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THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
2-Disc Special Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray, Francis Bavier, Lock Martin
Director: Robert Wise
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video: Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 92 Minutes
Release Date: December 2, 2008

“Your choice is simple. Join us and live in peace…or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”

Film ****

Before Captain Kirk took command of the Enterprise or Luke Skywalker got his hands on a lightsaber, the science fiction genre got its first major representation in the form of The Day the Earth Stood Still. More than 50 years later, the film is still regarded by many as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, if not THE greatest. I just saw it for the first time, and I’m already in agreement with the majority.

Released in 1951 and directed by Robert Wise, who coincidentally would go on to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it was one of the first films to bring to life on screen the sort of story that was popularizing many sci-fi novels of the period. I could only imagine what it would’ve been like to be in a theater and experience the story about a truly in-your-face UFO landing. And having just now seen it, I can very much see why the film has stayed the test of time.

The story centers on a UFO that has landed in Washington D.C., attracting attention from both onlookers and the military. From the flying saucer emerge two different species. One is an alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) who has taken a human form, the other is his metal robot counterpart named Gort.

The meat of the story involves Klaatu getting to know the human race. He has come to Earth with the sole intention of warning its residents of an impending doom that awaits them for numerous reasons. His interaction with the humans will inspire his final decision as to they are deserving of a second chance.

And it’s quite interesting that the film has become, in the minds of many, more relevant today than ever. Coming out in the early 50s, it was designed to carry specific commentary about the post-WWII environment leading right into the state of the Cold War (the notion of Klaatu possibly being a foreign spy rather than an alien). The subtext is still recognizable, but the movie remains invigorating mostly in showing how Klaatu grows to respect the innocence of the human race as he gets to know certain people along the way.

Having recently seen the new remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, an overall inferior version with some awesome upgrades in the effects department (Gort looks WAY more effective), I just realized something that would’ve resulted in a stronger film. In the new version, Klaatu’s message to the world has more of an environmental angle to it. I think if the remake stuck with the original storyline, with Klaatu warning us to cease our unending wars, it would’ve been one effective remake because of the relevance to current times.

As it stands, the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still has rightfully earned its status as one of the truly great science fiction films of all time. I waited far too long to finally see it and any dedicated fan of the sci-fi genre who has yet to experience it owes it to themselves to do just that. It’s simply a classic story with endless imagination and a remarkable message of peace and hope.

Video ***1/2

I never caught the initial 2003 DVD release so I can report on any technical differences in the picture quality. What I can tell you is that this is one of the most impressive presentations I’ve seen for any film from the time period. Fox has done a splendid job in restoring the film, which had to take some time in terms of handling things like print damage, etc. Though we get some slight cases of damage in the picture, the overall handling of this black and white presentation is quite outstanding.

Audio ***

New to this release is a sound upgrade in the form of a stunning 5.1 mix. Though it was my first time seeing the movie, I’m pretty sure this is by far the best quality this movie has ever been supplied. The remarkable music score by Bernard Herrmann sounds most fantastic, as it becomes a character in its own throughout the film. Some nice background sounds find their way into the presentation. For the old-fashioned sort, the Dolby Mono track from the previous DVD is also included.

Features ****

Fox has given a true one of a kind upgrade in the features department for this new 2-Disc Special Edition release. On Disc One, we get two commentaries. The first is with director Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer, which is quite a treat in that it brings together the directors of the first two Star Trek movies. The second commentary is an all new one, and features Film & Music Historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg and Nick Redman. Also included is an Isolated Score Track, several new featurettes, including “The Mysterious, Melodious Theremin”, Main Title Live Performance by Peter Pringle and “The Making of The Day the Earth Stood Still”, “Farewell to the Master: A Reading by Jamieson K. Price of the Original Harry Bates Short Story”, as well as a Fox Movietonews clip from 1951, Trailers and a small clip from the new remake.

On Disc Two, we get more new featurettes including “Decoding Klaatu Barada Nikto: Science Fiction as Metaphor”; “A Brief History of Flying Saucers”; “The Astounding Harry Bates & Edmund North: The Man Who Made the Earth Stand Still”, a documentary short titled “Race to Oblivion”, an Interactive Pressbook and Still Galleries.

Summary:

Though I still think I waited too long to see it, I’m happy that a new Special Edition of The Day the Earth Stood Still came along…or I may have not gotten around to seeing it at all. The movie is every bit the one of a kind sci-fi masterpiece you’ve heard everyone say it is.

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