Sunday, February 4, 2007

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (20th Century-Fox 1951) Fox Home Video

Robert Wise’s The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) is a clairvoyant and intelligently produced science fiction classic. It stars Michael Rennie in his debut as Klaatau, the humanoid visitor from another world. Wounded by the U.S. military after his flying saucer has landed in the middle of Washington D.C., Klaatau relays his message to the White House Chief of Staff (Marshall Bradford) for a gathering of the earth’s nations to discuss intergalactic peace.

However, Klaatau’s benevolence is met with increasing skepticism. Desiring to learn more about earthlings, Klaatau escapes the Army Hospital with the aid of his robot protector, Gort (Lock Martin). Moving freely about the populace, Klaatau (renamed Mr. Carpenter) comes in contact with the understanding, Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her inquisitive son, Bobby (Billy Gray).

Bobby befriends Mr. Carpenter. Helen begins to have feelings for him as well, much to the subtle jealous objections of her boyfriend, Tom Stevens (Hugh Marlowe). Learning the truth, Tom decides to expose Klaatau to the military who have been scouring the city for his whereabouts. In the meantime, Klaatau visits the home of a well respected physicist, Prof. Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) in the hopes of organizing the world’s intellectuals for the peace summit. All is for not unfortunately, and Gort must once again come to the aid of his shipmate.

Steeped in the sort of 50s paranoia about alien creatures from another world, The Day The Earth Stood Still is not your typical monsters with death rays extravaganza. Based on Harry Bates short story, 'Farewell to the Master' the screenplay by Edmund H. North is a rather intense and probing message picture about the evils of nuclear armament and the perilous trajectory of mankind as perceived by a more intelligent race of extraterrestrial super beings. 

Never hokey or out of date, The Day The Earth Stood Still remains a cinematic high point in the sci-fi genre. Wise reportedly cast virtual unknown Michael Rennie precisely because he was brand new to movie audiences. Apart from Rennie's obvious angular physicality, itself perhaps suggesting humanoid proportions, Rennie's rather theatrical acting style, at least in hindsight, seems to equally hint at a character removed from the status quo. The Christ-like references to Klataau are obvious, right down to giving him the earthly name of Mr. Carpenter (carpentry being Jesus' early profession). But when the censors viewed a rough cut of the film they balked at the scene where Gort resurrects Klataau after the army has shot him dead. So, a line of dialogue was inserted to explain that Gort's powers were not divine, but merely temporary in their ability to recreate life after death.

Fox Home Video’s DVD is fairly impressive. The B&W image is quite sharp and detailed throughout with a nicely contrasted gray scale, deep solid blacks and very clean whites. Matte process shots exhibit a slight hint of grain, but otherwise the image is decidedly smooth and very easy on the eyes. Occasionally, pixelization is detected in background details. A hint of edge enhancement crops up now and then, but nothing that will distract.

The audio has been remixed to re-channeled stereo (the original mono is also included). This disc is a flipper. Side B includes the thorough – though slightly boring – 70 minute documentary on the making of the film, told more from the perspective of contemporary sci-fi aficionados than film historians. An audio commentary and the film’s theatrical trailer top off the extra features. Bottom line: highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



No comments: