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The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) – DVD Review

The Day The Earth Stood Still DVD cover


Written by: Edmund H. North, based on the story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates
Directed by: Robert Wise
Starring: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Lock Martin


  • Running audio commentary by director Wise and Nicholas Meyer
  • Making the Earth Stand Still documentary
  • Movietone Newsreel from 1951
  • Restoration comparison
  • Still galleries
  • Shooting script
  • Theatrical trailer

Released by: 20th Century Fox.
Region: 1
Rating: G
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Own it.

[ad#longpost]America and the rest of the world are about to get a helluva wake-up call. You see, the reports starting coming in from all over the planet: a flying saucer was headed straight for Washington D.C. Once it landed, eventually out came an alien by the name of Klaatu (Rennie), who has a very important message for the world–indeed, an ultimatum. And to make matters–more interesting? worse?–he has the giant robot Gort (Martin) to back him up.

In the context of the cinema of the time, this really is a bit of a masterpiece. The vision of Gort appearing from within the saucer to menace the populace is one of the iconic 50s sci-fi images. “Klaatu Barada Nikto” has become “that phrase that everybody knows but nobody outside the sci-fi geek community can identify the source of.” Klaatu’s pleas for humanity to behave and become a nicely integrated part of the universe (or get blown to kingdom come, don’t forget that) have formed the basis for people’s desires for decades.

The film is finely crafted for its day, well-written and well-acted. And I think, to be frank, even more relevant today than it was back in 1951. Since we can’t depend on an alien race from Somewhere Up There to come and force us into getting along, it is widely accepted (and pretty damn obvious) that Rennie’s character and the organization he represents is simply a metaphor for the United Nations. And granted, in 1951 the United Nations still seemed like a good idea–like communism, it looked good on paper. Of course, more than a half-century later and the organization’s teetering on the verge of irrelevance–simply because humans are, well, humans. And they can’t act like the theories on the paper tell them to. So in that respect, as a snapshot of misguided but well-intentioned optimism regarding international cooperation, the film is priceless. Because compare it to today, and you’ll understand why I enjoy the Simon Schama quotation, “History has a cruel way with optimism.”

Fox gets huge points for the commentary on this, teaming director Wise with director Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time, Star Trek II) to play off one another. Meyer, obviously, had nothing to do with the original film and is here to moderate and guide Wise on his path–which he does admirably. Between the two of them, they discuss the process of creating the film, how the effects worked back in the day, and how in the world they found a guy big enough to fill out Gort. All helpful, interesting information.

Robert Wise, director of The Day The Earth Stood Still

The documentary is fairly extensive, although Wise seems to be just reiterating the same information he’s given over in the commentary–though we can’t be too disturbed about that. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, especially producer Julian Blaustein talking about how when audiences starting laughing in preview showings–how he freaked. And Patricia Neal talking about how she couldn’t quit laughing during shooting because she thought the whole thing was so funny. Good stuff. Also cool are the collectors at the end–who actually managed to rescue both the Gort suit and the saucer model. Points to them.

Other that Neal’s hilarity, there are two other fave moments on this double-sided disc. One is the Movietone Newsreel, which, apart from a small award given to The Day the Earth Stood Still, includes a bit on the 1951 San Francisco conference for the Japanese peace treaty. Apart from all the loaded commentary, it features a Soviet representative dumping a map of labor camps he’s been given into the floor in disgust. Can you imagine diplomacy like that taking place today? I think not. Also–in the still galleries you get Michael Rennie, in his Klaatu uniform, playing golf. Priceless.

Also of interest is the entire shooting script–although advancing frame by frame through the whole thing I think would drive men to madness. Why it wasn’t included as a DVD-ROM feature that would have been more manageable, I have no idea. There’s also a restoration comparison bit as well.

Klaatu, from The Day The Earth Stood Still

Fox gets huge points for putting this truly special edition together. About the only thing it’s lacking is the original Bates short story, but that’s a serious nit. Any sci-fi afficionado will need to have this in their collection, just to see how it was done “back in the day.”

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