Thursday, July 10, 2008

#13: The Day the Earth Stood Still


The Day the Earth Stood Still
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Edmund H. North (based on the short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates)
Released September 28, 1951

Sometimes it's the ones you least expect that surprise you the most.

When I got home from work at 8 in the morning after being awake for exactly 24 hours, I had no plan to watch a movie. I was just going to check my email, drink a glass of anything (it's hot, so I don't care) and go to bed. As my computer booted up, I figured I'd check the weather for the day to see what kind of heat I would be trying to sleep through. When the TV clicked on, The Day the Earth Stood Still had just begun literally at that moment.

At first I thought, "Cool, I'll tape this for later." Within minutes, I was hooked. The Day the Earth Stood Still has always been heralded as a classic Sci-Fi movie, most recently by the American Film Institute, which named it #5 in their Top 10 Science Fiction movies. I'm pretty sure I remember thinking, "Really?"

It's that good. Directed by Robert Wise (whose ridiculous resume includes other all-time classics like The Andromeda Strain, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, and The Haunting), Day is much, much better and more relevant than any movie over 57 years old has any right to be.

Since it is such an old movie, I expected the acting to be hamfisted and overwrought (like Jimmy Stewart in a good majority of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). In actuality, the acting is pretty damn great, especially from English actor Michael Rennie in the role of Klaatu, the alien visitor who has come to Earth on a mission of peace. Rennie doesn't have a bunch of make-up or special effects to hide behind; his reactions to the oddities of human behavior are all he has to help get across the idea that he comes from millions of miles away.

Naturally, this thing wouldn't hold up without a script worth a damn, and Day has a great one by Edmund North, adapted from a short story by Harry Bates (who sold the rights to the story for a mere $500). Check out one of my favorite exchanges from the movie, which occurs after Klaatu has been hospitalized after being shot by a paranoid solider:

Surgeon: I removed a bullet from that man's arm yesterday.
Government official: Well, what about it?
Surgeon: I just examined the wound and it's completely healed.
Official: What does he say about it?
Surgeon: Said he put some salve on it, some stuff he had with him.
Doctor #2: What are you gonna do with it?
Surgeon: Take it downstairs and have it analyzed. Then I don't know whether to just get drunk or give up the practice of medicine.

Another fantastic exchange occurs between Klaatu and a government official:

Klaatu: I'm impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it.
Official: I'm afraid my people haven't.

Other than a few minor plot quibbles -- for example, why are there only two guards watching over a UFO that has landed in Washington D.C., especially when you have a worldwide manhunt going for the alien pilot -- the script, dialogue and story are exceptional.

Throw in an eerie, theremin-based soundtrack by the legendary composer Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver) and some truly impressive special effects (remember, this is 1951) and you've got yourself a near work of art.

It's so good, it doesn't need a remake. Of course, Hollywood has decided otherwise and is set to release a new CGI disaster movie (I mean that literally and figuratively) version in December of this year. How do I know it's probably not going to work? First of all, Keanu Reeves has been cast as Klaatu. Then, there's this little blurb from the studio:

"The Day the Earth Stood Still is a 2008 science fiction film, a remake of the 1951 film of the same name. Directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, the film updates the Cold War themes of man against man, to the more contemporary concerns of man against nature."

Really? The theme of man-against-man is no longer contemporary? While the 1951 original may have been aimed at the planet in the midst of the Cold War, it's pretty hard to say that the message that Klaatu brings to Earth is dated.

To paraphrase heavily:

"You all had better peace the fuck out, or you're going to get your asses burned. Every last one of you."

For more on The Day the Earth Stood Still:
- More information at IMDB and Wikipedia
- Check out the final draft of Edmund H. North's script
- Buy The Day the Earth Stood Still at

The official trailer on YouTube:

Here's pretty much the first 7 minutes of the film:

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