Anthony's Film Review
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The film's timeless messages make it stand above average science-fiction...
If you were to examine the posters for the 1951 science-fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still, you'd probably assume that it's oriented in suspense and horror and that it would be one of those run-of-the-mill sci-fi flicks from the decade. Amazingly, it's smarter than that. To me, it's really a philosophical story that just happens to be wrapped in the typical alien visitor premise. Yes, it has deep messages and takeaway lessons. It's rather neat to see them presented within sci-fi as opposed to other genres, like dramatic war films.
The movie certainly has the feel of average sci-fi. Within the first ten minutes, you have the setup that doesn't waste any time. The military witnesses a mysterious flying object in the sky moving at 4,000 miles per hour. Soon, people in Washington, D.C., witness the flying saucer overhead before it lands in the National Mall. A large crowd gathers, including civilians and military personnel. Then, to everyone's astonishment, the spaceship opens up.
Two beings step out from within. The first is Klaatu, who appears human like everyone else and even knows English. The other is a robot named Gort, whose eyes can shoot laser beams that instantly neutralize the weapons of soldiers. Klaatu, I must say, is a very fascinating character, played well by Michael Rennie. In one scene, Klaatu speaks with the U.S. Secretary of State, calling for a meeting of all world leaders. The secretary only mentions the difficulty of this, pointing out the many tensions between nations. Obviously, the seed of an anti-war message is being planted for the audience.
Much of the middle portion of the film is a drama with less of a sci-fi element. In an effort to learn more about human behavior, Klaatu escapes captivity and pretends to be a man from outside of town. He befriends a boy named Bobby Benson (played by Billy Gray) and his mother Helen Benson (played by Patricia Neal). He also meets a scientist named Professor Jacob Barnhardt (played by Sam Jaffe). All of this is easy for him because the public doesn't know what Klaatu's face looks like, since it was concealed during his first appearance.
I won't go into too much about how the last third of the movie plays out, other than the fact that it's pretty good. Instead, I shall mention the major underlying themes and historical overtones I noticed. For one thing, it seems much of the human race regards aliens (whether from another planet or even from another country) with fear rather than reason and curiosity. It makes Klaatu seem like the hero rather than the nemesis. Also, it's obvious that the story takes a stance against war in general. Given that the film was released in 1951, World War II and the Cold War definitely come to mind.
In the end, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a classic science-fiction film for its messages, its intriguing yet simple story, and even Michael Rennie's performance. Like I said, it's not your average sci-fi movie. It's above average because it goes beyond the basic expectations of a film of the genre. Most importantly, it's timeless. Both the messages and the quality of the film will surely capture audiences across generations. It certainly did for me.
For more information about The Day the Earth Stood Still, visit the Internet Movie Database.