If you haven’t seen it:
The Day the Earth Stood Still tells the story of an alien who has come to deliver a message to the people of Earth.
Many regard this film as a sci-fi classic with a powerful message, and great performances. Others see it as patronizing and hopelessly dated, with cheesy dialogue, laughable special effects, and a plot with more holes in it than Clint Eastwood at the end of Gran Torino.
Either way it is fascinating to watch – The Day the Earth Stood Still gives you a real idea of how people lived and thought back in 1951. Sometimes this is poignant, other times unintentionally funny.
If you have seen it:
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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.
A flying saucer lands in President’s Park in Washington, D.C. where it is quickly surrounded by US military. A humanoid alien named Klaatu steps out, claiming to come in peace. Without warning though, he takes something out of his suit and points it at the soldiers – it is a gift that he has brought for the people of Earth. One nervous soldier however, believing the alien’s actions to be hostile, opens fire, and Klaatu is seriously wounded.
The other occupant of the flying saucer then appears – a giant robot named Gort. This robot destroys all the soldiers’ weapons with his laser beam. Klaatu is taken to military hospital while Gort stands on guard outide the spaceship.
Klaatu heals quickly, and declares that he has a message he wants to pass on to Earth’s leaders, but he wants to address them all together. When he is told this is impractical, Klaatu escapes.
In the guise of an ordinary human called Carpenter (get it?), Klaatu checks into a guesthouse. He befriends a woman named Helen and her son Bobby. Bobby leads Klaatu to the house of Professor Barnhardt, a famous rocket scientist, and Klaatu persuades the Professor to organise a meeting at the spaceship of all the world’s greatest scientists, which he will address.
The next day, before the meeting, Klaatu gives a demonstration of his power. He arranges for all electric power on the planet to be neutralized for half an hour. During this time, Klaatu is stuck in an elevator with Helen.
He confides in her, and tells her that if anything should happen to him, she must go to Gort and say, “Klaatu barada nikto”. Shortly afterwards, they are spotted by soldiers, who open fire on them, and Klaatu is shot dead. Helen escapes and, although terrified, goes to Gort and passes on the instruction. Gort then recovers Klaatu’s body, takes it aboard the spaceship, and brings it back to life.
The resurrected Klaatu then finally addresses the scientists. He tells them that humanity’s violent nature has caused concern on other worlds. The inhabitants of these other worlds have created a race of robot enforcers who will destroy any planet that wages war in space. Klaatu warns that humanity risks bringing destruction upon itself. He says “The decision rests with you” and he enters the spaceship and departs.
Steve Sunday Says:
It is difficult to be completely on Klaatu’s side in The Day the Earth Stood Still. He is supposed to be a super-intelligent peace-loving extra terrestrial. The first time we see him though he does not seem super-intelligent at all, as he seems to think it is a good idea to make sudden movements while holding a gun-shaped object and standing in front of nervous soldiers who are pointing weapons at him. The last time we see him he does not seem too peace-loving either, as he threatens us with war because he claims we have weapons of mass destruction (hmm… that idea sounds familiar).
For all his love of rules, he is hardly law-abiding himself. In his short visit to Earth he enters American air space without permission, lands an unlicensed vehicle in a municipal park, damages military property, deals in unauthorised currency, obstructs traffic, illegally uses a service elevator, kills two men, damages public property, and evades a taxi fare. When not breaking the law, he sulks a lot about the fact that all the world leaders won’t immediately drop everything and come to Washington to hear what he has to say – however it does not seem to occur to him to use radio or television to get his message across.
The American military don’t come out of this looking too good either. They leave the spaceship guarded by just 2 soldiers who seem to have orders to turn their backs to it most of the time so that people can wander in and out. They also allow the most important visitor in Earth’s history to escape, having failed to even take a photograph of him. Most damningly though, when Gort goes walkabout at the end, and rescues Klaatu’s body from the high security prison cell, they do not even notice!
The Day the Earth Stood Still was made at the height of the cold war, at a time when everyone was very scared of nuclear holocaust, and that comes across clearly in the script. Klaatu is a Christ figure come to deliver humanity from oblivion. Knowing what we know now, that mankind did not destroy the world in the 1950s, it would be easy to laugh at their paranoia. It could so easily have been different though, and I think they were right to be scared.
So yes, it seems that Americans in 1951 were terrified of aliens and communists, but apparently they were not so worried about paedophiles. Helen is happy to let the creepy stranger she has just met go off with her 12 year old son for the day. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that Mr Carpenter might be a kiddie-fiddler. In a way I am a little envious that the idea does not occur to her – today, whenever a stranger so much as glances at my own son, a little part of me suspects him of being the leader of an international child sex ring with a particular interest in cute but “high spirited” pre-pubescent boys. So far, all my suspicions have turned out to be false (as far as I know).
The Day the Earth Stood Still
– a poem by Paul Perro
I love The Day the Earth Stood Still
I think this classic movie’s brill,
But “Gort” does not suggest to me
Highly advanced technology,
He’s just a man in a robot suit,
An unconvincing one to boot.
The creasing at the knees looks fake,
But this is not the worst mistake.
I saw some laces at one time,
But this is not the biggest crime.
There’s just one thing I can’t abide,
He wears his underpants outside.
Trivia Trish Says:
- The Day the Earth Stood Still was based on the short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates, which was originally published in the pulp magazine “Astounding Science-Fiction.” In the original story, the robot (Gnut, not Gort), was the master.
- There were two Gort suits: one that laced up down the back for when he had his front to the camera, another that laced up in the front for the shots from behind. At one point though, this system fails – in the shot where he first starts to carry Helen to the ship, the seam and laces on the front of the suit are visible.
- The spaceship was made of wood, wire and plaster of Paris.
- Several of the journalist who appear in The Day the Earth Stood Still were famous and recognizable broadcasters of the day, playing themselves in cameo.
- In the scenes of Gort carrying Helen Benson and Klaatu up the ramp and into the ship, lightweight look-alike dummies were used because of the actor playing Gort (Lock Martin), although tall, was actually quite frail. When it was not possible to use dummies, wires were used to help take the weight.
- The scene where the onlookers flee in panic after Gort appears is obviously speeded up film. Apparently Robert wise, the director, could not persuade the crowd of inexperienced extras to run away quickly enough to look convincing like they were scared. After several takes, he gave up, and allowed the scene to be “sped up” in post production, even though he knew it would look terrible
- Klaatu’s resurrection at the end of The Day the Earth Stood Still was supposed to be permanent, reinforcing his God-like powers, but the censors did not approve. They insisted that the resurrection be temporary, and added the line “That power is reserved for the Almighty Spirit”, which Wise hated.
Main Cast and Crew:
Michael Rennie as Klaatu
Patricia Neal as Helen Benson
Billy Gray as Bobby Benson
Hugh Marlowe as Tom Stevens
Sam Jaffe as Professor Jacob Barnhardt
Directed by Robert Wise