Matt Donabie has a message for mankind...
Many of the old 1950s sci-fi movies are often
remembered primarily for a particularly grand element they posses. Maybe for their groundbreaking special effects, like The War of the Worlds. Sometimes its for a certain character, like Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet. But
it's rare for any of these movies, or indeed any movie from any era or genre, to be primarily remembered for the moral message it carries.
And so we turn to The Day The Earth Stood Still.
This memorable sci-fi picture from 1951 (remade in 2008 with Keanu Reeves) was
based on a story by Harry Bates. It tells the story of a flying saucer landing in Washington D.C. Two extra
terrestrial beings emerged, a humanlike
messenger named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and an eight-foot-tall,
invulnerable robot called Gort (Lock Martin). These two beings arrive
upon the era where mankind has begun to strongly develop atomic energy
and increase the violent and catastrophic potential of its warfare. The
extra terrestrials have a message for all of mankind - by
harnessing such destructive power and using it to create weapons, mankind is making itself an intergalactic threat as well as endangering its own
existence on Earth. Klaatu's warning was simple: cut off the production
of nuclear weapons and live in peace, or be destroyed as a threat to
other worlds in the universe.
True to form - we shoot first.
The Day The Earth Stood
Still features some impressive visual effects. Even the robot, Gort, which
is nothing more than a man in a foam costume, looks like 'it' could easily be a machine
made from foreign-world material. The scenes where the UFO lands in
Washington D.C. and where a death ray sprays into a tank and dissolves
it in a flash of white light still works well today. But its more
notable elements were created by the characters and by the
The extra-terrestrial, Klaatu looks remarkably human. He doesn't have
an antenna... or three eyes... or tentacles, and his physical form is not a
disguise. This makes him more convincing and believable simply because he looks human, and it also makes him
more relatable. He has morals,
he's not some bug-eyed, other-worldly
nihilist who is bent on enslavement and destruction. I've always believed that if there are other beings out in the universe, their appearance may have evolved differently, their technology may well be advanced, but morally they probably wouldn't be
too much dissimilar to us. Well, most of us anyway.
The great thing about The Day the Earth Stood Still is that it doesn't shove
its message in the audience's
face (save for the closing monologue), but it is the message that stays with you. 1951 was just a few short years after World War II, and the Cold War was in
full swing, audiences didn't need an alien entity to tell them to disarm or be destroyed as they lived with the possible threat every day. It's the other 'moments' throughout which help to make this movie a classic, from the smart and
sometimes humorous dialogue, to Rennie's 'alien' performance, or the fact
that the film's major set-piece (Klaatu demonstrating his power) is
pulled off in the simplest fashion, albeit a very effective one
Mankind is really the true monster in this 'alien' feature. Our toying with nuclear weapons, our constant
fighting, and our willingness to kill a peaceful emissary without allowing him to
deliver his message or offer his gifts to the world rings true.
Any movie made over 60 years ago will have aged somewhat, but that message, that statement that man must grow up or face destruction was so powerful in 1951, and is just as significant now, and has been in any era between. This gives The Day The Earth Stood Still something of a timeless feel to it, and helps the film to stay in your memory long after you view it.