Search the Cinema Head Cheese Archives!

September 25, 2013

Movie Review: The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951, Twentieth Century Fox)

The Day The Earth Stood Still (Twentieth Century Fox, 1951)
Directed by Robert Wise
Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe
Run Time- 92 minunes

The term "Classic" gets thrown around quite a bit in the coarse of conversation, in regards to movies and film. And as any fan of film knows, the term is quite subjective. In the realm of the science fiction/alien invasion genre for instance, movies like The Thing From Another World, War of the Worlds and Invaders From Mars are almost always the first to be mentioned in this regard, and rightfully so. They are all magnificent examples of the "Cold War Era Mentality" that sci-fi film makers of the 50's were so heavily influenced by. All aliens from space were evil, they lusted for our resources, craved our blood or wanted to take over the bodies of our parents. They were to be destroyed at all cost, usually by a clever combination of military might and scientific know-how. That's just how we rolled back in the 50's. The first film to buck this trend (ironically, even before there was a trend), was Twentieth Century Fox's- The Day The Earth Stood Still.
An unknown object is discovered to be orbiting the Earth at 4000 miles per hour. Nations from around the globe are tracking it and radio stations reporting on its every movement. A quiet unease quickly turns to fear and panic as the object, a large flying disc, eventually makes its landing in a park in Washington D.C.

The spaceship is quickly surrounded by American military forces, with crowds of curious onlookers gathering behind the rows of tanks and artillery. Shortly therafter, a door opens and Klaatu, an alien emissary (Michael Renne) walks out to greet the shellshocked earthlings. While reaching into his pocket to retrieve a gift for the President, the spaceman is shot by a frightened serviceman and rushed to a hospital under heavy guard. This prompts the emergence his 9 foot tall bodyguard and enforcer, Gort, who promptly melts all the artillery and weapons in sight with his laser vision.

A delegate to the President is sent to retrieve information from the assumed invader and quickly learns that the spaceman has come with a warning and ultimatum for all mankind, a message too important to be given to just one man. A message that must be delivered to the leaders of all the nations of the world. Rebuffed by the Presidents delegate, the spaceman is forced to make an escape, in the hopes of learning more about the mindset of the people of Earth, and make a last ditch attempt at getting his message across to everyone on the planet.

After befriending a woman and her young son at a boarding house, Klaatu and the young boy make contact with a prominant scientist, who agrees to help the spaceman deliver his message. They both agree that the leaders of Earth will be more willing to listen to his message if a display of power is shown. This display of power entails the shutting down of every mechanical and electrical device on the planet, sparing only hospitals and other life-saving equipment. As the world is thrown into panic, the local police and military forces begin to tighten the noose in their search for Klaatu, with orders to destroy the spaceman on sight. With time running out it is up to Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) alone, with an assist from the iron-clad Gort, to help Klaatu deliver his message and escape Washington D.C. with his life in tact.

Simply put, The Day The Earth Stood Still without question is not only one of the most thought-provoking and socially relevant sci-fi flicks ever made, but solidly (in my opinion), one of the 25 greatest films ever made. Its sobering study in human psychology is as relevant today as it was over 60 years ago when it first hit theaters and drive-ins. Our natural distrust of strangers, fear of the unknown and even our desires for personal gain at the cost of others are all revealed within its borders. As well as the dangers and consequences of our obsession with technologies and propensity to violence towards that which we do not understand.

Unlike most sci-fi/alien invasion films, this one does not end in a climactic and explosive battle of Man vs. Alien, but with a simple, yet powerfully sobering message about the fatal flaws of modern mans current psychological and social condition. A message of arrogance and ignorance, which seems to go hand in hand.

If you were searching for flaws in this film you would be hard-pressed to find any, the script is magnificently clever and intelligent. The acting is flawless from top to bottom, with Michael Rennie's performance being something quite unforgettable, as he seems to be the one person that was born to play the role of Klaatu. Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe are stellar as well. The films overall pacing is perfectly staggered, with the first half of the film playing out slowly and mythodically while the second half has a frenzied and mad-dash feel to it. The icing on the cake is without a doubt Bernard Herrmann's hauntingly brilliant musical score, which sucks you in from the opening credits and holds you right where it wants you (on the edge of your seat) until the films final scene. The special effects are solid, nothing ground-breaking, mind you, but adequite enough to suspend belief.

This is a film that is 10 steps beyond the usual mindless-fun of its genre bretheren. A film about spaceships, aliens and robots that is so much more then the sum of its parts. It is one of those rare instances where the viewer unwittingly learns an important lesson about
themself without even realizing it, while blissfully munching away on their popcorn.

The word "Classic" does seem to get thrown about indiscriminately these days, but few movies are still talked about with reverence 60 years after their debut. For me, that is the true mark of a classic, and The Day The Earth Stood Still holds a respected place in the genre of science fiction. It is an intelligent and thought provoking masterpiece that continues to be rediscovered by generation after generation of movie lovers, and I suspect it will continue to do so because....well, Awesome Movies never go out of style.

No comments:

Post a Comment