GODFATHERS OF SCI FI #4: The Day the Earth Stood Still

Geek Syndicate heads back into the 1950’s to look at the Godfathers of Sci Fi.  The 1950’s were considered by some as the greatest decade of science fiction and it spawned many films that were the key inspirations to many of the modern classics including some direct remakes. This time we treat ourselves to one of the finer films The Day the earth Stood Still by Director Robert Wise.

Flying Saucers, giant robots, aliens, screams and the army, this one has it all but more.

A fast object is heading towards the Earth at incredible speeds as the world watches and waits with curiosity and some fear. Once it is clear the object is a flying saucer it proceeds to land in Washington D.C. where it s meet by a frightened military. What is it and are they Russians as one person suggests when a humanoid walks out of the craft. The alien figure raises its hands in a gesture of peace but is somehow mistaken for an aggressive act by a lone soldier who fires at the humanoid shooting it in the arm. Suddenly a large silver robot emerges from the craft and immediately starts to destroy the tanks, guns and jeeps until the figure commands the giant robot to stop. The figure removes his helmet and is shown to be human looking and tells them that he was presenting a gift to the people of Earth.

So starts the story that is The Day the Earth Stood Still. The alien called Klaatu is taken to a hospital where his wounds are healed in an unbelievable amount of time and he demands to have an audience with all the world leaders. AS you would expect from the leaders of the Earth in the 1950’s they all want to be in charge and not be led so no-one can agree to a meeting. Seeing the futility of this Klaatu leaves the hospital and finds shelter in a boarding house with a group of various characters including a single mum and her son, the house keeper and some other folks. Taking the name Mr Carpenter he quickly establishes himself within the group while observing them and spending time with Bobby the young boy who takes him to various places of interest. It is among these trips that he finds out that his best chance to speak to the people of the world is through the greatest minds that Earth has to offer. After meeting and convincing the smartest man in America Professor Barnhardt to gather the minds from all around the world Mr Carpenter or Klaatu demonstrates his power by stopping all electricity around the planet apart from essential things like planes and hospitals.

Klaatu’s message is clear, the people of Earth are destructive and soon they will venture out into space and the race that Klaatu comes from will not tolerate destructive humans venturing out into the stars. Klaatu’s race designed a system where they built the giant robots like the one at the space ship which is now known as Gort, to act as police officer who have zero tolerance for violence.

At this point the army find Klaatu and a fight breaks out where Gort once again starts to fight back until the woman at the boarding house tells the robot a secret command that Klaatu told her: “Klaatu barada nikto”. At this point Klaatu is shot and killed but through the wonders of his advance science is brought back to life to give a final warning to the people of Earth and then leaves to allow humanity to ponder its actions and fate.

The first thing you notice about this film is the music that is so creepy but so effective. They really knew how to make a good score back in the 50’s and this is one of the best because you recognise it instantly. The music also helps to enhance the arrival of the flying saucer that happens in the first few minutes of the film. There is no time-wasting here because the film needs to prove itself quickly using various methods including a scene which shows people all around the world talking in the native tongue about the arrival of the craft.

One of the things I was very impressed with was the craft itself which looked clean and when it opened it was impressive and very smooth considering the size of the thing as a prop. The decision to make Klaatu human looking works well and saves on the cost of the film to be used elsewhere. It immediately means that the audience can relate to this character from another world. When we first meet Klaatu he is quite menacing looking with his helmet on which leads to the misunderstanding and the shooting.

I always smile when I see how much things have changed since the 50’s like the scene in the hospital where the Doctor and soldier light and smoke their cigarettes in the patient’s room. The casting of this film was perfect as I cannot imagine anyone else playing Klaatu other than Michael Rennie who manages to look both human and alien with wisdom beyond our comprehension. It is also his growing relationship with the boy that shows how his feelings for the people of earth start to change. The rest of cast are all played well and all of them falling easily into their characters.

Another great image I take away from this film was the actual Earth standing still and the people just standing around at first and slowly seeing the paranoia crawling in and then fear. In the end it is the belief he has in the boy and his mother that changes his mind about humans.

The director Robert Wise did an incredible job with this film using paranoia and our own demons and fears to portray the real enemy. It is a lesson in how humans as a race need to change our ways. Lost of people also reference that Klaatu dies and is resurrected again and the human name he adopted was Mr carpenter, so you can start to see the connection to Jesus and his resurrection.

Gort was impressive for its time and look quite powerful standing there. The used a mixture of a man in a suit which stood over 8ft tall and a solid prop that was over 9ft tall. My minor criticism is that Gort does not move at all but when the woman approaches it for the first time it sees here and moves to intercept without any knowledge that she knows Klaatu. Why did it not move for the soldiers that were always around it.

This is one of the best films from the decade of golden Sci Fi as it showed a good sci-fi concept, a flying saucer, and yet it was more about the human story at its heart. Because of this it stands tall and proud as a truly great Godfather of Sci Fi.

GS Rating: 4/5
GS Reporter:

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