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"The Day The Earth Stood Still" (2 Disc DVD)
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Video
Genre:
Sci-Fi
Release Date:
12/9/08
Special Features:

Commentary tracks 1) with Director Robert Wise and Writer/Director Nicholas Meyer; 2) with Nick Redman, John Morgan, William Stromberg and Steven Smith, featurette"Making The Day The Earth Stood Still" (replacing the original 70 minute documentary), "Edmund North: The Man Who Made 'The Day The Earth Stood Still'", "The Astounding Harry Bates", "The Mysterious Melodious Theremin", main title live performance by Peter Pringle, "Decoding Klaatu Baraba Nikto-Science Fiction as Metaphor", "Race to Oblivion" short documentary featuring Burt Lancaster, Fox Movietone Newsreel, Trailers, preview of remake, "A Brief History of Flying Saucers", "Farewell to the Master" read by Jamieson Price

Review:

In a world that seemed full of possibilities, suddenly the Cold War took center stage and the fear that the world would end not with a whimper but a great big bang. Writer Edmund H. North went to military school, had served during World War II rising to the rank of Colonel, made war training films and achieved his greatest fame for writing about the war and military history. Ironically, North saw the world in quite a different light after his stint in military school and military service becoming a firm believer that we should try other means to resolve our differences aside from war. Perhaps the film that most closely embodies that philosophy is his adaptation of Harry Bates' short story "Farewell to the Master" which North turned into "The Day the Earth Stood Still". Like "Blade Runner", "The Day the Earth Stood Still" compliments the story by Bates visiting similar themes by NOT being as faithful as possible to the story. ***

Directed by Robert Wise ("Star Trek: The Motion Picture", "Run Silent Run Deep", "The Sand Pebbles", "The Andromeda Strain" and "The Sound of Music") North's ideas and script along with Bates inspiration from the short story clearly touched a nerve in humanity. The film (which has been reissued in a deluxe DVD and Blu-ray from Fox Home Video-- and thankfully NOT on those dreaded DVD-R preview discs that look so awful --as a tie in with the remake of the film premiering on 12/12/08) tackles the themes of war, universal peace, the paranoia of the Cold War/Communist witch hunt, the threat of nuclear war and our place in the universe in a thought provoking film that still has resonance 57 years later. Coming on the heels of the Communist victory in China, the Russian's testing their first nuclear bomb and the outbreak of war in Korea, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" examines the fear that was prevalent in the United States at the time when families were just as likely to have bomb shelters as they were brand new cars. North examines the danger that we pose to one another in his rich, powerful screenplay using science fiction as a metaphor for the hostilities of the time AND how those that proposed solutions OTHER than war were branded as traitors or, in this case, an out right alien from outer space. ***

(SPOILERS) It's difficult to miss the parallels that North puts into his screenplay about Klaatu (Michael Rennie in his film debut) an alien from another planet who lands in Washington, D.C. to "suggest" that the hostilities of our world had better not extent to space because if they do, the robotic police force represented by Gort (Locke Martin) will turn Earth into a cinder. To understand humanity better, Klaatu escapes from the hospital where he is being kept and moves into a Washington D.C. boarding house where Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) lives with her son Bobby (Billy Gray). Klaatu known there as "Mr. Carpenter" befriends Bobby. When Klaatu's identity is revealed to Tom Stevens (Hugh Marlowe) he betrays to the authorities. When Klaatu is shot and killed, he has just enough time to tell Helen that Gort could destroy the world IF he doesn't return so he gives her a message that is one of the most famous lines in film history--"Gort, Klaatu Baraba Nikto". ***

Peace by force, Klaatu suggests, is better than the peace with the resulting horrors and causalities of war. It's been remarked before how North uses Klaatu as something of a Christ figure; when Klaatu he escapes from the hospital he wears clothes belong to a Major Carpenter and, later, is killed but rises from the dead. Finally, his sermon "on the mount"--the steps of his spaceship before returning to "Heaven" all suggested a subtext to the film. Whether or not all of that was true, consciousness or working on some sort of unconscious level (doubtful), it does add some extra "heft" to the film luckily the symbolism doesn't become so heavy or intrusive. Interestingly director Robert Wise in his commentary track is questioned by writer/director Nicholas Meyer ("Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn", "The Day After", "The Seven Percent Solution") and Wise claims not to have really noticed the religious allusions in the script. ---

Image & Sound:

