In 1951 Robert Wise made the Earth stand still. The United States, in fact the entire planet, was in the middle of a frightening cold war. If you believed the media at the time, we were standing just moments from nuclear annihilation. We were given images of a crazy man’s itching trigger-finger poised over a button. School kids were led in air raid drills that promised protection from this powerful menace by the wooden tops of your desks. The government and private sectors were engaged in witch hunts to smoke out “commie” sympathizers. The fear touched every aspect of our lives. Hollywood was no exception. We confronted these atomic fears with giant creatures and post apocalyptic humans, all mutated by radiation fallout. But Robert Wise delivered a morality tale that offered something far different. It offered hope.
I avoided this remake at the box office. This time it wasn’t just because I was too busy. I love the Wise classic and have long considered it off limits for a remake. When I heard about this one, it brought cringes. I had flashbacks to Steven Spielberg’s total rape of War Of The Worlds. Suddenly the new story wasn’t about hope or an interplanetary federation. It was a Captain Al Gore fantasyland come true. I stayed away.
But in this job, it’s not always possible to merely stay away. The new film arrived at my doorstep on Blu-ray, and it meant it was definitely going to take its turn in my home theater. The truth is that this film is nothing like the original film. Take away the names and the resemblance of Gort to the 1951 robot, and I would have never made the connection. Using the title and character names is merely an exploitive decision to attempt to cash in on the reverence people had for the classic. It didn’t work. The Earth might as well have really been standing still, because they weren’t standing in line to watch this movie. It cost over $80 million to make and brought in a disappointing $79 million at the domestic box office. It did fare better overseas, where the original isn’t so ingrained and the environmental message is far more embraced.
The film is not without quite a bit of merit. The environmental message wasn’t quite as preachy as it has been in similar films. The f/x are quite extraordinary. The first entrance of the new Gort is admittedly a powerful scene. He does look a little too Silver Surfer to me, but I’ll gladly acknowledge that the original was a very simple, but elegant design. Still, when he breaks into view for the first time here, it marks one of the better dramatic moments of the entire movie. Even the updated story is a compelling science fiction adventure. It’s just not The Day The Earth Stood Still. I think I would have been far more willing and able to enjoy the movie if they had merely started from scratch and called it something else. On its own, it’s a relatively good film.
In this film Klaatu (Reeves) arrives on Earth in a spinning sphere. A task force is sent to greet him with the expected “shots fired” results. Taken to a facility, the creature sheds its outer skin, revealing the humanoid shape underneath. His message is clear. He has come to save the Earth. Unfortunately, the only way he believes he can save the Earth is by destroying the humans who are plaguing her. Hey, this is more a remake of Star Trek The Motion Picture, coincidentally another Robert Wise film, than it is The Day The Earth Stood Still. Klaatu is V’Ger. In his observation of humans, Klaatu gets attached to Dr. Benson (Connelly), who attempts to persuade Klaatu to give humans another chance.
The original story was 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. 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. In the new version of the story Klaatu is Noah, not Jesus. While the original material certainly addressed an important issue of its time, Klaatu did not come to judge or to destroy. He came to warn and invite mankind into his interplanetary brotherhood. In one of the extras for the updated version, Klaatu is described as a hit man who is sent to observe and then destroy. That was never the message of this material. I keep hearing these folks claim to love and respect the source material, but it appears that not one of them got the message, or if they did, they merely chose to ignore it. No wonder we all stayed away.
The Day The Earth Stood Still is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There’s absolutely nothing to complain about in this 1080p image brought to you through an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. The film looks rather remarkable. The f/x are outstanding and blend seamlessly into the live action. There’s a lot of color filter going on so that the greens and blues tend to run together. During explosions and action sequences there are wonderful examples of better color reproduction. Reds, oranges, and whites particularly stand out against an often bleak background palette. Flesh tones appear a bit pale. The print is pristine. Black levels are solid, displaying a wonderful array of shadow detail and definition. I couldn’t find any artifact or edge enhancement issues at all. This may not be a perfect image, but it is a finely detailed presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track does almost as good a job as the image. There is a great amount of presence to be found in the audio presentation. Reeves is his usual monotone self, but there is a lot of great drama in the audio. The score pays little homage to the original groundbreaking effort, but it does deliver the sense of urgency so necessary to buy into this movie. Surrounds are used to good effect, putting you squarely into the action. There are subtle moments that make clever use of near silence to deliver the proper tension and atmosphere. I may find faults with the movie itself, but there really is little or nothing to fault in the audio and video presentations of this release.
There is an Audio Commentary Track by screenwriter David Scarpa. Scarpa provides a ton of insight but he works hard to convince you of his respect for the original. “Methinks thou protesteth too much”.
All of these features are in HD.:
Build Your Own Gort: This interactive piece sets you against the clock to build the pivotal creature from various segments.
Deleted Scenes: Surprisingly, there are only 3 very short pieces here. I have to believe a lot more than this ended up on the floor.
Reimagining The Day: (30:06) Cast and crew talk about both films, and there are plenty of clips from both here. There’s a lot of justification going on here that I just don’t buy.
Unleashing Gort: (13:52) Check out all of the early designs of Gort, and you’ll discover that it was not originally anyone’s intention to come close to Gort’s classic look. These are some wild designs. The process eventually led to something very reminiscent of the traditional look.
Watching The Skies – In Search Of Extraterrestrial Life: (23:08) This feature talks with real SETI scientists about the search for signals from intelligent life on other planets.
The Day The Earth Was Green: (14:04) I expected Captain Al Gore to zoom in with his cape to save the day. This is the expected Global Warming scare feature.
PIP Features: You can opt to view the film with various PIP options. I always find these things distracting.
Blu-ray of the 1951 version of The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Galleries and a Trailer finish the features.
If you want to try and ignore the name, you should enjoy a modern science fiction morality tale. If you try to reconcile the two films, you will only end up frustrated and perhaps more than a little angry. It’s not just the character of Klaatu that is beyond recognition here. Helen is now a super scientist who is charged with becoming humanity’s advocate. Gort does resemble the traditional look, but you’ll discover that it took a lot of effort to bring the design under control. We’re also provided with the character of Jacob played by William Smith’s son Jada. The kid’s a fine actor, but the character is annoying as hell. The final insult is the throwaway, barely audible insertion of the classic line, “Gort, Klaatu Barada Nikto”.