obsession with UFOs. The Gort Command interactive game is a simple and mildly entertaining shooter that’s fun for a few minutes.
Additional bonus features include Fox Movietonews stories, trailers, stills gallery, an eight-minute preview of the 2008 remake and the remake’s trailer.
The Day the Earth Stood Still Gallery