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The Day the Earth Stood Still is a sci-fi film that was released in September 28, 1951. During this period, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in what is known as the Cold War. Both powers stood poised to destroy each other and the world with nuclear weapons. The Day the Earth Stood Still was a commentary on the politics of the Cold War. Its message was that if the countries continue down their current course, they would end the world in nuclear destruction.
The film was also a commentary on the dangers of fear and the extreme measures that people reach for when they substitute fear for reason. This was a way to comment on the Red Scare, a paranoia of Communism that was very present during the 1950's. In the film, although the characters do not know anything about Klaatu, an alien from space, they proceed to hunt him down anyway because of an invisible danger that they imagine. As the film progresses and as the people's paranoia increases, their hostility changes from violence to hostility and soon murder intent.
Although the weapons and the enemies have changed in the modern era, the message of the film still is relevant today as it was in 1951.
Producer Julian Blaustein wanted to create a film that illustrated the fear and tension of the Cold War and the Atomic Age. To accomplish this, he felt that a metaphor was the best way to present his ideas and the sci-fi genre was the genre that would allow him to do so. With the genre chosen, Blaustein began looking through over 200 works of sci-fi until he found the short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates. Once the studio head, Darryl F. Zanuck, the green light for the project, Blaustein hired Edmund North. On February 21, 1951, the final revisions for the script were finished and the movie was ready to be filmed.
A flying saucer is detected by radars around the world. As it lands in Washington D.C., militia and curious onlookers flock around the mysterious object to see what will happen. To their surprise, a strange man (Michael Rennie) dressed in a strange space suit appears out of the spaceship and declares that he has come in peace and goodwill. As the strange man approaches the crowd, he pulls out a seemingly hazardous device. One frightened soldier fires his gun in response and the strange man falls to the ground after being wounded in the shoulder. The object is destroyed and a metallic giant called Gort (Lock Martin) appears out of the spaceship. The metallic giant disintegrates all the weapons with its laser in retaliation. The strange man orders the metallic giant to cease fire and he stands up onto his feet. He tells the leading officer that the device was a gift to the president and with the device the president could study life forms on other planets.
The strange man is escorted to an army hospital. There, doctors examine the man and to their astonishment, find that he is not only able to quickly recover from the bullet wound, but is completely human. The strange man reveals himself to be an alien from another planet named Klaatu. He also reveals that he has a message for the inhabitants of Earth and he plans to release the information to the common people. Fearing what could happen if the message were to be spread, the president's secretary. Harley, detains Klaatu in the room.
Despite being guarded by soldiers, Klaatu is able to escape and he takes shelter in a boarding house. He assumes a new identity under the name of "Mr. Carpenter." At the boarding house, he meets Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), a World War II widow, and her son Bobby (Billy Gray).
The next day, Klaatu volunteers to babysit Bobby while Helen and her boyfriend, Steven (Hugh Marlowe), are out on a date. Bobby takes Klaatu out for a tour of the city and they visit Arlington National Cemetery to see his father's grave. Klaatu is horrified to learn that most of those buried in the graves were killed in wars. The two decide to visit the his spaceship, but they find that it is heavily guarded by the army. Since Klaatu cannot get to this ship without being noticed, the two head to the Lincoln Memorial. Klaatu reads the inscription on the statue and is impressed by the words and comments that a man like Lincoln would the kind of person Klaatu would like to meet. Then, Klaatu asks Bobby for the "greatest living person in the world." Bobby suggests a scientist named a leading scientist named Professor Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), who lives in Washington D.C. Bobby leads Klaatu to Barnhardt's house, they find that Barnhardt is not present. Klaatu decides to send a calling card to Barnhardt by solving an advance mathematical problem on Barnhardt's blackboard. Klaatu leaves his contact information with Barnhardt's house keeper and informs her to tell Barnhardt that it him who solved the problem. As Klaatu and Bobby leave, the house keeper tries to erase the blackboard, but Klaatu stops her before she does so.
Eventually, Professor Barnhardt sends government agents to escort Klaatu to his study and they introduce themselves to each other personally. Professor Barnhardt inquires Klaatu's purpose for coming to Earth. Klaatu explains that he has come to send a message to the people of Earth and give them a final choice. Klaatu tells Barnhardt that the other planets have become concerned with Earth recent advancements in atomic weapons, and fear that the Earth would pose a great threat in the future. In order to ensure their safety, Klaatu explains that the other planets demand that the Earth must change its ways or face annihilation. Sensing the urgency, Professor Barnhardt suggests a gathering of scientists based on the idea that scientists would be more willing to listen than politicians. Knowing that people will come if there is a sense of urgency, Barnhardt suggests a demonstration of power. Later, under the cover of night, Klaatu sneaks back onto his ship implement Barnhardt's idea. However, he is unaware that he was followed by Bobby.
