BY SHANE CRABTREE
Accept this greeting, earthlings, as we move forward from the untamed and rugged American West to the concrete jungle of Washington D.C., the locale of our next film, “The Day The Earth Stood Still.”
You may have noticed my reasonably odd reference when I used the word earthling. Granted, it makes little sense now but give it approximately four seconds. Michael Rennie portrays our next film’s central character, who claims to be a visitor from a far away planet (he’s an alien). In the role opposite Rennie is Patricia Neal, who plays a quiet and reserved working single mother (she’s an earthling, just like everyone else).
Do you get the earthling joke now? No? Well, never mind then.
Director Robert Wise starts the film menacingly, showing a flying saucer approach Earth and land in a Washington D.C. park. A mysterious humanoid who references himself as Klaatu (Rennie) exits the craft and attempts to make contact with human military personnel. Feeling threatened, a young soldier shoots Klaatu, who falls unconscious and badly wounded. In response to the show of violence, Klaatu’s personal bodyguard, Gort — an 8-foot metalloid automaton — instantly vaporizes all nearby weapons with superheated ray beam, and Klaatu is taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.
After his recovery, Klaatu escapes captivity, assumes the identity of a certain Mr. Carpenter and takes residence in a boarding house, in which live Helen Benson (Neal) and her son Bobby, whom Klaatu befriends. In time, the Benson’s discover that Klaatu is an extraterrestrial with a mission — to deliver a message of imminent doom.
Now, to give credit where it is due, Wise based his film off a short story written by science fiction enthusiast Harry Bates. However, Wise improved on Bates’s original idea by throwing in a little bit of extra thought requirement. Again, like many of the films seen thus far, graphical design has not been a benefit. Instead, there is an extreme emphasis to detail and plot. Wise’s film is no different.
First, it is important to recognize that this film was released shortly after the United States entered into the Korean conflict. The film carries obvious plot factors that argue against war and violence. Wise also carefully touches on the subject of death, in which he makes the point that the unnecessary casualties of war have a lasting effect, regardless of status.
Second, the film takes on a very religious theme — one not oft seen in science fiction — by painting the idea that there is a higher power at work in the universe, regardless of whether mortals see it or not.
The film is overflowing with imagery and metaphors, and for the time in which it was made, reflects fantastic (though sometimes laughable) special effects. Nevertheless, the overall idea of the film lives on, as it remains one of the top grossing science fiction films of the 1950s.
So take an evening off and watch this old black and white classic. I promise, it will make your world stand still — at least for the movie’s length.