Aliens always come to either destroy Earth or deliver some sort of ultimatum. Just once I want them to stop by for tea and crumpets!
Screenplay By: Edmund H. North
Directed By: Robert Wise
I always find it interesting to go back and watch accepted sci-fi classics years after I first watched them. Most of the time a second viewing allows me to realize that the accepted sci-fi classic isn’t much of a classic at all and is merely a good movie, or sometimes a bad to downright awful movie. Every once in a while a sci-fi classic will hold up, Forbidden Planet is one example but, sadly The Day The Earth Stood Still does not hold up to the classic label. The Day The Earth Stood Still remains a good film, but nowhere near the classic tag that has been bestowed upon it.
Surprisingly the effects used in The Day The Earth Stood Still have held up over the years. They are very minimalist and aren’t used all that often, but when they are in action they still look believable. The same is true of Gort and the spaceship, neither are in play all that often but they are perfectly believable. The score both holds up and it doesn’t. It’s impossible at this point in time to listen to the score of The Day The Earth Stood Still and not hear the countless movies that subsequently coped aped it. In that regard the score is a bit tired, but it does fit the framework of the film just fine.
Robert Wise does do a splendid job of creating paranoia with his camera and the way he frames the movements of Klaatu and the reaction people have around him or to his mere presence on the planet. The Day the Earth Stood Still did feature some great moments of shadow, there were more than a few scenes that were enhanced by the way shadows danced across the screen or were used to make a character or place ambiguous and somewhat deadly. The one lone set design worth talking about was a good one, Klaatu’s ship. The music and the look of the interior of the ship helped to create a weird alien ambiance that served the film well.
Where The Day The Earth Stood Still starts to get into problems is in its plot and its characters, or should I say lack of any actual depth in its characters. There are too many plot holes to be found in The Day The Earth Stood Still. The electricity shut off sequence is pretty cool, but once you notice that his shutting off all worldwide electricity also affected steam powered devices, motor driven engines and other non-electronic devices it doesn’t make much sense. The final nail in the coffin for that grand idea is that Klaatu’s electricity shut off affects all sorts of non-electric items, yet it miraculously doesn’t affect any watches the world over. The movie wants you to take too much on blind faith and just shrug it off as being sci-fi for that sequence to work as well as it should have. There’s also the small, but rather important, issue of almost no military personnel being at Klaatu’s ship. I know this was done for the sake of plot, but it is highly unrealistic and makes it hard to take in any scenes involving Gort or the exterior of the ship.
The finale of The Day The Earth Stood Still is both a blessing and a curse. It ties nicely into the philosophical edge the film was angling for. The themes of man’s inability to cooperate with each other, our willingness for war, where this will ultimately take us and other thoughts are tied off nicely with Klaatu’s speech. But, it’s also a cold and dead ending to the film. It feels empty, like it was missing something. When Klaatu flies away I was left thinking, “Huh, that’s it?”
I’m well aware that a great number of sci-fi buffs will disagree with me, but such is life. The Day The Earth Stood Still remains a good movie that isn’t worthy of the classic label that has been foisted upon it. There is plenty to like about The Day The Earth Stood Still, but there are also a number of elements that don’t quite add up to what one looks for in a great motion picture. If you have a vested interest in the future of the human race then The Day The Earth Stood Still beckons you, just watch out for any tin men with visors, they will disintegrate you.