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brianmartin

Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), directed by Robert Wise

The Day the Earth Stood Still -

It's kinda strange that Klaatu's song "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" is so upbeat, given that the "real" Klaatu was such a doomsayer.

 

I wasn't ready for this movie the last time I saw it, as a kid. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers was more my speed. Seeing it again now, as an adult, I see why it is so highly regarded, and I have nothing but good things to say about it.

 

Beginning with the way it opens. Much as I like to play around with the idea of UFOs and clandestine alien conspiracies, I think that if alien contact ever really happened, it would happen like this. That is, it would be unequivocal, and the entire planet would know it virtually at the same time.

 

After making his presence known worldwide, the alien, a humanoid named Klaatu (Michael Rennie), lands his ship in Washington, D.C., where he is promptly shot by a trigger-happy soldier while trying to proffer a gift for the President. This assessment of the soldier, however, is one of hindsight only. Under different circumstances, the kid would have been a hero: Klaatu's gift violates the rule of no sudden moves.

 

Later, when Klaatu, recovering in the hospital, expresses his opinion that it shouldn't be very difficult to gather the world's heads of state at the U.N. to hear the message he has come to deliver, the President's secretary explains that it is unlikely that is going to happen. The next time he sees Klaatu, he proves his point with messages from all around the world suggesting meeting sites anywhere but New York.

 

What these examples suggest is a maturity not found in a lot of science fiction. The soldier isn't a dumb kid, the secretary isn't a stupid politician, and Klaatu isn't all-knowing. In order to better understand humanity and to preserve his freedom, Klaatu takes to the streets, ending up at a boarding house, where he befriends a woman (Patricia Neal) and her son (Billy Gray). The movie could easily have gone off the rails at this point, but instead it just keeps getting better. Edmund H. North wrote the screenplay and it stands even today as one of the most intelligent science fiction movies of all time.

 

The movie was remade in 2008, of course, and quite apart from the failings of that film, this was a mistake. What we could have used, instead of another special effects extravaganza, was another film of equal intelligence. That could have been done, I think, if they'd made the sequel. Klaatu's message is a dire one, after all, and one that leaves mankind in rather a bind. It would have been very interesting to see how that all played out.