Day the Earth Stood Still, The (1951)

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

It's a simple tale but I love the architecture of this movie: it starts in the distant universe (unrealistically) flying by the galaxies and nebulae, approaching Earth and orbiting it, and then a flying saucer slows over DC and eases down onto a ballfield on a sunny afternoon.

Against a matter-of-fact plot of fear, suspicion, the spaceman's struggle to complete his mission and some soap opera, we move outward again, not just into contact with an interplanetary community, but in other dimensions of trust and love, and the metaphysical boundaries of life and death. And then back out into space the way we came in.

As a boy the story seemed awfully one-sided to me: Klaatu so wise and warm, the Earth people irrational and bumbling. Now of course I see that he issues blood curdling threats from the beginning: the prospect of Earth as a burned out cinder. What is still odd is the tour of American patriotic monuments, as if his submit-or-die diktat is compatible with the existing system. All we'll give up is our freedom to act irresponsibly.

It's a Message film: war is bad, we share this world so let's not blow it up.

Michael Rennie was a new face at the time and has an otherworldly look. They considered Spencer Tracey and Claude Raines; obviously an unknown was the better choice.

I find Patricia Neal strangely appealing; it must be those cheekbones and her obvious intelligence. Her tense Klaatu barada nikto scene with the robot is a famous moment of classic SF.

Need I mention the tremendous Bernard Herrmann score? The theremin music seems more muscular than usual, better integrated into the soundtrack.

The Blu-ray image is rather fine and the disc has an isolated score and two commentary tracks: Robert Wise with Nicholas Meyer in a technical discussion of the production, and four film music experts discussing the score and composer.

I'm fond of Robert Wise as editor and director. The auteur directors get more attention, but a craftsmen who does not impose his own style or personality on the film can produce some great work.