Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Important Note: These comments refer to the classic 1951 original and not the horrible Keanu Reeves remake.
One of the great things about science fiction films is that they can discuss social issues without protest. Because they are set in the future or feature robots or aliens you can discuss racism, politics, sexism or other social issues and not rile up the politically correct forces. The Day the Earth Stood Still was released in 1951. Americans were extremely worried about the Russians and the possibility of nuclear war. This movie uses the story of an alien and his robot visiting Earth as a vehicle to talk about some of the insanity of mutually assured destruction. The special effects are dated, but the message and dialogue are still relevant. Will we destroy ourselves or can we agree to survive and thrive?
Director Robert Wise does a fine job with a simple story. Michael Rennie plays an alien visitor who wants to speak to Earth's leaders. Of course the U.S. Government is quite worried about a technically-superior dude in a spaceship that just lands on the mall in Washington. The film follows Mr. Carpenter (Rennie) as he learns about Earth and its people while on the run from the military. Patricia Neal plays a woman who befriends him and tries to aid him in his journey. This movie also features Gort, one of the classic film robots. He was a model for movie robots for the next 50 years.
The Edmund H. North script is simple and effective. The score is one of the first electronic movie scores. Bernard Herrmann uses electronic instruments to create the model for future science fiction film scores. This score is innovative and haunting. Herrmann was an amazing composer and trendsetter in film music.
Spoiler Alert: Don't read the following paragraph if you have not seen the film. I believe that this film also is a retelling of the Christ story. His name is Mr. Carpenter. We know little of his childhood. He just appears as an adult. He tells a message of peace and love, but brings great power and possible vengeance. He dies and is resurrected. He leaves for a much better place. To me, that is the Christ story. Again, science fiction can touch issues that straight-forward film making can not.
Klaatu barada nikto!
Filmed in 1951, directed by Robert Wise, written by Edmund H. North, starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe and Billy Gray.