After the end of World War II, the world began to turn its attention back to normal life, until a spacecraft lands. This ship touches down in a playground in Washington, D.C., but no one emerges and as such, tension begins to mount. As thousands look on, the military surrounds the craft and the wait begins. When the door finally opens, a human-like being comes out and is dressed in a silver outfit. As he prepares to address the masses, he reaches into his suit and that sparks a chain of events into motion. A nervous soldier fires on the being, known as Klaatu (Michael Rennie), thinking he was trying to pull out a weapon of some kind. As Klaatu lies wounded, a massive robot steps out of the ship and retrieves his injured master. This robot, known as Gort, has immense powers and could even melt a tank with ease, so Klaatu has ample protection. It turns out Klaatu was trying to take out a gift for America’s president, one which would have expanded man’s knowledge, but instead, a rift is created. Klaatu is taken to a hospital, but he manages to escape and takes shelter with a woman and her young son. The woman’s name is Helen (Patricia Neal) and she lost her husband in the war, so she is raising her son on her own. Klaatu is able to keep his true identity unknown, but when outsiders begin to suspect him, he is forced to use Gort’s power as a threat, to hold off his pursuers. With the entire fate of the world in the balance, will Klaatu’s message be heeded, or will the world perish instead?
A landmark in science fiction cinema, The Day the Earth Stood Still has influenced countless filmmakers, even Star Wars pays tribute to this classic. When you talk about 50s sci/fi, people think about bad special effects and hamhanded performances, projects now known as B movies, with only cult audiences. But in the case of The Day the Earth Stood Still, the sci/fi angle isn’t all about special effects and monsters, instead it is used to bring a message, though entertainment isn’t sacrificed to do so. So yes, this movie has aliens, robots, and such, but you can also find deeper, more relevant subtext in the material. Even so, taken just as a fun sci/fi movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still more than holds its own. It seems like few movies can deliver a social message, but also provide solid entertainment, as filmmakers tend to overfocus on one of the two, creating an obvious imbalance. The pace is slow by modern standards, but the story unfolds at a proper rate and no dull stretches can be found. Although social commentary doesn’t always hold up well, this movie’s topic is just as important in this era, to be sure. So even after five decades, The Day the Earth Stood Still is just as potent, both as a social commentary and as well crafted sci/fi. As such, this Blu-ray edition is highly recommended.
Of course, the robotic Gort is the most famous character in this movie, but as far as performance, I think Michael Rennie shines the brightest. As I mentioned before, sci/fi from the 50s has a reputation as bad cinema, as if no good performances or credible productions were crafted within the genre at the time. This movie shatters that line of thought however, as the cast is excellent and across the board, the performances are terrific. Rennie’s is my personal choice as the best of the lot, but there’s several notable efforts. He is tasked to be human in appearance, yet have an otherworldly presence, no simple assignment. But Rennie buckles down and gives it his all, which results in a powerful, effective performance. He is able to balance the role well, having both human and alien textures, which is crucial in this scenario. A top level effort in all respects, Rennie’s performance here is one for the ages. Other films with Rennie include The Robe, Soldier of Fortune, Island in the Sun, and The Devil’s Brigade. The cast also includes Patricia Neal (Stranger from Venus, Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Hugh Marlowe (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, All About Eve), and Sam Jaffe (The Dunwich Horror, Gentleman’s Agreement).
Video: How does it look?
The Day the Earth Stood Still is presented in full frame, as intended. This isn’t the grand slam I hoped, but the movie does look great in high definition. The print is in good condition, but when the debris or scratches do surface, the added clarity makes them all the more cumbersome. As far as detail, the image ranges from great to mediocre. Some scenes display much more depth than I anticipated, while others seem to have been softened thanks to the DNR process. In any event, detail is a marked improvement over the DVD, to be sure. I found contrast to be stark and consistent, which is crucial, since this is a black & white movie. In the end, a great looking visual presentation.
Audio: How does it sound?
I am always hesitant when it comes to mono soundtrack remixes, but this DTS HD 5.1 option is superb. The surround use is frequent and natural in scope, never thin and I’d have never guessed this came from a mono source. There is power when needed and the quieter scenes still have good ambience, so this one delivers across the board. The dialogue sounds clear and clean and Bernard Hermann’s incredible score shines here. This is a masterful remix that enhances the original elements and provides a natural, active soundtrack. This disc also includes the original mono soundtrack, Spanish and French language tracks, and subtitles in English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A blend of old and new, Fox has churned out some great extras for this high definition release. An audio commentary with director Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer starts us off, as the two discuss the film’s finer points. Meyer is chock full of information, while Wise recalls production stories and in the end, the two offer a new blend of insights and this track is a great inclusion. A new commentary has several film and music experts on a panel, while a third audio bonus is the film’s incredible score available in an isolated option. A Movietone newsreel is also found here, as well as a host of all new featurettes. While none stand out as that in depth, if you enjoy the movie, you’ll want to give these a look. You can also check out a couple of Blu-ray interactive elements, one that deals with the Theremin score and the other a game about Gort. This disc also includes a restoration comparison, a look at the film’s shooting script, a total of five still photo galleries, and the film’s theatrical trailers. But perhaps the most substantial extra is Making the Earth Stand Still, an extensive documentary that chronicles how the movie became such a classic. This seventy minute piece was created in 1995, so there’s been ample time for those involved to look back and reflect. A well crafted and highly enjoyable program, this is a great supplement to wind up the disc with.