The Day the Earth Stood Still

Starring: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, & Hugh Marlowe
20th Century Fox
RRP: £15.99

Certificate: U
Available now

Klatu arrives in America in his spacecraft (like you do!) to persuade the peoples of Earth to change their violent ways or risk annihilation. With atomic power capability utilised for bomb-making, the Earth is perceived as a threat to the peace and stability of other worlds. When the world leaders fail to agree on a venue, Klatu melts into the populace to learn a little about everyday life and opinion. He approaches a renowned professor, who agrees to collect together the leading minds on the planet. Coupled with this, Klatu organises a worldwide demonstration of power. But has he reckoned on the primitive fears of mankind?...

This is arguably the best of only a handful of classic science fiction films to emerge in the fifties. Cold war paranoia spawned a veritable hoard of tales blaming the Russians in all but name - and their own atomic testing - for even the smallest petty ills. However, The Day the Earth Stood Still is the only example to expose this paranoia for the foolish and dangerous fright-mongering it truly is, and to leave the audience with a feeling of positive hope for the future. Even so, it takes threats on a massive scale to force the leaders of the world to consider change on a global scale. Who can blame poor Klatu; if you were shot on your arrival and suffered worse before your exit, wouldn't you resort to threats to get your message across? Sometimes you have to talk to people in the only language they can understand.

The main strength of this picture is its simplicity of style, which lifts it well above period films of its ilk and ensures that it still stands up well today. It's a straightforward story intelligently realised.

Michael Rennie's portrayal of the visitor Klatu is beautifully understated. He looks and fundamentally acts the same as other men, and yet he is subtly different. The odd comment here and there threatens to betray him, but he never seeks to hide his true feelings and the fact that the citizens of Earth are gearing towards their own destruction. Everybody is suspicious of their own shadow; when Klatu first makes his appearance as Mr Carpenter at the boarding house, even the boy Bobby believes him to be a government agent searching for the alien.

Also wisely kept simple are the special effects which, particularly in this era, can make or break the project. The spacecraft as it approaches its landing point is shown as a disc of light, and the model shot of the touchdown is filmed in distance overhead perspective. The saucer set and its extending ramp are impressive, and GORT, the robot guardian, is mainly kept to longshots and extreme close-ups, rendering its presence large and oppressive.

The movie is full of defining moments, such as Klatu completing complicated mathematical equations on a blackboard as a way of gaining the professor's attention. There is the poignant visit to a military graveyard, and the scene where the boy persuades Mr Carpenter (Klatu) to take him to see the spacecraft. Not realising his companion is the ship's operator, Bobby asks about propulsion. A man in the crowd overhears Klatu's "hypothetical" explanation and ridicules him, to the amusement of others close-by. The fact that nothing is actively played for laughs or is overtly ridiculous, means this film succeeds on all levels. It is undeniably a genre classic.

There's some nice dvd extras: Commentaries, Remastering Comparisons, Theatrical Trailer, and Movie Tone News of the time, reporting on the multi-nation Japanese peace alliance. This might very well have gained maximum points, but the sound quality could have been better, and the Region 1 version contains a making-of documentary, curiously absent from this release. But don't let these quibbles turn you off.

Invest in a copy now, or your world will be annihilated.

Ty Power

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