Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) - Movie Review

I had to see the classic before watching the newly CGI enhanced remake coming this friday to the theatres. Generally the criticism of a film does not fly out of the radar under the posing of excuses in budget deficiency and minimal access to the technology. But the genre of science fiction would seem to have it and that is due to the constant evolution and exponential growth of the technology every minute. Yet that is only an element in the film rather than the whole of it. Hence “The Day the Earth Stood Still” would have its fair share of analysis in every department. I had the film almost make me to put as “Movie Classics” but a little dissatisfaction in the end proved it to be a film of extraordinary significance in the times of film making yet as a film would not deem the status of classics in my list. But please do not take that as a sign of a bad film because it is a must see regardless of its categorization in my dictionary of good, better and best for films.

In a rush of army noticing a large unidentified object flying, the film kicks off with the landing of the UFO directly on to the Washington DC. Supposedly well informed, the UFO of course has to land in the nation’s capital. Two aliens come out, one being a robot Gort played by Lock Martin under those spectacularly designed costumes while the other is an alien humanoid Klaatu (Michael Rennie) who has learned English very well monitoring the radio broadcasts. As the guns are pointed and even after a hopeful message of coming in peace, Klaatu gets shot when he tries to offer a gift. He is transported to the hospital with wounds healing rapidly by some advanced medication he brought along for the journey. He is visited by President’s Secretary Mr. Harley (Frank Conroy) and Klaatu asks for an immediate address to all the nation in the world regarding a warning to the people of Earth.

The first hour is when the film is at its best. With Michael Rennie playing Klaatu in a rare sense of understanding of an alien. He speaks with a superiority and says the things in a tone of confidence and affirmation. He is not arrogant but a nobility and humility an elderly would have. He is perplexed by the stupidity of different nations not coming to meet at one place in the name of cold war and suspicion. He is of course old, aged 78 but looks 38. He informs that the life expectancy is 120 to the doctors treating him. It breaks their heart as they have working throughout their life with next to nothing results in many diseases affecting the lives of the human.

When a situation of imminent danger arrives regardless of what country or classification the people affected will be, suddenly every other thing which concerned them huge a minute before dissolves in the sands of gravity. Klaatu impatient in the politics of international conflicts ventures out on his own by escaping from the hospital. He mingles with a family by renting a room. He befriends a boy Bobby (Billy Gray), son of Helen Benson (Patricia Neal). The sharp quality of being terse and perfect in his speech with neatly dressed and trimmed personality unwarrantedly makes Helen to trust him. Klaatu begins to go around places in DC and wonders who will be right one to talk with the grave situation the Earth has got itself into. Bobby suggests Professor Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe).

In the time of 50s, the film is like “Independence Day” in terms of graphics but not an entertainment blockbuster rather a very serious film on the world after two World Wars. In the attitudes of military, government, nations and people, director Robert Wise with the story by Harry Bates gives each of the cross-section in terms of fear and curiosity. Panic is the mode every one wants to be in. It is unbelievable that even the media at those times wants the same. When Klaatu visits his space ship as a spectator along with Bobby, a TV interviewer asks Klaatu whether he is afraid and Klaatu begins to reason out explaining another point of view and the interviewer cuts short as he knows that is not interesting. Fear is interesting. Panic sells.

The special effects and the costume design of the film made the place where it is in the history of the Hollywood. It has a great shot of UFO landing when people are running. The robot Gort’s metal simulation is an amalgamation of the lifelessness of the machine and the contemporary art not belonging to the era of 50s. And with the famous screechy and disturbing haunting score of Bernard Herrmann, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” would have been a phenomenon when it was released.

The screenplay of Edmund H. North does not reveal nothing much at all about the planet Klaatu comes from. In a very given way it is presumed that aliens are always much more powerful and far more unbelievably advanced than us. I guess some one travelling light years through black holes and asteroids and unknown objects in the space has to be scientifically meteoric in their advancements. When Klaatu being resurrected for unknown time by a device in the space ship after he is been shot Helen asks whether they know to avoid death. Klaatu replies that permanent back to life is only possible by Almighty and that is a cacophony in an almost perfect science fiction film. Apart from the bias I have, it is the out of sync placement in the film. It is bending over backwards to answer that part of that question springing out in the audience and to pacify them of their beliefs. Why not leave it open as they did for the planets and every single details with it? More than philosophical discrepancy it is a cinematic aberrance. Still I would recommend this classic be viewed for the first of its kind and a next to perfect sincerity in its theme.

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