Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Day the Earth Stood Still ****

When The Day the Ear th Stood Stillpremiered, World War II was only six years behind us. We were still eighteen years away from landing on the moon. Even Sputnik was six years in the future. But the Atomic Age had arrived with a bang (two of them, in fact) and in a flash Everything Changed. Here's a movie that held up a mirror to some newly validated fears — such as our anxieties about weapons of mass destruction (the kind that actually existed), and about the part of ourselves that could let mob psychology and fear-based reactionism get seriously, globally out of control in ways that The Good War only hinted at.*

Today we watch The Day the Earth Stood Still and what strikes us most about it — perhaps more than the simple and polished screenplay by Edmund H. North (Patton), or Robert Wise's quietly thoughtful directing, or the splendid yet sparingly used special effects, or Bernard Herrmann's pathbreaking Theremin concerto musical score — is how little the world has fundamentally changed since 1951. All the international "petty squabbling" and "strange, unreasoning attitudes" that Klaatu found so distasteful have proved damn hard to grow out of.

The working titles of this film were Farewell to the Master and Journey to the World . Harry Bates's short story also appeared in a 1946 anthology of science fiction stories entitled Adventures in Time and Space . It received a Golden Globe Award as the "Best Film Promoting International Understanding." The picture, which is regarded by many film historians as one of the most influential and noteworthy of the 1950s cycle of science fiction films, received very positive reviews. The Time reviewer judged the picture to be "by far the best of Hollywood's recent flights into science-fiction." Gort is regarded by science fiction aficionados as one of the most best-loved and well-known of motion picture robots, and the command "Gort! Klaatu Barada Nikto" has become a part of the American film lexicon.

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