Bobby recounts the events that he had witnessed to his mother and her boyfriend, but they are held in disbelief until Tom discovers a diamond in Klaatu room. Tom takes the diamond to jeweler for an appraisal and is informed diamond is of a quality that is not found on the Earth. The appraisal confirms Tom's suspicions of Klaatu's identity.
Meanwhile, Klaatu meets Helen at her work place and she leads him to an elevator. At exactly noon, the elevator has stopped and both Klaatu and Helen are trapped in the elevator. Klaatu confesses that he is the one who caused this incident. He reveals his identity as the alien and asks Helen for her help. Outside, the entire world is experiencing a global black out and the only functioning electrical devices are those that would compromise human safety if they were turned off.
The black out ends and the army intensifies their hunt due to growing fear. Helen leave the elevator and later learns that Tom had betrayed Klaatu by informing the army about his identity and whereabouts. Helen becomes angry and decides to end their relationship. Helen and Klaatu take a taxi to Barnhardt's home. On the way to Barnhardt's house, Klaatu instructs Helen to tell Gort the phrase "Klaatu barada nikto" if anything were to befall Klaatu. The army spots the moving and arranges a blockade that prevents Klaatu from escaping. Klaatu exits the vehicle and is shot by an officer. The army retrieves Klaatu's corpse and decides to keep Klaatu's corpse in a jail cell out of fear.
Gort revives Klaatu Gort revives Klaatu Meanwhile, Helen escapes before they could capture her and heads to the spaceship. There she finds an awakened Gort and she speaks the phrase that Klaatu taught her. Upon hearing the phrase, Gort carries Helen into the spaceship and goes outside to recover Klaatu's corpse. Gort breaks into the prison by blasting a hole through the wall and carries Klaatu's body back to the spaceship. There, he revives Klaatu by placing the corpse into a machine. When Klaatu awakens, a shocked Helen asks how Klaatu could overcome death. Klaatu replies that his state is only temporary and only "the Great Spirit" can truly overcome death.
Klaatu exits the ship and addresses the scientists who have gathered. Klaatu explains that the other planets have become wary of Earth because of its violent nature and its growing power. Klaatu warns that if Earth ever threatens the other planets, robots like Gort, who police the galaxy, will destroy the Earth. Klaatu leaves the people of Earth with a choice. They could either choose to live peacefully with the other planets or they can choose to continue on their current course and face total destruction by robots.
- Michael Rennie as Klaatu
- Patricia Neal as Helen Benson
- Billy Gray as Bobby Benson
- Hugh Marlowe as Tom Stephens
- Sam Jaffe as Jacob Barnhardt
- Frances Bavier as Mrs. Barley
- Lock Martin as Gort
- Frank Conroy as Mr. Harley
- Tyler McVey as Brady
Rennie changing into costume Rennie changing into costume Although the film was set in Washington D.C., the movie was shot primarily in a 20th Century Fox sound stage and its studio back lot (now located in Century City, California). Iconic scenes from Washington D.C. were taken by photography and added to the background by special effects. As a result, the leading actors were never in Washington D.C.
During production of the film, there were problems with Lock Martin, the actor for Gort. Although Martin was 7 foot tall, his size did not translate into strength. During scenes where Gort had to carry an someone, the actor/actress would be supported by strings or a dolly that was hidden from view.
Before the film was screened by censored who found the ending to be too liberal. In the original ending, Klaatu's resurrection is supposed to be permanent. Since this ability seemed to make Klaatu too god-like. The line " That power is reserved for the Almighty Spirit" was added to make the scene more appropriate.
The Day the Earth Stood Still has been critically acclaimed by critics. It currently has a 94% based on 52 reviews on Rottentomatoes. The Los Angeles Times praised the movie for it's seriousness and the New York Times called it "tepid entertainment." The film also received positive reviews overseas. Pierre kast, a critic for the French magazine Cahiers du cinema, was called it "almost literally stunning" and praised its moral relativism. The Holly Foreign Press Association awarded the movie a "special Golden Globe" for promoting international understanding."
In 1995, the film was selected to be preserved in the United States National Film Registry, a place reserved for films that are considered "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film was also recognized by the American Film Institute. In 2008, the Institute released its "Top Ten Top,"a list of that accounted the best ten films in 10 "classic" American genres. After polling 1,500 people, the Institute found that "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was still consider the fifth greatest film in the science fiction genre.
The film has spawned a remake in 2008 starring Keanu Reeves as Klaatu and Jaden Smith as Jacob Brenson. The film changes the focus of the original film from Cold War themes to environmentalist themes. The film was panned by critics and has a 21% based on 160 reviews on Rottentomatoes.com.
"Klaatu barada nikto"
The film is also best remembered for creating the phrase "Klaatu barada nikto." Although the phrase itself has no meaning, essentially it is a fail-safe word that Klaatu uses to prevent Gort from going on a rampage when provoked. According to Philosophy professor Aeon J. Skoble, this idea of a machine abusing its power or turning upon the wrong people may have have had its start in Gort. Since then it has become a staple in the science fiction genre.