The Day The Earth Stood Still: Review
The original 1951 release of The Day the Earth Stood Still has a run time of an hour and half. Within that time the movie manages to be direct and straightforward and no scene seems to be pointless or unnecessary. The story is unique and engaging, as it seems to throw away all the stereotypes of alien invasion movies.
With a majority or alien invasion movies there is this stipulation that the aliens should usually be evil or some form of an enemy. Anytime that the aliens are portrayed as being peaceful, there is often a twist that reveals the aliens to be scheming against mankind. A handful of movies reject this stereotype like E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and of course The Day the Earth Stood Still. The plot of the movie begins when an alien spacecraft lands in the middle of Washington D.C. The people of earth quickly surround the craft and rumors and panic spread. An alien man emerges from the craft and reassures the people that he comes in peace and needs to speak with all the world leaders, refusing to speak with just the President of the United States.
Later, the alien, named Klaatu, manages to escape where the military is holding him, and decides to try and blend in with mankind as he finds refuge in a room for rent and meets a woman and her young son. The most interesting part about this plot is how real it feels. When the aliens land it’s clear that they don’t want to fight, yet they possess the power to destroy anything they must. Gort, a giant alien robot has seemingly unlimited power as it is described as being indestructible, and displays its offensive power by melting tanks, large machine guns, and small firearms. Yet because the movie establishes that the aliens truly do come in peace, Gort, never goes out and causes mass destruction, or annihilates entire cities. Throughout the entire movie, Gort only kills two people, and harms two others. Other than that he disables weapons and stands motionless for the majority of the film. The plot is more focused on Klaatu trying to appeal to all of humanity to give up on its selfishness and hatred towards one another and seek unity.
Unlike the 2008 reboot of the film, which decides the movie must have higher stakes and introduces the concept that the world is ending, makes Klaatu more threatening and powerful, and makes Gort far more destructive. The original film was never focused on being anything like its reboot, and one wonders where they went wrong. All the dialogue feels natural and none of it feels forced. Many movies fail with dialogue as they try to cram information down the audience’s throat, but in this case it all feels natural, as if the characters are truly invested and interested in what they are asking or explaining. The actors have a fantastic way of expressing emotion and fear throughout the entirety of the film. The actors own their parts, and never seem to break the immersion the movie is trying to display.
Not only is the plot and writing all fantastically executed, the visuals and cinematography are also wonderfully complimenting to the tone of the film and its story. The movie’s use of lighting is masterful and wonderfully complimenting to the movie’s visual beauty. Some scenes capture a shading that makes the characters appears as if they were silhouettes reflecting the scene under a mysterious guise. The spaceship, whenever it is in a scene, is a shimmering object that reflects its out worldly nature. In the movie there are a few montages and they all serve a purpose and help to drive the authenticity of the film home. When the electricity around the world goes out, the montage displays a variety of countries and how they would react to such a massive power outage. This montage serves a tremendous purpose in establishing how the world is affected by the events happening in Washington, making the movie span over a global scale and not feel constrained to one particular area of the world yet never spending too much time there and taking us away from what’s truly important.
One of the most enjoyable things about the movie is how it feels as though a majority of the scenes are shot as one continuous shot. There are times in modern movies where the scene contains multiple cuts to give a different perspective, but often times this makes the movie feel less real and organic and instead makes it feel, quite frankly, like you are watching a movie. But with movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still, it feels very alive and it never feels disjointed. The progression of the scenes and the story within them is very reasonably paced. As I said before, no scene or moment in the film feels pointless whereas some films contain scenes that ultimately do nothing to establish characters or build up the story in any way. However, in this movie it seems every scene, has a significance and reason for being there. Whether it is a scene at the coffee table, or a large group of leaders gathered at the ship, every single scene manages to contain something relevant or important. The movie ensures that it uses each minute it has to get its point across and it never uses any scene to overstay its course.
The effects in the film are also still very eye catching today and all the effects are practical (meaning there is no computer generation used). The spaceship is huge and well constructed. Gort, possibly one of the most iconic characters in all of sci-fi film history, looks slightly dated when comparing it to the CGI robots and aliens we have seen in recent days. However his immense size, which is said to be about 8 feet tall, is displayed wonderfully here as well as his power. When he vaporizes weapons, he leaves behind a pile of smoldering metal making his power feel all the more real and threatening. His massive motionless body at times gives off a sense of tension as the audience and the characters are all wondering what his next move will be.
The Day the Earth Stood Still represents an era of movies that can still be appreciated regardless of its release date, something that Hollywood seemingly doesn’t understand. With the constant reboots that are often far inferior to their originals, it begins to baffle as to why Hollywood still bothers. If there is anything that Hollywood can teach people, it's don’t fix what isn't broken, and The Day the Earth Stood Still is most certainly not broken.