Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Original)

Director: Robert Wise, 1951
imdb listing

Pros: excellent use of light and shadows and music to create mood, still relevant message

Cons: younger viewers will find the film slow and likely boring

Klaatu is an alien sent to earth to deliver a message. But humans are too embroiled in fear of what he represents and earth politics to listen.

This black and white classic still holds up today. The emphasis was on atmosphere and message. The films few special effects (vaporizing weapons, opening the ship and its interior, the ship landing and take off) were done as simply as possible, so the film isn't marred by cheesy effects. The robot Gert, is a man in a rubber suit. And yet, it all looks great. The inside of the ship is stark and alien. The spaceman's appearance from the ship is frankly creepy.

Modern viewers will likely lament the lack of action. It works for the film, contrasting the fear and paranoia of the humans with the vast intelligence of Klaatu. The difference between them is summed up by his statement to a US official who tells him meeting with the Earth's heads of states is impossible, "I am impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it".

Using a human - without embellishment - as the alien, really brings the message home. Here's a superior being, who is superior without the arrogance or ambition we see so much of in humans. He is, in essence, more human in his actions than the humans who claim to revere such attributes. Klaatu is calmly aware of himself and his knowledge, looking rather like a parent wondering why the children are afraid of the dark.

Even his demonstration of power is something most humans, in the post WWII era (or even now) would not have considered. For humans power equals violence, wherein lies the problem. The other worlds can't allow a power hungry, violent race to reach the stars, spreading out and annihilating everything in its path. Klaatu, on the other hand, is powerful without being violent.

The film is a cautionary tale, that extra-terrestrials aside, our violent past makes us unlikely to peacefully colonize the universe. And if there are sentient life-forms out there, they might well take steps to stop us.

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