Day the Earth Stood Still, The (US - BD)
Gabe Powers stood still a little too long and now he can't feel his legs at all...
On a clear day in the outdoor mall an alien spacecraft lands in Washington DC. From the ship steps a humanoid alien named Klaatu, and a massive metal robot named Gort. When a frightened soldier shoots Klaatu, Gort begins to use his massive power to destroy the army around him. Klaatu stops this show of force, and is taken to a human hospital. When it’s made clear that humanity isn’t listening to his message of peace, the alien takes an alternative approach, infiltrating an average American family in an effort to learn more about the people he’s attempting to change. But time is of the essence, as Gort has been programmed to keep the peace at any cost, and his power is enough to destroy the entirety of humanity.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the essential post-WWII Science Fiction movies, and one of those few movies that can truly be marked as required viewing. Unlike many other essential films of the Cold War era, there is a sense of assured filmmaking here, and besides a big silver spaceship and a big silver robot, could easily be confused with a ‘real movie’ by some of the world’s snobbier cineastes. Stylistically the film is about half noir, half cinema verite, creating a bleak, pseudo newsreel feel. Really only the minimalist special effects and Bernard Herrmann’s Theremin heavy score are there to remind us we’re watching what is essentially a fantasy film.
The basic and speedy plot can be effectively and truthfully read in many layers, effectively pushing B-movie entertainment beyond period A-movies in matters of sophistication and class. Hidden Christian parallels, and specific metaphors concerning the ‘Red Scare’(blacklisted actors were used), and big bomb obsessions haven’t been lost on many viewers over the years, insuring that The Day the Earth Stood Still was much more quickly recognized as a masterpiece than most B-genre releases throughout the years. Those of us looking to re-watch the film with new eyes should note the totalitarian way peace is actually thrust upon humanity in the happy end.
Not exactly the ideal film for the power of high definition, The Day the Earth Stood Still does, in fact, look as relatively perfect as possible. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and crisp black and white tone. There is all kinds of grain floating about, but it’s very fine, and obviously comparable to what the print looked like when it first screened in 1951. The limitations of the older cameras and lenses (the film’s budget wouldn’t allow for the use of what was considered state of the art even at the time) are made clearer by the increase in clarity. Wide angle shots especially exhibit fluctuations in detail. Close ups are astonishingly detailed given the film’s age. The magnificent black and white photography requires noir-ish light and dark contrast. The depth and separation of elements only rarely muddles, and is normally gorgeously sharp.
On the commentary track director Robert Wise has a brief tirade against the very idea of surround sound. If a sound occurs behind the viewer it risks their forward attention, he argues. I’m sure he’s not happy to hear his simply mixed film re-mixed into 5.1 channels of DTS-HD Master Audio. I’m personally not very fond of this new mix, and am very impressed with the cleaned up original Mono track. The warmth of the dialogue is the big difference between the tracks. The DTS dialogue is a little on the over compressed to disguise any hiss or damage. Though the slight damage is clearer on the Mono track, the overall effect is much more natural. The only real advantage of the DTS track is the uncompressed Bernard Herrmann score, which peaks a bit on the Mono track. The spread of the score is impressive too, but again doesn’t feel a part of the film. The score is also presented solo in full 5.1 DTS-HD MA, for those with the need to really savour that Theremin goodness.
This packed disc begins with two solid commentary tracks. The first, which was also heard on the previous DVD release, features the film’s director, Robert Wise, and Nicholas Meyer, director of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Meyer gives a little more personal info than needed (it’s not about you, Nick), he acts as a great mediator and interviewer for Wise, who’s age does factor into the speed and clarity of his commentating.
The new track is the expert track, including both film expert and composer John Morgan, and Bernard Herrmann experts Steven Smith and William Stromberg, with producer Nick Redman acting sort of as a mediator. Given the mix of commentators, it’s not surprising that the bulk of the track is concerned with Bernard Herrmann’s impact on the film, and on film in general. I feel no need to read Steven Smith’s novel now, as I think I’ve learned everything about Herrmann I’ll ever need to know. There is some focus on the film’s more incredible political chances and impacts, but this is really a track about Herrmann, not The Day the Earth Stood Still.
‘The World of Theremin’ is a three part extra, beginning with ‘The Mysterious, Melodious Theremin’, a featurette concerning the history of the instrument. We learn who invented the thing, how it works, how to play it, and more all in a mere five and a half minutes. Next is a live performance of The Day the Earth Stood Still main title by the featurette commentator Peter Pringle, set to a backdrop of the rest of the orchestra and to scenes from the film. Then we’re given a chance to play with crude virtual Theremin set up. It might not be fun for people that don’t know their scales, but it’s a pretty neat feature, and you can apply it to a scene in the film.
