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Day The Earth Stood Still, The (1951)


Lad? Seriously. NEVER let them get you to a second location!
Lady? Seriously. NEVER let them get you to a second location!

Genre: Sci-Fi Drama Thriller

Starring: Michael Rennie ("The Third Man" TV show), Patricia Neal (Breakfast at Tiffany's Hud)

Directed By: Robert Wise (The Sound of Music Star Trek: The Motion Picture)

Overview: A flying saucer lands in Washington. Hours later, a man exits from it with words of peace. The alien's mission: to make a public address to the planet about the state of the world. The irony is, because of the state of the world, the planet is not ready to have all of its leaders listening peacefully in one place to an alien's message.

The overview I've written above is, if I do say so myself, a pretty succinct description of the film, and you, dear reader who has not seen the film, may concur that with the overview above, especially in Cold War 1951, that story could write itself. Thematically, The Day The Earth Stood Still is kinda brilliant. It's B-Movie Sci-fi cautionary tale with a healthy dose of political commentary. And for as much as I could easily go into how smooth the story plays out until the big speech and the whole 'Klatu Barata Niktoh' thing, I thought I'd instead point out all the fun little WTF moments I enjoyed this day 60 years after the making of this film. Let the pointing and laughing at the B-Grade naiveté begin!

Problem #1:
Basic Military training

"The ship is resting exactly where it landed two hours ago, and there has been no sign of life from inside it. Troops have been rushed from Fort Myer and they have formed a cordon around the ship. They are supported by machine guns, tanks and artillery." - National News commentator

No. I *WASN'T* effin' kidding
No. I *WASN'T* effin' kidding

As this voice-over is happening we see the site of where the ship landed, a baseball diamond near Capitol Hill. We pan in a semi-circle, seeing the backs of soldiers standing, surrounding the ship, weapon in handSome are on one knee, looking down the sites of their rifles, some are STANDING AROUND LEANING ON THEIR GUNS. That's ok, the tank brigade is taking care of things from their end, gunner and driver hanging out of their open tanks eyeballing the flying saucerAt this point I'm laughing hysterically. After two hours, the famously mentioned 'cordon' is literally that - a little museum-grade rope that sort of keeps the civilians twenty feet from the soldiers, tanks and machine guns surrounding the greatest threat that planet Earth may ever face. Riiiiight. For two hours the soldiers have done nothing but show up. No one thought of maybe digging a trench for cover maybe? That's ok. When there finally IS movement from the ship, everyone in a tank, instead of dropping down into said tanks, instead, well, they pull their sidearms, shivering at the terrible threat that is a man in a shiny outfit. I shan't spoil what comes next, but it's hilarious. 

Problem #2:
The outrageously ridiculous premise that the government would dare come close to ever letting a quarter of the news they could report get leaked:

From newspapers reporting the fact that an injured alien escaped military custody, to television news reports imploring people to look around for suspicious behaviour as the unknown spaceman MAY BE RIGHT NEXT TO YOU! Hoo boy, be glad this fear mongering media wasn't reporting in an election year!

Problem #3:

The frequent use of film speed alteration in the first 10 minutes of the film - waaaaaay too much Benny Hill goin' on... ok this isn't really a PROBLEM with the film, it's just silly.

Yet, amidst all the glorified, haloed rhetoric being spouted by our outworldy Holier-Than-We spaceman, and with all its obviously-written-without-a-military-consultant-ness, The Day The Earth Stood Still doesn't act like all those other alien B-movies. I expected far less than then genuine message I got. The overall theme, that 'Hey! Get real, Earth' warning is honest and idealistic enough to stand on its own today and it's a film that will most likely surprise you just as it impressed me.

And Mistwer Zappy Guy! He's Awesome.
And Mister Zappy Guy! He's Awesome.

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 7 Script: 6 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 72% (Hold On A Minute)

I'm also partial to the extremely awesome music, that classic high pitched Theremin sound now synonymous with flying saucers of 50s Sci-Fi. I'm glad the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book specifically mentioned that as one of the reason that The Day The Earth Stood Still is worth getting closer to death for.

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