Thursday, January 21, 2010


THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951, USA, Robert Wise, screenplay Edmund H. North, story Harry Bates)
It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet. 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. The decision rests with you. Gort baringa.

Fans of early science fiction consider this a tautly paced, intelligent film that distinguishes itself from others of the genre by subtle wit, a preference for characterization over sensationalism, and a laudable anti-war message with religious overtones. Viewed half a century later and miles from the nearest drive-in, it's hard to imagine that any movie not made by Andrei Tarkovsky could move this slow: thirty minutes worth of Twilight Zone concept is stretched out to a leisurely hour and a half, with dialogue (and ideas) only a cut or two above PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (for which it seems to have provided inspiration). The "give up your weapons of mass destruction or we'll destroy you en masse" argument may have sounded progressive just after World War II, but it's hard to take seriously as a peace manifesto today: Mark Janovich's Rational Fear: American horror in the 1950s convincingly makes the case that the story is thoroughly pro-military – it's just a matter of whose army's got the bigger guns and claims the higher ideals.

As for the film's noted Christological symbolism (other-worldly emissary walks among ordinary humans disguised as "Mr Carpenter:" his gospel of peace disregarded, he is killed but comes back to life, ascending to the heavens with a warning of fiery judgment), it's as contrived and thin as the film's politics. Still, your mileage may vary: this early Cold War peace parable, however muddled, ranks #162 on the IMDb popularity poll. In any case, ultra-cool theremin soundtrack by Bernard Hermann redeems much. And it must be said, the film does offer practical wisdom which may well save your life: when confronted by a silver-clad (if slow-moving) robot bent on destruction, you need only remember these words to avoid certain death: "Klaatu barada nikto."


(Available at Videomatica)

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