The Day the Earth Stood Still


Day two of my own little Robert Wise Film Festival

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a film that has, in some ways, outlived its reputation. It is certainly a cut above other films from “flying saucer” sub-genre of science fiction. An intelligent script, Robert Wise‘s capable direction and a better than average cast all combine to make this a high-quality production. The film’s only real weakness is that its message of “mankind had better learn to get along or else”, which was definitely bold for a film made during the anti-Communist witch hunts of the early 1950s, now seems like rather juvenile wish-fulfillment. The idea of advanced aliens coming down to solve our problems for us was an early staple of science fiction but is now a best-forgotten cliché.

At its core, this film isn’t an alien invasion picture, like Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers but an effective manhunt thriller as the alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) slips away from his government hosts after he is rebuffed in his efforts to meet with all of the world’s heads-of-state. Klaatu blends in with the population as he attempts to reach a famous scientist named Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), an obvious stand-in for Albert Einstein. He convinces Barnhardt to use his influence among the scientific community to arrange the meeting of world leaders if Klaatu can effectively get their attention with a demonstration of his power. The demonstration, disabling electrical devices all over the world, definitely fulfills that purpose but its also makes the U.S. government jumpy as an alley cat and Klaatu is effectively declared public enemy number one.


Of course, Klaatu is finally able to deliver the message he came with. Boiled down to its simplest, he basically tells the world that if our violent ways spill out into space the galactic equivalent of the United Nations will roast the entire planet like a marshmallow. Producer Julian Blaustein said of the story that inspired this film that the one thing that appealed to him was the idea of all these planets surrendering their sovereignty to a larger body that would enforce the peace. Blaustein made the film to put forward the idea of the nations of earth doing the same thing with the United Nations. Even though he admitted the idea was farfetched in the short term, he clearly thought that, in the long run, it was a good idea. Of course, since Blaustein died in 1995, the UN has been rocked by allegations of corruption at the highest level and egregious abuse by peacekeeping soldiers, so the idea is probably even more ridiculous now than it was in 1951.

I think the quote from the film that accompanies this review shows exactly the flaw in this kind of thinking. When you surrender to another body the authority to determine what is or is not responsible, you have given up your freedom, period.

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