Coming at the start of the 1950s alien/monster sci-fi craze, The Day the Earth Stood Still is remarkable in its tone and style. It’s a shame that other films of the era didn’t take notice. With no build up, the spaceship lands immediately past the opening credits, introducing the world to Klaatu and Gort less than 20 minutes into the film.
While where exactly remains unspecified, Klaatu is an alien from another planet, although different than the standard movie extraterrestrial. He’s not here to kill us (or at least, not without warning), but to talk. It’s baffling how few sci-fi films out there are willing to take this kind of risk and deliver a message, meaning, and thoughtful dialogue that remains relevant today.
There’s nothing wrong with the explosions in Independence Day or to go further back, Earth vs the Flying Saucers. They exist for their own purpose. Stood Still chooses to do something more, create that extra layer those other films are lacking.
What if the ID4 aliens were here to wipe us out because our planet was a threat to theirs, not simply because that’s what they do? It wouldn’t necessarily make it a better film, but it would create some form of dialogue with the human race it’s sorely lacking. The aliens are just there to create a mass of special effects, without an identity.
The message of Stood Still is even more shocking considering its age. It wasn’t the first piece of science fiction to offer the human race a warning or a message. However, it was the first to do it in a way where the concepts were both clear yet unforced upon the viewer. Klaatu’s call for peace never seems heavy handed, something the recent remake completely failed to do.
Modern audiences will surely cringe at some of the effects, particularly the hulking robot Gort, who despite being made of unknown metal, bends like rubber. Suit actor Lock Martin’s inability to carry the actors also leads to some exposed wires that pull the viewer out of the moment immediately following the utterance of the iconic “Klaatu, barada, nikto” line.
Still, the ’51 version of the film isn’t about its effects. It chooses to spend time on questions and intrigue, especially as Patricia Neal investigates who her houseguest is. This becomes far more involving than more shots of the flying saucers, creating effective thrills without a single explosion.
Books could be written dissecting the film’s inner meanings, but this review is here to discuss the basics of a true science fiction… no, simply classifying it by its genre doesn’t give it due credit. Day the Earth Stood Still is a film classic. Maybe at some point the message it’s trying to convey will have an effect on common sense and human behavior. It certainly couldn’t hurt.
*Note: This is a review of the stand alone release, not the version included with the recent remake. The latter contains no extras.
Thankfully, Fox has left the film alone, especially compared to some of their other recent classics (Longest Day). Grain structure is left intact, and what remains is a stunning, sharp, clear, and detailed 1.37:1 transfer. There is a slight level of edge enhancement, particularly noticeable at the 16 minute mark, but does exist from time to time elsewhere. A minimal amount of mosquito noise is barely visible but worth mentioning.
Contrast is perfect, with the whites calibrated flawlessly and the blacks creating depth. The print itself is in remarkable condition, save for a few stock footage shots. This AVC encode is really a thing of beauty.
On the other hand, there are numerous shots that appear soft and somewhat muddy. Given the superb quality elsewhere, this logically should be a source issue, one in which the original elements could have deteriorated. It’s not digital tampering.
Purists and modern audiences should be pleased with the audio options. The original mono track (compressed) is included, but the highlight is a DTS-HD Master mix that shines. Aside from a few exceptions where the highs sound strained (particularly when Klaatu displays his power), this is a clean presentation.
Dialogue sounds excellent, with no noticeable distortion. The opening saucer approach uses some fun surround and stereo effects. The Bernard Herrmann score is preserved beautifully, and nicely bleeds into all channels. You can also listen to an isolated score if you choose.
If the recent remake created any positives, it was enough reason for Fox to go back and release this awesome special edition the movie has always deserved. Now deceased director Robert Wise teams with Nicholas Meyer (The Day After, Star Trek II) for the first. They’re followed by film historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg, and Nick Redman on the second.
A 24 minute making of is excellent, although some of the material is repeated elsewhere. A section on the theremin, the instrument used to create the eerie score, is included. There is also a live performance of the main theme played on the same theremin used by Bernard Hermann during recording. An interactive theremin is another one of those ridiculous Blu-ray extras that can go any time, along with the stupid Gort Command game.
Back to the good stuff, Decoding Klaatu, Barada, Nikto dives into the meanings and metaphors the film delivers. A Brief History of Flying Saucers runs for over a half hour, and from the title is self explanatory. The Astounding Harry Bates is a featurette on the author of the story the film was based on. The Man Who Made the Earth Stand Still deals with the life of writer Edmund North, and his many reasons for making the film. This is followed by Race to Oblivion, a short done by North to show his distaste for war.
Farewell to the Master is a 90 minute audio only reading of Bates original story. A Fox Movietone news reel has a small clip showing the film winning an award. Various galleries and trailers complete this all-around excellent special features set.