Next is another interactive feature called ‘Gort Command’. This is a sort of first person shooter from Gort’s point of view, played with the Blu-ray remote. It’s really too difficult to be any fun. I just don’t think the remote was made for this.
‘The Making of The Day the Earth Stood Still’ is a deeply delving, but short (twenty-six minutes) little documentary. Film and musical experts, and a few people that were actually there during filming (some via audio only) are interviewed about a million subjects, and often take the audience back to the beginning of each subject’s own history. For instance, when we get to director Robert Wise, we’re given a brief history of the man’s entire career. Besides interview footage, behind the scenes photos, and film footage, the doc also features sections from the original script. The previous DVD release reportedly had an eighty minute making of documentary, so one wonders what in this disc’s other extras hasn’t simply been culled from the longer version. Perhaps one of our readers knows.
‘Decoding Klaatu Barada Nikto’ is a deeper look at the metaphorical nature of the film’s story, exploring the current events of the time, including the beginnings of the Cold War, the McCarthy Hearings, the early UN, and the reality of the atomic bomb. Experts delve into these aspects far beyond anything most of us would ever notice, including a notation of the Capra-esque love of country, and timely importance of the inclusion of an Albert Einstein like character. The featurette runs sixteen minutes, and should’ve been included with the making of featurette.
‘A Brief History of Flying Saucers’ is pretty much exactly what it says it is, covering the history of ‘real life’ UFO sightings in about thirty-four minutes. The featurette’s tone is pretty serious, and the experts interviewed mostly don’t come across as wackos, as so often is the case in these kinds of things. The pacing is actually rather jarringly fast, cutting from interview to interview, and flipping from picture to picture, but the scope, the inclusion of classic radio and television broadcasts, and some of the original sighting footage is quite entertaining and informative. It is unfortunate that Fox couldn’t augment and lengthen the featurette with footage from some other flying saucer movies.
‘The Astounding Harry Bates’ tells us a bit about the apparently mysterious writer Harry Bates. Bates’ short story ‘Farewell to the Master’ was the basis for the super-robot part of the movie, though apparently it was intended to be a closer adaptation. The producers manage to hunt down several Bates’ experts for interview and some audio interview footage with Bates himself speaking about the film. This rather touching featurette runs eleven minutes.
‘Edmund North: The Man Who Made the Earth Stand Still’ concerns the film’s screenwriter. North is apparently not as mysterious as Harry Bates, because we’re given a basic rundown of his entire life, and his daughters tell us much of the story. The anti-war sentiment of The Day the Earth Stood Still was not an accident, as North was in the thick of WWII around the time he started his career. Unlike other featurettes on the set, this fourteen minute mini-doc goes beyond the subject’s work on The Day the Earth Stood Still, up to and past a rewrite on Coppola’s Academy Award Winning Patton script. North’s 1982 documentary short (twenty-seven minutes), ‘Race to Oblivion’, is also included.
Next Jameson K. Price reads us Harry Bates’ ‘Farewell to the Master’. The story is presented in three chapters. Price’s voice is pretty enthralling, but there isn’t any visual information or music to go along with the story, so there is a sense of lost possibilities (Blu-ray is an audio/visual medium, after all). Still, an audio book is preferable to burning one’s eyes out trying to read the story on screen as text. All in all, this runs over an hour and a half.
This solid collection of extras is completed with a Fox Movienews newsreel from 1951 (including the signing of a treaty against Communist Russia, Korean War updates, a bit about the film receiving a special Sci-Fi award, and a Miss America update), trailers, and seven image galleries.
For those interested (I’m sorry this review is running late) there are about six and a half minutes of the Keanu Reeves remake, in hi-def, with 5.1 sound. Looks sharp, but not particularly interesting.
In light of the recent remake, I’m happy to announce that The Day the Earth Stood Still stands up just as well as other required viewing classics, like Vertigo, The Third Man, Lawrence of Arabia, or even Citizen Kane. I don’t know what was in the older release’s longer documentary, but I find it hard to believe I could learn much more about the film from this Blu-ray’s ample extra features. Some may think that that Hi-Def is a little too much for an Academy ratio, black and white release from 1951, but there aren’t any complaints on this disc’s video quality. When it comes to the audio, however, I’d stick to the original Mono.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
All ages admitted
Release Date: 2nd December 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital Mono English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish
Extras: Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer Commentary, Expert Commentary, Isolated Score, ‘The World of Theremin’, 'Gort Command', Making-Of, ‘Decoding Klaatu Barada Nikto’, ‘A Brief History of Flying Saucers’, ‘The Astounding Harry Bates’, ‘Edmund North: The Man Who Made the Earth Stand Still’, ‘Race to Oblivion’, Reading From 'Farewell to the Masters', Newsreel, Trailers, Image Galleries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Wise
Cast: Frances Bavier, Marshall Bradford, John Burton, Wheaton Chambers, James Craven
Length: 92 minutes
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