Up to now we have not cared how you solved your petty squabbles. But if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned out cinder. Your choice is simple. Join us and live in peace. Or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We will await your decision.
With that ominous message Earth is put on notice, and moviegoers were given something to think about as they left their theater seats in 1951. The Day The Earth Stood Still was a powerful reflection of the world they returned to. With a brutal World War not a decade from completion, a new kind of war had already gripped the globe. It was a Cold War that was about to go hot in such seeminingly backward places as
The place is
Based on the short story Farewell To The Master by little known writer Harry Bates, The Day The Earth Stood Still was replete with symbolism. Bates would later admit that the story was more than a message of the evils of war. He created a Christian allegory. Invested in Klaatu was the mantle of Jesus Christ. Here we have a man not of this world who comes to save us from our own faults. He decides to walk among us to gain a better understanding of our true nature, taking on the name of Carpenter. He preaches peace and brotherhood. He is finally killed by the authorities, only to be risen again to deliver a final message of warning and hope of salvation. I had the honor of speaking to Robert Wise many years ago, and he told me that he was unaware of that particular message even as he directed the film. He became aware of the meaning of the content after hearing an interview with Bates some time later. It wasn’t only Bates who created the deep symbolic nature of the film. Screenwriter Edmund North was a renowned pacifist who had been known to deliver speeches about the responsible use of science and technology. He injected more of that into the film than originally appeaed in the short story.
“Klaatu Barada Nikto” is perhaps one of
The Day The Earth Stood Still is presented in its close to original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. This is an old film and perhaps not the best example of the capabilities of the Blu-ray format, or HD technology. You do get a crisp 1080P image using an AVC/MPEG-4 codec and a high mid 30’s mbps bit rate. Black levels are solid, which is good considering this is a black & white film. Contrasts are also vital and end up looking pretty good here as well. The best part of the image presentation for me is the pristine shape of the print. I remember my old laserdisc version was far from free of scratches and other print artifacts. It’s good stuff.
The DTS-HD lossless 5.1 track delivers about everything you could want here. Bernard Herrmann’s incredible score sounds about as good here as I’ve heard it. I’ve had it on a CD collection of classic 50’s sci-fi themes before this, but here it is clearer than ever. I was actually most impressed with the amount of sub I got for my money here. Of course, I’m not trying to tell you it’s one of the best I’ve seen, but it’s dang good for the film’s age. I felt whoever handled this mix was respectful of the original mono recording and did not attempt to sweep us off of our feet with an overly aggressive sound field.
There are 2 Audio Commentaries. The first features Robert Wise and fellow Trek alum Nicholas Myer to talk about the film. It’s an engaging track to be sure. I’ve met Wise and found him to be a compelling storyteller. Unfortunately, while this stuff is very good, he
was far better in person.
The second track features film historian John Morgan who talks with others including participants about the technical aspects of the film. It’s a wealth of information, if a little dry.
The World Of The Unknown: Here you’ll find 3 features that focus on the score’s use of the strange Theremin. Peter Pringle uses these features to explain the instrument and demonstrate its use. Finally a live rendition of the score is performed with an orchestra. The actual instrument Herrmann used is featured in these pieces.
Gort Command Interactive Game: This is basically a video game where you aim and fire Gort’s laser weapon.
The Making Of The Day The Earth Stood Still: (HD): This 24 minute feature mostly looks at the principles involved in bringing the story to the movie screen. There is some wonderful archival audio from both Robert Wise and the film’s producer Julian Baustein. You’ll even get to see some conceptual art and handwritten notes from Wise.
Decoding Klaatu Barada Nikto: (HD): This 16 minute feature puts the film into the perspective of the social context of the Red Scare and the Cold War.
A Brief History Of Flying Saucers: (HD): This half hour piece is a documentary on the UFO phenomenon. Some of the “experts” are a little wacky. Still, this is a good collection of sightings and testimonials that put the craze into perspective. Where’s Fox Mulder when you need him?
The Astounding Harry Bates: (HD): One of the people in the beginning of this feature tells us that not much is known about Harry Bates, who wrote the original short story. That likely explains why this profile is only about 11 minutes long.
Edmund North – The Man Who Made The Earth Stand Still: (HD): North is as much responsible for the effect of the film as anyone, including its creator, Bates. He was quite the activist for peace, and his views are not hidden at all in his script for the milestone film.
Race To Oblivion: This is a half hour documentary that North made to appeal to the world’s scientists to use science and technology responsibly. He urges more work toward humanitarian projects and less for military application. It’s in standard definition and pretty rough shape.
Farewell To The Master: Jamison K. Price reads the original short story in 3 chapters totaling about an hour and a half. It’s audio only.
Movie tone 1951: Again in standard definition this is a 6 minute movie reel from 1951 that does briefly make mention of the film.
Trailers and a Gallery complete the extras, which includes a sneak peek at the 2008 remake.
I’m not so sure about the remake of this film. To this date I have not seen it, but from what I have seen it appears that no one remembers what made this film truly great. I’m glad that I first saw this film at an age and time when I wasn’t quite so jaded. I doubt that anyone seeing it for the first time today could really understand how or why the film left the impact that it did. I was born too late for the Red Scare, but I remember my parents talking about air raid drill at school. It’s easy to understand how the people of 1951 would welcome a savior to come down from the heavens and show them the road to salvation. On second thought, perhaps it isn’t too late to see it for the first time. Maybe the message is still relevant, if you are willing to let it come. “The decision is yours.”