The Screening Room
day earth stood still (1951)
Foolish Earthlings! Will you never learn that violence and weapons won't solve your problems? Robert Wise directed "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and as dated and silly as some of the film is today, much of its message still resonates.

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. This is a review of the 2-disc DVD set.

The film is truly of its time, and I mean that as a compliment. I love the era of the 1950s. The films, the technical innovations, the music, the styles, the cars, etc. It seemed like a perfectly innocent and carefree era in which it was safe to walk through most neighborhoods, and one could get away with such words as "golly" and "gee." Even many historians and pop culture historians cite the 1950s as an era of tremendous growth in the economy. There was a sense of freedom enjoyed by most Americans. This was a time that the country could finally relax after the Depression and World War II.

The stark reality was that all was not well on the homefront. Racism still very much existed in some parts of the country. We were fighting a war with Communist Russia in a propaganda and nuclear weapons race for world superiority. Joseph McCarthy reared his ugly head and many innocent people were labeled Communists in a witch hunt. And we were at war in Korea.

That being said, the decade still seems so innocent, and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" reflects its goofy optimism and preachniness. The film's theme is that if mankind doesn't stop its fighting and the spread of nuclear technology, it's doomed. And who better to decide the fate of the Earth than an alien and his robot, Gort?

Though a bit slow, the film is very well directed and acted. Michael Rennie, as Klaatu, is a bit heavy-handed in his approach as the alien who knows better than us Earthlings. He's a very capable actor and carries the film, even through some of the scenes with Bobby (Billy Gray) cause a bit of discomfort and unintended laughter as seen today. If a perfect stranger came to stay in your house and offered to watch your kid, you'd be suspicious and kick the guy out of the house as you dial 911! But Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) doesn't and goes out on a date with her boyfriend, leaving her son with Klaatu. Different times, those 1950s.

The film's strengths outweigh any of the dated situations. The story of mankind's war behavior is still valid today. The fine script by Edmund H. North (based on a story by Harry Bates) hits on many of mankind's fear of the unknown. Robert Wise's direction is solid and shows how adept he was at directing different genres. He could come off as a bit heavyhanded at times. But there's no question that he knew how move a story along and how to work with actors.

My favorite character in the film, and perhaps this goes for many viewers, is Gort (Lock Martin). Although it's easy to see that it's a man in a costume, it's still an incredibly frightening and realistic design. The robot is truly memorable and that glowing laser eye gave me the creeps as a kid. The Terminator had nothing on this 7-ft 7-inch creation.

Bernard Herrmann's score, which utilizes the Theremin, is memorable and haunting at the same time. My father once had a record of 1950s science fiction and horror movie theme songs ("Themes From Horror Movies" Coral Records, 1959). Themes from "Them!" "It Came from Outer Space" and "The Deadly Mantis" were on that LP, and they were strikingly similiar to Herrmann's score. The use of the Theremin gives this film an otherworldly feel and works perfectly.

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" probably won't amaze the kids who will line up to see Keanu Reeves in the remake. For fans of classic science fiction and the original "The Twilight Zone" television show, this is an entertaining classic.  

Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photos: 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved.
DVD Quick Glimpse


Dated dialogue and direction doesn't derail this good science fiction film

Director: Robert Wise  

Cast: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray, Francis Bavier  

Look out for "Aunt Bea" (Francis Bavier) from the "Andy Griffith Show" in a small role

2nd disc features UFO documentary and more

Not rated

Picture: Excellent
Sound: Very Good

That laser eye on Gort looks awfully familiar on "Battlestar Galactica..."

Aspect Ratio (1.33:1)
Aspect Ratio (1.78:1 on some bonus features)

Dolby Digital 1.0
Dolby Digital 5.1

December 2, 2008
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