If this has been remastered again, it looks much like the previous remaster for DVD. That one--and this one--looks quite good with little in a crisp looking transfer that only occasionally goes soft. The image is so good that you can make out the wires supporting actress Patricia Neal as GOrt carries her into the spaceship while he prepares to bring Klaatu back from the dead (Locke Martin who was a doorman was hired because of his height but he wasn't very strong). The film is presented in its original full screen aspect ratio of 1.33:1. ***

Bernard Herrman's wonderful score sounds terrific here although keep in mind it's in the original mono. Dialog is crisp and clear throughout the film. ---

Special Features:

We get all the original special features that were on the single disc edition (EXCEPT the full length 70 minute documentary)back plus a second disc of featurettes that highlight the contribution of writer Edmund H. North, original story author Harry Bates, the innovative way that Herrmann used the Theremin which, although it had only been created in 1942 and used in films since 1943, had already begun to be used in a clichéd fashion in many suspense thrillers and early science fiction films ("The Thing" used the Theremin for example in its score as did "Rocketship XM" both of which preceded "Still" by a year). ***

In addition to the commentary track done with the late Robert Wise and moderated by Nicholas Meyer, we also get a commentary track on Herrmann's wonderful score featuring musicians and historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg and Nick Redman. One of them (it would be helpful if they put subtitles on the screen when one spoke) mentions for example that Herrmann used TWO Theremins to carry the melody and integrated them into the orchestra verses making them a solo instrument "just" to create an eerie effect. Herrmann was well known for using innovative approaches to scores throughout his life from his score to "Citizen Kane" to "Psycho" (and even the "sound effects" that were created under Herrmann's direction as the "music" for "The Birds"). ***

Complimenting the commentary track on Herrmann is the featurete "The Mysterious Melodious Theremin" giving us the history of the musical/electronic device. We also get the original main title conducted "live" by Peter Pringle and in glorious 5.1 for this single segment. ***

The original 70 minute documentary has been replaced with a shorter one that runs about 25 minutes. While it covers the highlights of the 70 minute one, it's not as indepth or as good. Additionally, "The Astounding Harry Bates" tells us about the editor/author who wrote the story that was the basis of the film. Bates (in a recording from an interview made before his death) discusses how he made only $450.00 for the rights to his story never really imagining it would be as big as it was. Bates disappeared into obscurity later in his writing career and the featurette explains how and why this happened. Featuring editor David Hartwell and others, its an interesting glimpse into the world of pulps from the 1950's. ***

"Jamieson Price also reads Bates' original story divided into three chapters on the disc. It's entertaining and fun to compare the original story which has a somewhat different but equally startling O. Henry type ending. ***

"Decoding Klaatu Barbaba Nikto: SF as Metaphor" is a solid featurette focusing on the use of science fiction to examine concerns about contemporary society. ***

"Edmund H. North: The Man Who Made 'The Day The Earth Stood Still'" focuses on the writer's career and the overall themes that dominated his work. North's father was an actor and occasional producer. Initially, North thought he wanted a military career because of his fascination with military history and went to a military school. In less than a year he wanted to return home believing it wasn't for him. Ultimately, he graduated and broke through after working as a reader (of screenplays, novels, etc.) at Fox when his first produced play was seen by someone in the industry. From there North worked on a wide array of films but ironically found his niche with the war film ultimately sharing an Academy Award with Francis Ford Coppola for "Patton" which he rewrote keeping much of Coppola's dialogue intact simply because he thought it sounded wonderful but restructuring the film to make it have more emotional impact. ***

We also get North's cautionary Award winning documentary short "Race to Oblivion" hosted by the late Burt Lancaster and focusing on the folly of the arms race and nuclear war. North's experience making military training films served him well for this short documentary from 1982. ***

We also get "A Brief History of Flying Saucers" covering everything from the first sighting (and Area 51) to what all these sightings might really mean. ***

As mentioned we get the 5 stills galleries that were part of the original set although I didn't see the "Shooting Script" that was on the single disc flipper that Fox put out before. Perhaps I just overlooked it. Rounding things out is a "Fox Movietone Newsreel" from the time along with the teaser and theatrical trailer for the film. We also get a "preview" of the new film as well which looks promising at the very beginning of the first disc. ---

Final Words:

A superb reissue, it's a pity that "The Day The Earth Stood Still" didn't get the deluxe treatment like this in its previous incarnation. If all you want is the film, than the single disc edition will do but the two disc set has a lot of new featurettes, a new commentary track and a short documentary that might make this a worthwhile double dip.

 

 
 
 
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