Director: Robert Wise
Writer: Edmund H. North
Cast: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray, Frances Bavier, and Lock Martin
Composer: Bernard Herrmann
Release Date: 9/18/1951
MPAA Rating: G
After a long journey through space, a flying saucer containing Gort—an eight-foot-tall robot equipped with a laser-like weapon—and Klaatu (Michael Rennie), a humanoid who wishes to discuss an important matter with the representatives of every nation on Earth, lands in Washington D.C. Unable to communicate as intended, Klaatu—having made the acquaintance of boarding house residents Helen and Bobby Benson (Patricia Neal and Billy Gray); Tom Stevens (Hugh Marlowe), Helen’s overly suspicious boyfriend; and math professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe)—gives a unique and powerful demonstration, thereby winning the attention of various leaders around the world.
Complementing Harry Bates’ “Farewell to the Master” narrative with Biblical and Cold War allusions, this production deserves its reputation as the quintessential science fiction offering. It should be mentioned, however, that in spite of its religious and political subtext, The Day the Earth Stood Still avoids directly preaching to the viewer in a fashion that could be construed as offensive or unsubtle—a balance that the 2008 remake fails to achieve.
One of the most iconic and praiseworthy aspects of this film concerns the performance of Michael Rennie, the gentle voice, manner, and appearance of whom adds an air of credibility to the concept of peaceful, benevolent aliens traveling millions of light years (or mere miles, in this case) in order to assist rather than enslave or conquer the occupants of Earth—a then seldom-explored theme in the science fiction genre. Reinforcing the noble intentions of Rennie’s character, Klaatu interacts with and offers guidance for young Bobby as would a human father figure in the same situation—arguably the most poignant and compelling evidence for Klaatu’s legitimacy as a potential savior of mankind.
The Day the Earth Stood Still provides a sci-fi twist on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as documented in the New Testament. Specifically, Klaatu arrives on Earth to convey a message of hope and peace to all who accept it, only to be rejected and persecuted by those he wishes to deliver from evil. Upon seeking shelter in a boarding house, Klaatu (now operating under the identity of Carpenter, also the occupation of Jesus’ father Joseph) informs his “disciples” (i.e., Helen and her son) of the grave importance of his mission, knowing in advance that certain details of his account will evade human comprehension for the time being.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
Eventually, Klaatu is turned over to the authorities by Tom Stevens, whose motive of personal gain closely mirrors that of Judas in the Gospel of Matthew. When fatally wounded by the police as a consequence of Stevens’ betrayal, Klaatu falls to the ground with his arms outstretched in a crucified pose—likely a deliberate parallel to the execution of Christ. Finally worth noting is that with the assistance of Gort, Klaatu rises from the dead to address mankind before “ascending” to the heavens—all references that, though quite subtle, will not go unrecognized by those familiar with the gospels of the New Testament.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is an aesthetically significant, politically and culturally relevant masterpiece of science fiction cinema. Thus, for fans of Rennie (also known for playing the Keeper in the eponymous two-part episode of Lost in Space) and alien invasion buffs alike, this classic film should be requisite viewing.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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