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The Day the Earth Stood Still

Reviewed by: David Litton
Genre: Science Fiction
Video: 1.37:1 fullframe
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and 2.0 Mono, French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Language: English, French, Spanish
Subtitle: English, Spanish
Length: 92 min
Rating: G
Release Date: 03/04/2003
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Commentary: Feature commentary with director Robert Wise and Nicolas Meyer
Documentaries: "Making the Earth Stand Still" documentary
Featurettes: None
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: Theatrical trailer
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: None
Music Video: None
Other: Movie Tone newsreel (1951), restoration comparison, photo galleries
Cast and Crew: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray, Lock Martin
Written By: Edmund H. North
Produced by: Julian Blaustein
Directed By: Robert Wise
Music: Bernard Herrmann
The Review:

In the final moment of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," a visitor from the above and beyond leaves the people of Earth with a simple warning: "Your choice is simple. Join us and live in peace or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you." I wonder what they would say now, in the aftermath of Vietnam, Korea, Desert Storm, and the current war brewing with Iraq; chances are they'd spare no expense in reducing our planet to a burned-out cinder. ***

The message of Robert Wise's film is simple: violence, hatred, aggression, war, and brutality, are all elements of our world's societies and cultures that must be expunged, and peace and order restored to the people of Earth. Wise wisely incorporates this universally-appealing theme into an above-average science fiction escapade that achieves greatness through its storytelling and broad canvas of thought. ***

When a spaceship lands in the middle of Washington, D.C., the world's population is thrown into a state of confusion. After its arrival, a humanoid exits from the craft, only to be greeted by the sting of a military bullet when he extends his arm in peace. Subsequent to having an audience with the secretary to the United States President, during which he requests a meeting of all world leaders to explain his reasons for visiting, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), thought to be held captive at the local hospital, escapes into the everyday world to explore the workings of society and indulge in the creations of mankind, all the while being assaulted by newspapers, radio, and television, all blaring out warnings of apocalyptic doom. ***

The only person throughout the entire affair to question whether the new arrival may be as dangerous as predicted is Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), who lives with her young, impressionable son Bobby (Billy Gray) at a boarding house in town. When Klaatu takes a room there, he and Bobby become instant friends, which allows Klaatu to see the comfort and warmth that the human race is capable of exuding. There is another character in whom he finds goodness, a professor by the name of Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), whose tinkerings with mathematics provide a conduit through which Klaatu is able to get through to Barnhardt his plans for the planet. ***

As the manhunt for the spaceman heightens, Wise escalates the tension while also increasing the instability of many of his characters. He exposes in them a sense of fear that leads to the close-mindedness that mirrors our own society even today, as we continue to become frightened by that which we cannot understand. What was relevant to the 1950's, at the time of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, still has resonance today. Although Klaatu comes bearing words of peace, his human counterparts show only resistance and fear towards him, their curiosity giving way to selfishness and cynicism. This is portrayed magnificently in the character of Tom Stevens (Hugh Marlowe), Helen's sorta-fiancÚ, who, when she implores him not to reveal Klaatu for what he really is, remarks, "I don't care about the rest of the world. You'll feel differently when you read about me in the papers." ***

As a movie, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is solidly crafted. The acting from Rennie, Neal, Marlowe, and Jaffe all works in bringing us into the characters rather than viewing them as caricatures of the science fiction genre. Neal's performance is especially important: we must believe that there is some good within the world, otherwise Klaatu's mission is a complete failure. As the director, Wise has the smarts and the know-how to weave the political underpinnings into a movie that is unlike other films of its kind because it refuses to succumb to silliness. To this day, since the passage of time and special effects, whenever we see the giant alien robot Gort appear for the very first time, it still manages to induce chills. ***

As a message, the film is impacting, forthright, truthful, and above all else, scary in its realism, especially now. Klaatu sees our world for what it really is, and calls us on it, telling us in not-so-uncertain terms that we're eventually going to rid ourselves of life if we continue to live as barbarians. In our present situation with Iraq, I'm sure many opposers of the war would point out such a notion to President Bush, but then again, this could easily apply to Saddam Hussein as well. There's one line in the film that I think pretty much sums up how little we actually know about living: "I'm impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it." We, too, must learn to live without ignorance and stupidity as well.

Image and Sound

One of the special features on the DVD, the restoration comparison, shows the evolution of the picture from the 1993 remaster to the 1995 laserdisc transfer, and then to the 2002 remaster, which would explain why this DVD print looks so very good. Measured in its original fullframe theatrical ratio of 1.37:1, the efforts to remaster this edition have payed off nicely, as the image looks very clean and devoid of speckles or scratches. Film grain is present, yes, but not very intrusive. the black-and-white photography also looks very good, with great shadow detail. Edges are sharper than they ever were before, albeit with some halos. All-in-all, a solid presentation. ***

The sound presentation is both in stereo and in mono, and for those who want some expansiveness of Bernard Hermann's score, then this is the way to go about getting it. Otherwise, the sound effects and dialogue for both tracks remain confined to the center channel, and while the dialogue sounds fairly clean, the sound effects show their age. The mono track sounds clean enough, but the stereo track has the slight upper hand.

The Extras

Also featured on the movie side of the disc with the commentary is a Movie Tone newsreel from 1951 that features some highlights about "The Day the Earth Stood Still," and the film's original theatrical trailer. ***

Flip the disc over, and you have the documentary "Making the Earth Stand Still," filmed in 1995, and featuring interviews with Robert Wise, Patricia Neal, and producer Julian Blaustein, just to name a few. Like the commentary, this was also carried over from the laserdisc, and features more information about the movie, from its inception out of the Harry Bates story, to the production itself, and later its rise to cult status. Then we have a restoration comparison, which shows the efforts to clean up the image by creating two new prints and from them making the home video transfers. Closing out the disc is a collection of photo galleries covering the production and promotion of the film, and the entire shooting script.

Commentary Carried over from the previous laserdisc release, the audio commentary with director Robert Wise and Nicolas Meyer, located on the movie side of the disc, is really more of an interview session between the two, with Meyer asking the questions and Wise answering them with revelations and comments concerning the movie's creation, its impact, its meaningful nature, and the two directors' various methods of moviemaking. This is a very informative track that fans will appreciate for its insight and facts.
Final Words: For its DVD debut, Twentieth Century Fox has supplied a nice collection of supplemental material that should make this an easy purchase for longtime fans of the movie.

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March 29, 2003